The North Bridge Fight

Arched wooden bridge with field stone abutments spans a slow river bounded by green embankments
Concord's North Bridge where the "shot heard round the world" was fired, April 19, 1775.

NPS photo

Quick Facts

What was the reason for the British expedition to Concord?
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:

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.

Under great pressure from his superiors in England to bring Massachusetts back under control of the "lawful government," General Gage sent the troops to Concord in the hopes that by doing so, he could convince the colonists to back down, and thus avoid an armed rebellion.

General Gage also believed that seizing stockpiles of weapons was not only a militiary necessity, but also his prerogative as governor of the colony. The colonists actively disagreed.

Why were British soldiers guarding the North Bridge?
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 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, the British left three companies (about 96 men) at the bridge to guard it.

Where were the British and Colonial soldiers standing when shots were exchanged across the river?
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.

In all, twelve British soldiers were hit, three of them fatally. Four out of eight officers present were wounded. The rest of the British soldiers broke and fell back in disorder towards Concord. On the colonial side, Captain Isaac Davis and Private Abner Hosmer were killed. Four other militiamen were wounded.

This short action was the first colonial victory in the Revolution, but 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..." The worst of the day's fighting was yet to come.


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6 minutes, 31 seconds

Park Ranger Jim Hollister, on site at Concord's North Bridge, explains the fighting that took place there and reads the account of Corporal Amos Barrett, a minute man from Concord.

Last updated: September 2, 2020