Concord's North Bridge

A slightly arched wooden bridge spans the Concord river. Green grass covers the river banks and tall trees rise from the opposite bank.
Concord's North Bridge

Pollock/NPS Photo

The North Bridge in Concord, Massachusetts is often refered to as the location of the "shot heard round the world," and the beginning of the American War for Independence. On the morning of April 19, 1775 , Colonial Militia from Concord and surrounding towns exchanged gunfire with British regulars guarding the critical river crossing. Although the fighting at the North Bridge lasted only a few seconds, it marked the beginning of a massive battle that raged over 16 miles along the Bay Road from Boston to Concord, and included some 1,700 British regulars and over 4,000 Colonial militia.
 

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Frequently Asked Questions:

The North Bridge spans the Concord River. Ironically, as Nathaniel Hawthorne once pointed out, the name Concord implies peace and harmony.
The North Bridge that visitors walk over today is actually a recent (summer of 2005) restoration of the last bridge built on this site in 1956. The 1956 bridge is the fifth bridge to occupy this hallowed ground since the time of the battle in 1775. The bridge that was there in 1775, the "battle bridge," was taken down in 1788.
Yes, there are two soldiers buried in the grave. British military records indicate that there were three soldiers (all privates in the 4th Regiment) missing and presumed dead after the North Bridge fight: James Hall, Thomas Smith and Patrick Gray. One of these three men is buried in Concord center; there is a stone marker for him on Monument St. The other two are buried here.
They came three thousand miles and died,
To keep the past upon its throne.
Unheard beyond the ocean tide,
Their English mother made her moan.

This is a stanza of a poem called "Lines Suggested by the Graves of two English Soldiers on Concord Battleground." by James Russell Lowell.

The Full Poem Reads:
THE SAME good blood that now refills
The dotard Orient’s shrunken veins,
The same whose vigor westward thrills,
Bursting Nevada’s silver chains,
Poured here upon the April grass,
Freckled with red the herbage new;
On reeled the battle’s trampling mass,
Back to the ash the bluebird flew.
Poured here in vain;—that sturdy blood
Was meant to make the earth more green,
But in a higher, gentler mood
Than broke this April noon serene;
Two graves are here: to mark the place,
At head and foot, an unhewn stone,
O’er which the herald lichens trace
The blazon of Oblivion.
These men were brave enough, and true
To the hired soldier’s bull-dog creed;
What brought them here they never knew,
They fought as suits the English breed:
They came three thousand miles, and died,
To keep the Past upon its throne;
Unheard, beyond the ocean tide,
Their English mother made her moan.
The turf that covers them no thrill
Sends up to fire the heart and brain;
No stronger purpose nerves the will,
No hope renews its youth again:
From farm to farm the Concord glides,
And trails my fancy with its flow;
O’erhead the balanced hen-hawk slides,
Twinned in the river’s heaven below.
But go, whose Bay State bosom stirs,
Proud of thy birth and neighbor’s right,
Where sleep the heroic villagers
Borne red and stiff from Concord fight;
Thought Reuben, snatching down his gun,
Or Seth, as ebbed the life away,
What earthquake rifts would shoot and run
World-wide from that short April fray?
What then? With heart and hand they wrought,
According to their village light;
’T was for the Future that they fought,
Their rustic faith in what was right.
Upon earth’s tragic stage they burst
Unsummoned, in the humble sock;
Theirs the fifth act; the curtain first
Rose long ago on Charles’s block.
Their graves have voices: if they threw
Dice charged with fates beyond their ken,
Yet to their instincts they were true,
And had the genius to be men.
Fine privilege of Freedom’s host,
Of even foot-soldiers for the Right!—
For centuries dead, ye are not lost,
Your graves send courage forth, and might.
A young Concord man named Daniel Chester French won the contest to create a monument for the 100th anniversary of the battle (1875). Civil war cannons were melted down to create this cast bronze statue. French later created many other pieces of art, including the seated Lincoln statue in the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
No; it represents a (generic) farmer who leaves his plow and picks up his musket to defend his land and liberty. However, when French was researching the statue, he did make sketches of some of the descendants of Isaac Davis of Acton (killed at the Bridge). This statue is the logo for the National Guard, and is the one shown on the 2000 “Massachusetts” quarter. It is also on U.S. Savings Bonds, and was on War Bonds during WWII.

The Story of the Battle:

On the evening of April 18, 1775, General Thomas Gage sent approximately 700 British soldiers out to Concord (about 18 miles distant) to seize and destroy military stores and equipment known to be stockpiled in the town. His orders to Lt. Col. Smith, the British officer who was to lead the expedition, were as follows:

Sir:
Having received intelligence, that a quantity of Ammunition, Provision, Artillery, Tents and small arms, have been collected at Concord, for the Avowed Purpose of raising and supporting a Rebellion against His Majesty, you will march with the Corps of Grenadiers and Light Infantry, put under your command, with the utmost expedition and secrecy to Concord, where you will seize and destroy all Artillery, Ammunition, Provision, Tents, Small Arms, and all military stores whatever. But you will take care that the Soldiers do not plunder the inhabitants, or hurt private property.

General Gage, in his orders to Lt. Colonel Smith, commander of the Britsh expedition to Concord, directed him to take control of the two bridges in town, the South Bridge and the North Bridge. "You will observe...that it will be necessary to secure the two bridges as soon as possible..."

Securing the bridges was necessary to prevent rebels from slipping across from remote parts of town to threaten the mission. Also, Lt. Colonel Smith sent seven companies of light infantry (about 220 men) across the North Bridge with orders to search for supplies and artillery known to be hidden at Barrett's farm, about a mile west of the bridge.

At that time, the colonists occupied the high ground overlooking the bridge. If they were to swoop down and take the bridge, the British soldiers at Barrett's farm would be cut off. Therefore, three companies, 96 men, under Captain Walter Laurie remained to guard North Bridge (LI companies from the 4th, 10th and 43rd regiments). Four companies, (about 125 men) under Captain Lawrence Parsons continued west to search the Barrett farm.

When the British first deployed at the North Bridge, they were positioned on the west side of the river. This is the side where the Minute Man Statue now stands. The colonial militia, with over 400 men, occupied the high ground overlooking the bridge.

Sometime after 9:00 a.m. the militiamen, believing the town was being set on fire, marched down upon the bridge. According to one British officer, they did so "in a very military manner." Colonel James Barrett, in overall command of the minute men and militia, ordered his combined force "to march to said bridge and pass the same, but not to fire on the King's troops unless they were first fired upon." The colonial soldiers then formed with the minute men at the head of the column (Davis' Company from Acton was first) followed by the militia. The towns represented in strength were Concord, Acton, Lincoln and Bedford.

According to veterrans from Acton, upon taking his place at the head of his company, Captain Isaac Davis said "I haven't a man who is afraid to go!" Thus the column of 400 men began to march off "in double file" towards the British soldiers waiting for them at North Bridge.

Hopelessly outnumbered by the advancing militia, the British soldiers pulled back to the east side of the bridge, where the 1836 Obelisk now stands, and hastily organized for defense. According to one British officer, "Captain Laurie made us retire to this side of the bridge, which by the bye he ought to have done at the first for the rebels were so near..." When the shots were fired, the British were on the east side (1836 Obelisk) and the colonists were on the west side (Minute Man Statue).

From a close reading of first-hand accounts from both colonial and British participants, the first shots came from the British side. Captain Walter Laurie, commanding the British defense at North Bridge, said "I imagine myself that a man of my own comany (afterwards killed) did first fire his piece, though Mr. Sutherland has since assured me that the country people first fired..." Lt. John Barker, 4th Regiment of Foot, said "The fire soon began with a dropping shot on our side..." All of the colonial accounts agree that the British soldiers fired first.

As the colonial column advanced to within about 80 yards of the British position, a succession of three shots rang out from the British side and landed in the river on the right of the advancing minute men. According to Corporal Amos Barrett of Captain Brown's Company "As soon as they fired them, they fired on us..." Luther Blanchard, a fifer from Acton cried out that he was wounded. Major John Buttrick of Concord then gave the fatefull order "Fire! For God's sake, fire!" This was the first time colonial militiamen were ordered to fire on British soldiers.

From a close reading of first-hand accounts from both colonial and British participants, the first shots came from the British side. Captain Walter Laurie, commanding the British defense at North Bridge, said "I imagine myself that a man of my own comany (afterwards killed) did first fire his piece, though Mr. Sutherland has since assured me that the country people first fired..." Lt. John Barker, 4th Regiment of Foot, said "The fire soon began with a dropping shot on our side..." All of the colonial accounts agree that the British soldiers fired first.

As the colonial column advanced to within about 80 yards of the British position, a succession of three shots rang out from the British side and landed in the river on the right of the advancing minute men. According to Corporal Amos Barrett of Captain Brown's Company "As soon as they fired them, they fired on us..." Luther Blanchard, a fifer from Acton cried out that he was wounded. Major John Buttrick of Concord then gave the fatefull order "Fire! For God's sake, fire!" This was the first time colonial militiamen were ordered to fire on British soldiers.
With Captain Laurie forced to abandon the defense of the North Bridge, Captain Lawrence Parsons and his four companies would have been cut off. However, the colonists did not hold the bridge. Instead they briefly occupied a hill across the road (modern day Monument St) before re-crossing the bridge and returning to the high ground west of the bridge.
Captain Parsons was therefore able to march his companies back across North Bridge and return to Concord center.
The fight at Concord's North Bridge occurred at about 9:30 a.m. It was just the start of a very long day. According to militiaman Thaddeus Blood, "...after the fire every one appeared to be his own commander. It was thot best to go to the east part of town and take them as they came back..."

Around noon, Lt. Colonel Smith regrouped his column and began the long march back to Boston. The worst of the day's fighting took place along that return march and the British soldiers were continually fired upon by thousands of militia reinforcements the whole way back.
In just a few seconds of fighting between eighteen and twenty individuals were killed or injured.

Three British soldiers were killed and nine wounded. Research of muster rolls from the 4th Regiment of Foot indicates Thomas Smith, Patrick Gray, and James Hall, as those possibly killed near the North Bridge. Unfortunately, records of the day are scarce, and it is difficult to know for certain. In recent years, historical scholarship indicates James Hall may have survived the ordeal at the Bridge.

Two colonists were killed and four wounded. Eye witness accounts record the death of Captain Isaac Davis and private Abner Hosmer of Acton.

 

First-Hand Accounts of The Battle

 
prov_militia_at BR_09

Wayne Chen

For the Provincial side:

Colonel James Barrett

Reverend William Emerson (grandfather of Ralph Waldo Emerson)

Amos Barrett

Thaddeus Blood

For the Crown side:

Ensign Jeremy Lister

Lieutenant John Barker

Lieutenant William Sutherland

Captain Walter Laurie (in overall command at North Bridge)

 
 

Last updated: April 12, 2021

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Mailing Address:

North Bridge / Park Head Quarters
174 Liberty St.

Concord, MA 01742

Phone:

(978) 369-6993

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