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.


The Story of the Battle

A group of British soldiers march over a wooden bridge

At about 7:00 a.m. on April 19, 1775, the British, with light infantry leading the way and grenadiers bringing up the rear, approached the town of Concord. Alarm rider Samuel Prescott had notified the militia in Concord of the British advance early in the morning, and the men had assembled to discuss strategy at the Wright Tavern. Two minutemen and two militia companies from Concord and at least one or two companies from Lincoln had assembled in Concord Center, where Colonel James Barrett (1710–1779) and his second in command, Major John Buttrick met them.

After a brief council of war, the Militia resolved to send scouts toward Lexington looking for news of the British march. Saddle maker Reuban Brown set off at once. Arriving near the outskirts of Lexington, Brown reared his horse at the crackle of Gunfire on the Lexington Green. Turning about, he spurred back to Concord to report the situation.

Unsure of exactly what was happening in Lexington, Col. Barrett advanced his steadily growing militia east, out of Concord to a tall ridge overlooking Meriam's Corner and the Bay Road. After waiting some time, the long column of scarlet soldiers appeared on the horizon. While some argued for the militia to make a stand, cooler heads prevailed, and the Militia resolved to retire back through the streets of Concord without conflict. When Colonel Smith noticed the militia scouting party on the ridge near Meriam’s Corner, he ordered the British light companies to clear it while the grenadiers continued along the road. In later years, one Militia soldier recalled marching into the town center together with the British Regulars. While the regulars halted in Concord center, the Militia continued westward, crossing the North Bridge and proceeding to an elevated position nearly a mile beyond called Punkatasset Hill. With British soldiers now dispersing to search buildings in Concord, Col. Barrett continued to his farm to ensure the last of the military stores were safe. Major John Buttrick now in charge of assembling the local militia kept a watchful eye on the British activity in Concord and on his own house near the North Bridge.

With the town center secured, Colonel Smith ordered troops to seize and control the two bridges over the Concord River. One company of Regulars under Captain Mundy Pole, was sufficient to secure the South Bridge, but a larger contingent of Light Infantry proceeded to the North Bridge and beyond to Barrett’s Farm.

At the Bridge, one company of the 43rd Foot held the bridge, while two companies from the 4th and 10th Regiments of Foot crossed the Bridge and advanced to the high ground near the homes of Captain David Brown, Ephraim Buttrick and Willard Buttrick. On the high ground north-west of the Bridge, the British soldiers placed themselves between the growing militia force visible on Punkatasset hill further to the north, and the access road running westward from the North Bridge to Barrett’s farm. Four other companies of British Regulars utilized this road and proceeded two miles past the bridge to Colonel James Barrett's House and nearby mill, where loyalist informants had reported that a large quantity of military supplies including powder, cannon, shot, and flour were stored.

Due to warnings in the weeks leading up to April 19, the townspeople had moved most of the munitions and supplies from the Barrett properties to Sudbury, Stow, and other villages. Colonel Barrett’s sons had cleverly hidden those that remained in the surrounding landscape by covering them with pine boughs.

At the Barrett house, the Regulars found only Rebecca Barrett irritated by their transgressions and very few military supplies. During their search, the soldiers seized Colonel Barrett’s son Stephen, mistaking him for his father, but let him go when they learned who he was. The soldiers demanded that Rebecca Barrett cook them breakfast, for which she refused their proffered payment. Although the Barretts’ neighbor to the west, James Chandler, had kegs of gunpowder stored in his house on April 19, the British troops did not disturb the Chandler property.


A Council of War

Militia soldiers mounted on horses look off into the distance. Lines of militia soldiers stand in the background.

While the British 4th, 10th, and 43rd Light companies guarded the bridge and awaited the return of the troops sent to Barrett’s house, the militia on Punkatasset hill advanced forward to Captain David Brown’s cow pasture directly west of the North Bridge, now called the Muster Field. This movement gave the Militia a better view of British operations in Concord and forced the 4th and 10th regiments to retreat toward the Bridge. The Militia ranks had steadily increased with men arriving from neighboring towns, such as Lincoln, Bedford, and Acton. In the muster field, the militia formed a massive battalion front, in two ranks with new companies joining throughout the morning. Eventually, a company of Minutemen from Acton, commanded by the young Captain Isaac Davis arrived. Earlier that morning, Davis’s company rolled musket cartridges in his kitchen before setting out to Concord. As he headed out the door Davis left his wife with the simple words, “take good care of the children.”

At the muster field, the Acton company arrived shortly before the militia spotted a plume of thick smoke billowing from the center of Concord. Unknown to the militia soldiers, this fire was caused by British Regulars burning gun carriages found in town. Unfortunately, the fire jumped to the nearby townhouse, but British soldiers began dousing the flames at the urging of local Concord woman Martha Molton. Upon seeing the smoke, Barrett consulted with his officers and the Concord Adjutant, Joseph Hosmer, who asked if they intended to let the British burn the town. Captain Smith one of the most vociferous officers advocated crossing the North Bridge and entering town. Barrett decided that the militia and minutemen should march to the town’s defense and cross the North Bridge.

Expecting a confrontation with the Regulars at the Bridge, the Militia officers prepared their men to march. Some companies paused in the muster field to change the flints on their weapons; ensuring their guns would fire if needed. Col. Barrett then gave the order to prime and load but cautioned that no one should fire without first being fired upon. The moral and legal cause of the colonists required maintaining plausible innocence should violence occur.

Arranging themselves by seniority of companies with Minute Men at the head, each company marched by the right flank and swung into column on the causeway leading toward the bridge. Major John Buttrick (1731–1791) and Lieutenant Colonel John Robinson of Westford led the procession, followed by the Acton minutemen commanded by Captain Isaac Davis (1745–1775). In total, approximately 400 militia soldiers marched from the muster field toward the approximately 96 British troops under the command of Captain Walter Laurie guarding the bridge. When the well drilled formation of militia appeared, marching to the sound of field music, the British Regulars of the 10th and 4th Regiments withdrew entirely back to the bridge. For Laurie’s men, the encounter on the Lexington Green remained fresh in mind, and this militia advance constituted an attack.


The Shot Heard Round' The World

With Militia soldiers growing closer, multiple British officers shouted contradictory orders. One officer ordered some men into the open fields flanking the bridge, while another suggested ripping up the planks of the Bridge so the militia could not cross. Captain Laurie shouted for the three companies to form a column in the roadway at the base of the bridge and prepare a street firing formation.

As chaos reigned in the British ranks, the head of the Militia column arrived at the Bridge, roughly 50 yards from the British soldiers. At this point, three gunshots rang out from the British regulars, all splashing into the river harmlessly. Without an order to fire, the remaining British soldiers then commenced firing, directly into the Militia column. “The balls whistled well,” remembered one Militia soldier.

At the head of the column the musketry tore through flesh and bone. Acton fifer, Luther Blanchard (1757-1775) fell wounded, shot through the throat while a musket ball struck private Abner Hosmer under the right eye, killing him instantly. At the head of the advance, Captain Isaac Davis fell, shot through the heart. Three additional militia also received wounds at the Bridge within a matter of seconds.

Militia soldiers open fire standing on a dirt road

Major John Buttrick, standing just feet from his own house issued the famed order,

Fire, for god’s sake fire!”

Instantly, each militia soldier stepped into a position where they could fire on the British Regulars without the fear of hitting their own men. A hail of musketry then poured upon Laurie and the Regulars at the Bridge. Three British soldiers fell dead or mortally wounded, while nine others received lesser wounds.

With the situation at the bridge unraveling quickly, many of the Regulars turned and fled back toward the town of Concord. At the Bridge, some Militia crossed over in pursuit of their retreating foe. At this point it is believed one young militia soldier named Ami White struck a wounded British soldier in the head with a hatchet before continuing the advance.

Near the edge of town, the retreating British Regulars passed the home of Elisha Jones, a local blacksmith who stored some of the town’s military provisions on his property. During the British retreat from the Bridge, Jones stood near the back of his home watching the scene unfold, when a Regular soldier fired at the unknown man. The bullet struck the shed 3 feet to the right of Jones’ head, passed through the shed, bounced off an oak joist, and came out the back wall, giving the house the nickname the “Bullet Hole House.”

In the area behind Jones house, the Regulars and pursing militia encountered a hastily gathered segment of Lt. Col. Smith’s additional forces marching from Concord center. While Colonel Smith was overseeing the search for weapons in town, he received an urgent plea from Laurie for reinforcements. Smith then ordered two companies of grenadiers to form and march in the direction of the bridge, where they met the disordered remnants of Laurie’s light infantry.


What Came Next

Forming into position behind a stone wall near the Elisha Jones House, the Militia prepared for another torrent of musketry that never came. The British regulars deployed into a battalion front and dressed their battle lines, but no gunfire followed. Both forces watched and waited before the militia determined to discontinue their advance and retire back to the North Bridge and beyond. At the North Bridge, the wounded militia staggered to nearby homes for care, while comrades took the bodies of Davis and Hosmer to Major John Buttrick’s before being sent back to Acton. Two of the three British dead were left laying at the base of the Bridge but later buried by local men near a stone wall southeast of the bridge.

After retiring to the hills overlooking the North Bridge, the Militia debated what to do next. While many militia soldiers remained, some departed for home having seen too much bloodshed already. During the ensuing lull the four British companies that had searched Barrett’s property returned and passed over North Bridge; where they discovered the bodies of their comrades, one struck in the head with a bladed weapon. Upon rejoining the main body of British troops, those men spread word of Militia soldiers scalping the casualties at the Bridge. With tensions running high, this news brought a sense of dread and desired retribution to the British ranks.

While the Regulars regrouped in Concord and tended to their wounded, the militia debated their next move. Over the next few hours, the number of Militia near the North Bridge fluctuated. Thousands of additional forces were marching on Concord from all directions. A detailed understanding of local terrain, secondary roads, and farm lanes allowed the militia to converge on Concord via multiple routes. As the threat from arriving militia grew by the minute, Smith’s Regulars in Concord wrapped up their final searches and awaited further orders. Throughout the morning, Smith hastily scribbled off dispatches to Boston, requesting assistance. He expected a relief column of nearly 1,000 additional Regulars to reinforce his return to Boston but had no word of their progress. Unfortunately, Smith did not know the planned relief column was delayed by hours.

At about 12:00 p.m., Smith’s situation in Concord demanded action. With no relief in sight and thousands of Militia on the roads, the British began their retreat before any hope of escape vanished.


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FAQs About The North Bridge

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.

No; it represents a (generic) farmer who leaves his plow and picks up his musket to defend his land and liberty. 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.

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.

Last updated: February 7, 2024

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