Today is Patriot’s Day. Today we raise a glass to men with balls so big it’s a wonder they could walk around. Today is the 242nd anniversary of the Battles of Lexington and Concord, which if you’re an American you should be familiar with. It’s an extraordinarily important date in our Republic’s history, on a whole lotta levels, but sadly many people know little about it (and fewer still care). Share this and get people talking about it, why don’tcha, so maybe we can fix that. Today’s article was brought to you by the three companies who gave us the idea to write about it int he first place. Mad Duo
Lexington, Concord, and the Right to Arms
Embattled Farmers and the Shot Heard ‘Round the World
William “Bucky” Lawson
The “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” was fired at daybreak on the 19th April, 1775 at Lexington, Massachusetts. The American Revolution, simmering for the previous ten years, had just gone hot. No one knows who fired first. Some American witnesses said it came from the pistol of a British officer. The British swore they didn’t fire until fired upon. Others claimed the shot came from nearby Buckman’s Tavern or from behind a nearby stone wall, meaning it was fired by an American.
It would be nice to know the truth, but it doesn’t really matter. If the first shot hadn’t been fired on Lexington Green, it almost certainly would have come later in the morning at Concord, just a few miles up the road. We’ve all heard the story. British General Thomas Gage, under pressure from London, launched a poorly-planned raid to destroy the colonial munitions rumored to be at Concord. Paul Revere and William Dawes rode to sound the alarm after Revere had lanterns hung in the steeple of the Old North Church in Boston. “One if by land; two if by sea,” and all that.
It was two of course, since the British forces crossed from Boston in small boats to shorten their march by several miles.
Then the stand by the local militia on Lexington Green, where they refused the order of British Major John Pitcairn to lay down their arms and disperse. Of course, the four companies of British light infantry made short work of the seventy-odd militiamen, suffering only one minor wound. After the four grenadier companies of the main body closed up, the 800-strong column marched on to Concord, all attempts at stealth thrown to the wind as the fifes and drums were unleashed. The British troops were unstoppable, and they knew it. The only problem was that no one told the Americans who were converging on Concord.
As the British marched, they heard occasional shots fired in front of them. These weren’t attacks, but a prearranged signal system to guide the militia to where they were needed. The Minutemen had been roused long before, but the larger companies were still gathering as the British reached Concord after a sixteen-mile march. The town was ransacked, but not much was found. British officers relaxed while colonial militia units continued to organize all around them. Pitcairn seems to have been enjoying a snifter of brandy instead of establishing a perimeter or securing his line of march.
Fighting broke out just north of Concord late in the morning, possibly in response to fears that the British were burning the town. The militia approached in a skirmish line, but the three British companies at the North Bridge were deployed badly, being stacked up, and only one could bring fire on the approaching militia. When the militia returned fire, the surprised British retreated in confusion into the town. The British commander, Colonel Francis Smith, had seen enough. His men were quickly on the road back to Boston.
Those who remember what they should have learned in school know what happened next. The British marched in column down the narrow road, harassed and sniped at all the way. Gage had sent a relief column with artillery support, which met Smith at Lexington, most likely preventing the complete annihilation of the original British force. By the time the redcoats reached the safety of Boston, they had lost almost all semblance of discipline and straggled in small groups strung out along the road. The sixteen-mile gauntlet cost the British 273 casualties, as opposed to 95 on the American side.
The British had been served notice.
Hopefully most of us will agree that 19 April, 1775 was a great day in American history, perhaps one of the very greatest. It’s certainly among the most significant. A long road lay ahead, but the first steps had been taken and, to paraphrase Julius Caesar, the die had been cast. George Washington would soon arrive to take command of what would become the core of the Continental Army and the British would be forced out of Boston. But what have the events of that day meant for us over the last 242 years?
Some of my pals in the history biz say it was an overreaction to legitimate British authority. The taxes imposed on the colonists were not onerous and were in response to the need to pay for the French and Indian War (or Seven Years War if you live outside North America), from which the American colonies benefited enormously. Others say it wasn’t the taxes themselves, but whether the British had the right to levy taxes at all without the approval of the colonial legislatures. It was the principle of the thing.
Whichever side you fall on, there is one big difference in the coercive actions taken by the British in America versus similar actions in places like Ireland: Americans were armed. Not only were they armed, there were a whole lot of them in a huge expanse of territory. And they were trained and willing to use those arms. They weren’t trained as professional soldiers on the European model, though the Continentals would give a good account of themselves as the years wore on, but they knew how to use those weapons in the environment in which they lived and worked.
The militia never became a force that could stand up to regular troops in a pitched battle. Washington all but despised their unreliability on the battle line. But even George knew he couldn’t get by without them as auxiliaries since his army never approached its authorized strength. Furthermore, the armed militia denied the British the countryside, thus compounding their logistical problems. Most of the food for the redcoats had to be shipped 3000 miles, by which time a large portion of it was spoiled.
So what is the point of all this? The tradition of the armed citizen is strong here. Throwing aside all the Bubba-centric rhetoric, one of the foundations of our nation is that we have the right to arms, not granted by the government, but protected by it (the efforts of some bad actors notwithstanding). The militia at Lexington and Concord, whether they realized it or not, acted in defense of that principle. Organized militias aren’t really a thing anymore, but they don’t need to be. Again, rhetoric aside, we haven’t faced a significant external threat (like invasion by a foreign power) for a long time. The lack of an existential threat, however, does not absolve us of our responsibility to arms.
Unlike most of those who follow B-B-C, I am not a professional soldier or law enforcement officer. I am, however, a guy who takes that responsibility seriously without harboring “Red Dawn” fantasies (I actually had some guy say that to me once). Nor am I some Bubba who thinks his modest firearms collection is the answer to the nation’s ills and is preparing to go all vigilante. Not gonna happen. So, what are guys like me preparing for? In my opinion, nothing. Or everything.
I’ve always believed that the right to arms, and the exercise of that right, is as symbolic of a truly free society as is free speech. Some may argue that we have passed being a free society, but that’s a discussion for another day. I damn sure wouldn’t want to live anywhere else, so that’s that. The weapons in my safe, or carried on my person, represent the fact that I am nobody’s subject, nor will I ever be. Not because I want to use them. I don’t. But because I have the power to make that decision for myself.
Captain John Parker told his men that morning in Lexington, “Don’t fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, then let it begin here.”
They knew what they were up against, but they had decided they were no longer going to be subjects. They weren’t going to start it, but neither were they going to lay down. What they and their comrades did that day set the standard for what it means to be an American citizen. They bequeathed that legacy to the rest of us. Some take that responsibility seriously. Some do not. But it’s there nonetheless.
Raise a glass today in their memory.
About the Author: William “Bucky” Lawson has had a thing for military history since the sixth grade when he picked up a book about WorldWar I fighter aces. Since then he has studied warriors from Ancient Greece to the modern day, with a special emphasis on World War II. He has an unabashed love of the USA, military surplus bolt action rifles, AK-47s, and Walther handguns. He despises incabination and likes hamburgers, dogs, and cigars, but really who doesn’t? Sissies and vegans, that’s who. Bucky contributes to Strategy & Tactics Press and is currently sports a Masters Degree in Military History, so probably wear one of those jackets with the patches on the elbows. Could be he’ll run down a PhD, maybe he’ll go hunting instead — Bucky likes the charred flesh of something that once had a parent, especially if he killed it himself. He is currently trying to figure out a way to export Texas politics to his native Virginia. Breach-Bang-Clear readers who talk to Bucky will be happy to know he’s only half the redneck he sounds and really isn’t inbred at all. Or not too much anyway, which is why he gets along so well with our other polrumptions. You can find historical bibliognost on Linked In here.
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