By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmer’s stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.
— from “Concord Hymn” by Ralph Waldo Emerson
I remember a dawn drive to the Old North Bridge in Concord, Massachusetts many years ago with my older sister, Christine. I was too young to drive, but she was not. Confiscating the family car keys, we stole away through the early morning, giggling at our historical adventure.
Upon our arrival at the wooden bridge that creaked beneath our sandals, a reverent stillness overtook us. We were the only ones there—save the spirits immortalized on this landmark. Through the morning mist, we envisioned lines of soldiers intent upon victory. And through the hushed stillness, we felt their pain and fear as those shots fired in bitter vitriol materialized in our minds and hearts.
We hushed at the hallowed ground beneath us—and silently walked back to our car.
April 19, 1775—the day the first shots of the American Revolution were heard throughout the world.
This date, so tenderly described in Emerson’s poem, lives on in celebration of America’s freedom from England every year in both Massachusetts and Maine. It is memorialized as Patriot’s Day and is a state holiday on the third Monday of every April. (Not to be confused with Patriot Day, held every September 11)
In Wisconsin, April 19th is a special observance day for schools, when they are required to teach about the events of the birth of our country.
In both Massachusetts and Maine, parades and reenactments abound, especially along the route between Boston and Concord. This was the 20-mile journey travelled by Paul Revere where on that fateful, moonlit night, the rider screamed the words of warning to the Colonists: “The regulars are coming! To arms!”
Through the years, I often heard the words quoted as, “The British are coming.” However, most Colonists thought of themselves as British—Englishman—so the context and accuracy of those words are flawed.
Regardless of the words of warning, the entire countryside that had prepared for this attack was awakened, first by the riders and then by pealing church bells. Minutemen that had trained for months, grabbed their muskets and congregated on their local greens, then marched towards the scene of the action. By the time the 1,000 British regulars had reached Concord to confiscate weapons (that had already been hidden by the patriots), word had spread about the killings in Lexington, just to the east of Concord.
The enraged patriot’s confronted the British in Concord and killed two enemy soldiers at the North Bridge. Revolution had begun. Fighting like the Native Americans, the Colonists hid behind stonewalls and trees, picking off one British soldier after another, while the formally-trained King’s Army marched in lines down the road.
This retreat of the British army back to Boston cost them 73 men killed and 174 wounded. The American militia had suffered 49 fatalities and 41 wounded.
The war that had been brewing for several years was now a reality.
When I was a child in Massachusetts, I remember going to parades on what is now called Massachusetts Avenue (the route of Paul Revere’s ride). Early on, I learned an appreciation for this history—the founding of our country that was won through the blood of those who came before me.
Since I grew up, both Colonial and British militia re-enactors have staged mock warfare for public education and amusement. These provide stirring portrayals of the battles that occurred that day, all the way from Concord to Lexington to Arlington (then known as Menotomy Village), my hometown. One of these Aprils, I will find my way back to my hometown to see these re-enactments myself.
In the meantime, I have obtained permission from the Lexington Minutemen to use the wonderful photos from their website for this post. Click here for their website.
Here is a 12 minute video that you might find interesting. Click here for video.
I highly recommend the Hallmark movie entitled “April Morning” which so movingly portrays the events of April 19, 1775. Click here for Amazon link.
Spirit, that made those heroes dare,
To die, and leave their children free,
Bid Time and Nature gently spare,
The shaft we raise to them and thee.