“Don’t Fire Unless Fired Upon. But if They Mean to Have a War, Let it Begin Here.”

Today in History, April 19: 1775 – The Midnight Ride continues. Paul Revere and his fellow rider, William Dawes meet up while warning Lexington of the approaching British soldiers. They had stopped at several villages between there and Boston spreading the alarm.

In each village additional riders would set off in all directions to spread the word for minutemen to converge on Lexington and Concord. Village cannons were fired so they would be heard in neighboring villages…a pre-arranged signal. The system was so efficient that before the British soldiers were even disembarking from their boats, still miles away, hundreds of Patriots were converging on the British target of munitions at Concord. Unbeknownst to them, their mission had already been rendered moot. The “rebels”, long aware of the British plans, had already dispersed and hidden the munitions. Revere and Dawes had already warned Samuel Adams and John Hancock, who had been taken elsewhere to prevent their arrest.

In Lexington Revere and Dawes met up with Dr. Samuel Prescott, who had been visiting his fiance. The three set out for Concord to warn them. On the road they encountered an British patrol and were captured. As they were being taken to a nearby meadow Prescott shouted, “Put on!” (scatter, run for it). He and Revere rode off in opposite directions. Prescott jumped his horse over a neaby stone fence and was off into the night. Dawes escaped, but lost his horse, leaving him on foot. Revere made his second escape of the night, as he’d nearly been captured in Charleston earlier. However he soon came upon a group of British officers and was captured again. He would eventually be released, but without his horse. Precott, a Concord native familiar with the area, quickly made his way to Concord and warned them, then continued on to warn others.

“Don’t fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here.” –Militiaman Capt. John Parker, to his troops on Lexington Green. When the 700 British troops reached Lexington, they were confronted with a mere 77 minutemen who had managed to convene there. Capt. Parker, knowing that the British mission had already been rendered pointless, was not eager to risk the lives of is men. He had them form in ranks on Lexington Green, where they could give an expression of dissention without blocking the road to Concord. The British commander decided to confront them anyway. With an expression of great insult, the British commander ordered the “damned rebels” to disperse. Parker directed them to do so as the well trained British regulars approached. Nobody knows who fired the “shot heard ’round the world”. The Americans, of course, believe it was and over eager British soldier; the British believe it was from a minuteman; some speculation is that it was fired from the safety of a nearby tavern. Whoever fired that first shot, it resulted in the British cutting down nearly a dozen minutemen, and one injured British soldier. The British then marched past the dead and injured on their way to Concord. http://youtu.be/wAFz5YNCTGc

The Brits, emboldened, marched on Concord. When they got there they were confronted with more than 300 minutemen. The outcome was quite different than at Lexington. The British were quickly repelled, and decided to return to Boston. As they completed the long march back to Boston, the minutemen continuously fired upon them from behind trees, rocks, fences, etc. By the time the regulars made it back to Boston, they had lost over 300 men.

Why was it the “shot heard ’round the world”? Not just because of the American Revolution. The acts of the revolutionaries did not affect only the “Colonies”. The French were encouraged to aid the Americans with their fleet eventually. Other portions of the British Empire were encouraged to revolt. King George didn’t know it, but on this date, thanks to a few farmer and merchant “peasants”, the sun had begun to set on the British Empire.

Evacuation Day

Today in History, November 25: 1783 –

After seven years of occupation, the last British troops depart New York City, three months after the Treaty of Paris was signed ending the American Revolutionary War.

At the outset of the war Gen. George Washington had wanted to fight to keep NYC, but after losing tactically to British forces, had to flee with his army in the dark of night. NY would remain in British hands throughout the war.

After the last British troops left, Gen. Washington entered the city to great fanfare from its citizens.

He would later be inaugurated as the first President in the city that would become the nation’s first capitol.

Siege(s) at Yorktown 


Today in History, September 28: 1781 – The Siege of Yorktown during the Revolutionary War begins as The Continental Army and their French Allies corner British Lt. General Cornwallis’ forces from land and sea. The siege would last until October 19 when Cornwallis sent one of his officers out to surrender. This would be the last major land battle of the war, and would result in the British government negotiating for peace. Ironically, 81 years later, during the Civil War, Confederate forces would use some of Cornwallis’ trenches in another Siege of Yorktown, this time by forces under the command of Union Gen. George B. McClellan. The result would be different this time; by the time McClellan was ready to act, the Southerners and slipped the noose and escaped.

Swashbuckling Was Real

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Today in History, January 8: 1815 – The Battle of New Orleans. American Major General Andrew Jackson’s forces (approximately 4,700) defeat British Major General Edward Pakenham’s forces (8,000). The British were attempting to fight their way into New Orleans but first had to defeat the “Jackson Line” of defensive works lined with artillery, US Army regulars, Kentucky and Tennessee Militia, Freedmen, Native Americans and even the pirate Jean Lafitte and his men. The British were confident of a quick victory, attacking in the morning under the cover of fog. But the fog cleared and Pakenham’s men were cut to pieces by grapeshot (anti-personnel artillery) and the marksmanship of the Americans. Pakenham, a veteran of numerous campaigns worldwide (Brother-in-law to the Duke of Wellington), was knocked from his horse by grapeshot which struck him in the leg, then hit in the arm, and finally, as he climbed on his aide-de-camp’s horse was struck in the spine, wounding him mortally. Most of the British officers were killed and their troops, not knowing whether to charge or retreat, were being decimated in the open field until another general arrived and ordered a retreat. If you have time to read more, the story is fascinating on both sides. The battle was fought approximately 2 weeks after the Treaty of Ghent was signed, initiating the end of the War of 1812, but of course none of the parties in Louisiana knew that. Jackson would ride the fame of the victory into the Executive Mansion.

Jackson had plenty of reason to hate the British.  During the Revolutionary War, when he was 13 and 14, he and his brother were captured by the British, tortured and scarred.  Young Andrew was beaten because he obstinately refused to shine a British Officer’s boots.  Jackson’s brother Robert would die soon after release, his mother would die of Cholera while treating American soldiers injured during the war; he was orphaned as a result. I’m sure his hatred of the Crown contributed to the crushing defeat at New Orleans.

When Jackson was elected President, his supporters literally climbed through the windows and trashed the White House.  He fought continuously with the Washington elite over several issues, most notably the banking system.