1775-THE LEXINGTON ALARM

The first battle of the Revolutionary War, fought in Massachusetts on April 19, 1775. British troops had moved from Boston toward Lexington and Concord to seize the colonists' military supplies and arrest revolutionaries. In Concord, advancing British troops met resistance from the Minutemen, and American volunteers harassed the retreating British troops along the Concord-Lexington Road. Paul Revere, on his famous ride, had first alerted the Americans to the British movement.


General Gage learned of the collection of military stores at Concord and determined to send a force of Redcoats to destroy them. His preparations were made with the utmost secrecy. Yet so alert and ubiquitous were the patriot eyes in Boston that when the picked British force of 700 men set out on the night of April 18, 1775, two messengers, Paul Revere and William Dawes, preceded them to spread the alarm throughout the countryside. At dawn on the 1st of April when the British arrived at Lexington, the halfway point to Concord, they found a body of militia drawn up on the village green. Some nervous finger - whether of British Regular or American militiaman is unknown to this day - pressed a trigger. The impatient British Regulars, apparently without any clear orders from their commanding officer, fired a volley, then charged with the bayonet. The militiamen dispersed, leaving eight dead and ten wounded on the ground. The British column went on to Concord, destroyed such of the military stores as the Americans had been unable to remove, and set out on their return journey.

By this time, the alarm had spread far and wide, and both ordinary militia and minutemen had assembled along the British route. From behind walls, rocks, and trees, and from houses they poured their fire into the columns of Redcoats, while the frustrated Regulars found few targets for their accustomed volleys or bayonet charges. Only the arrival of reinforcements sent by Gage enabled the British column to get back to the safety of Boston. At day's end the British counted 273 casualties out of a total of 1,800 men engaged; American casualties numbered 95 men, including the toll at Lexington. What happened was hardly a tribute to the marksmanship of New England farmers - it has been estimated 75,000 shots poured from their muskets that day - but it did testify to a stern determination of the people of Massachusetts to resist any attempt by the British to impose their will by armed force.


General Thomas Gage, an amiable English gentleman with an American- born wife, was in command of the garrison at Boston, where political activity had almost wholly replaced trade. A leading patriot of the town, Dr. Joseph Warren, wrote to an English friend on February 20, 1775: "It is not yet too late to accommodate the dispute amicably, but I am of the opinion that if once General Gage should lead his troops into the country with the design to enforce the late acts of Parliament, Great Britain may take her leave, at least of the New England colonies, and if I mistake not, of all America. If there is any wisdom in the nation, God grant it may be speedily called forth!"

General Gage's duty was to enforce the Coercive Acts. News reached him that the Massachusetts patriots were collecting powder and military stores at the interior town of Concord, 32 kilometers from Boston. On the nigh of April 18, 1775, he sent a strong detail of his garrison to confiscate these munitions and to seize Samuel Adams and John Hancock, both of whom had been ordered sent to England to stand trial for their lives. But the whole countryside had been alerted by Paul Revere and two other messengers.

When the British troops, after a night of marching, reached the village of Lexington, they saw through the early morning mist a grim band of 50 minutemen-armed colonists-lined up across the common. There was a moment of hesitation, cries and orders from both sides and, in the midst of the noise, a shot. Firing broke out along both lines, and the Americans dispersed, leaving eight of their dead upon the green. The first blood of the war for American independence had been shed.

The British pushed on to Concord, where the "embattled farmers" at North Bridge "fired the shot heard round the world." Their purpose partly accomplished, the British force began the return march. All along the road, behind stone walls, hillocks, and houses militiamen from village and farm made targets of the bright red costs of the British soldiers. By the time the weary column stumbled into Boston its losses totaled nearly three times those sustained by the colonists.

The news of Lexington and Concord flew from one local community to another in the thirteen colonies. Within 20 days, it evoked a common spirit of American patriotism from Maine to Georgia.


Benedict Arnold & The Connecticut Militia

Arnold, a continental army general was born in Norwich, Connecticut, the son of a merchant, who had married into Connecticut aristocracy but failed in business, took to strong drink, and was unable to support the family. Apprenticed to his mother's cousins, Arnold nevertheless managed to free himself to fight in the French and Indian War. He then entered business for himself.

The American Revolution tapped Arnold's capacities for leadership and gave him the fame he craved, but it also provided an outlet for his greed and selfishness. He joined in the war as head of a CONNECTICUT MILITIA COMPANY, and upon receiving news of the Battles of Lexington and Concord, he marched the group to Boston. But not wanting to join in a siege, he participated instead in the American attempt to capture Fort Ticonderoga. It was Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys, however, who took the fort, depriving Arnold of the glory a victorious command would have brought. Arnold's next effort demonstrated his strong will and immense talent as a leader. The expedition against Canada, one part of which he led, would have taxed the abilities of any man. The main part of the drive carried his force of about a thousand men through the Maine wilderness, hampered by driving rainstorms, flooding rivers, and nearly impassable forests. They reached Quebec and joined in an unsuccessful assault on the night of December 30, 1775, under Gen. Richard Montgomery. Arnold was wounded in the battle and forced to retire.

When, in 1777, British general John Burgoyne led his forces into the New York wilderness, Arnold was with Horatio Gates, the commander of the opposing American army. Arnold did not get along with Gates, and after expressing his disapproval of the general's plans, he was ordered to the rear. He did not remain there for long but joined in the Battle of Bemis Heights on October 7, 1777. Here he performed brilliantly with the dash and recklessness that made his troops love him.

Wounded again, he was given command of Philadelphia in June 1778 after the British evacuation of the city. There his combativeness embroiled him in clashes with other commanders, and his acquisitiveness led to corruption in his command. A court-martial followed, and he was in effect cleared of most of the charges, though not all. Gen. George Washington issued a reprimand, which angered him and probably played a part in his decision to sell himself to the enemy.

Arnold, whose first wife had died, was married again, this time to nineteen-year-old Peggy Shippen of an important Philadelphia family. She took part in the conspiracy to betray West Point, where Arnold had taken command in August 1780. The plot had begun in Philadelphia the year before and was discovered in September 1780. Arnold first contacted the British in May 1779. His motives were personal, not political: he was greedy, always looking for money, and hard-pressed to keep up a style of life he could not really afford. He also resented what he took to be a lack of appreciation by Congress and the government of Pennsylvania, which questioned his administration of Philadelphia. He chose Joseph Stansbury, a Loyalist shopkeeper in Philadelphia, to convey his messages to the British general Sir Henry Clinton, who relied on Maj. John André, his adjutant general, to handle negotiations. Arnold's demands for payment varied, but in August 1780 Clinton agreed to £20,000 if Arnold's betrayal led to the capture of West Point and three thousand troops. The plot was discovered when André, carrying incriminating papers, was seized September 23, 1780, by New York militia near Tarrytown while he attempted to return from a meeting with Arnold. Arnold fled to General Clinton in New York City and an army he expected would honor his talents. He was disappointed, however, for he never received a major command. His new masters did not trust him.

After the war he lived for a short time in New Brunswick but went to England in 1791 where he died ten years later. Since 1780, Arnold's name has been synonymous in the United States with betrayal and treason.

- - - - -Robert Middlekauff

1775 Bibliography