The Battle of Lexington was the first battle of the American Revolution. It took place on the morning of April 19, 1775, in Lexington, Massachusetts when British Redcoats fired on colonial militia that had assembled on Lexington Common.
Summary of the Battle of Lexington
The Battle of Lexington was fought on April 19, 1775, in Lexington, Massachusetts. It was the first battle of the American Revolutionary War. After more than a decade of unrest in the American Colonies, Thomas Gage, the Commander-in-Chief of British forces in North America, was given the authority to use force to find and destroy military supplies that could be used in an uprising. On the night of the 18th, Gage issued orders for around 800 British Redcoats to march to Concord to destroy weapons and ammunition that were hidden there. The Patriot spy network in Boston learned about the march, and Joseph Warren ordered Paul Revere and William Dawes to ride to Concord and warn the countryside on their way, including Samuel Adams and John Hancock, who were in Lexington. Through the early hours of the 19th, Revere, Dawes, and another rider, Samuel Prescott, sounded the alarm through the towns. By the time the British set out on their march to Concord, around 70 members of the local militia, under the command of Captain John Parker, were assembled on Lexington Green. As the sun rose, the British advance force, under the command of Lieutenant John Pitcairn, marched into Lexington. Pitcairn ordered Parker and his men to disperse and leave their weapons. As the Americans fled, they took their guns with them. Within seconds, a shot was fired and then both sides opened fire. By the time Pitcairn restored order, eight Americans had been killed, and 10 more were wounded. The British formed their ranks and continued the march to Concord, to complete their mission. However, the American Revolutionary War, and the fighting along the Battle Road for that fateful day, had only just begun.
This engraving by Amos Doolittle was made in 1775 and depicts the British Redcoats firing on the Massachusetts militia on Lexington Common. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.
5 Key Facts About the Battle of Lexington
- Date Started: The fighting started on Wednesday, April 19, 1775.
- Date Ended: The fighting ended on April 19, 1775.
- Location: The battle was fought in Lexington, Massachusetts, a small village west of Boston.
- Who Won: Britain won the Battle of Lexington.
- American Revolutionary War Campaign: The battle was part of the Boston Campaign.
Key Events in the Battle of Lexington
British March to Concord
- On the evening of April 18, 1775, British troops left Boston to advance on Concord with the objective of confiscating a cache of colonial arms and ammunition.
- The British troops were under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith. The advance guard was under the command of Major James Pitcairn.
Warren Sends the Midnight Riders
- American spies learned of the British plan and notified Joseph Warren, the head of the Committee of Safety.
- Warren sent Paul Revere and William Dawes on horseback to warn the people between Boston and Concord about the British march.
- Revere and Dawes both made it to Lexington, and they were joined by a third rider, Dr. Samuel Prescott.
- Revere warned Samuel Adams and John Hancock, who were at the home of Jonas Clarke.
- Prescott rode to Concord and raised the alarm.
- Revere and Dawes were confronted by a British patrol on the road.
- Dawes escaped.
- Revere was captured and held for a while. The British eventually released him but kept his horse. He walked back to Lexington.
Lexington Militia Assemble
- The alarm was raised in Lexington and Captain John Parker went to the Common around 1:00 in the morning.
- He was joined there by around 170 members of the militia.
- They expected the British to arrive at any moment, but after waiting for a while, there were no troops in sight.
- Parker told his men to disperse, but to be ready at a moment’s notice.
- When the British were sighted, the alarm was raised again and around 70 men assembled with Parker on the Common.
British Arrive in Lexington
- British troops arrived outside Lexington around 4:30 a.m. It was the advance force, led by Pitcairn.
- They saw the militia assembled on the Common.
- Parker told his men not to shoot unless the British shot first.
- Around 5:00 a.m., Pitcairn ordered his men to move into Lexington and try to surround the militia.
- Pitcairn ordered the militia to disperse and leave their weapons.
- Parker ordered his men to leave but took their weapons with them, which caused confusion.
- As the Americans started to disperse, a shot rang out.
- Almost immediately, the British fired on the militia, even though Pitcairn had not given the order to fire.
- Some of the militia fired back, and the British made a bayonet charge and routed them.
- Lieutenant Colonel Smith heard the shots and rode into Lexington where he restored order.
- The fighting lasted for about 10 minutes.
- Eight Americans were killed and 10 were wounded. One British soldier was wounded.
- After order was restored, the British continued on their advance toward Concord where they fought with Massachusetts militia forces.
This engraving by Amos Doolittle was made in 1775 and depicts the British marching through Lexington on their return to Boston. Massachusetts militia forces are hiding behind the stone wall, firing on the British. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.
Interesting Facts About the Battle of Lexington
- Revere and Dawes were joined by a third rider, Dr. Samuel Prescott, who crossed paths with them on the road.
- Revere is noted for yelling his famous warning, “The regulars are coming!” as he rode on his mission. He most likely did not shout, “The British are coming.” The Redcoats were “regular” soldiers in the British Army and were typically referred to as such.
- Paul Revere never made it to Concord. He was captured by British soldiers that were patrolling the roads. They held him for a while and then released him around 3:00 a.m, but kept his horse. Revere walked back to Lexington.
- John Hancock and Samuel Adams spent the night of April 18 in Lexington at the home of Reverend Jonas Clarke. They left Lexington as the British advance force led by Pitcairn marched into Lexington.
- Although the first shot of the American Revolutionary War was fired at Lexington on the morning of April 19, 1775, the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” memorialized by Ralph Waldo Emerson took place at Concord later in the day.
- Prince Estabrook, an African-American slave, stood with Parker as part of the militia and was one of the Americans wounded in the fighting.
- Before the British left for Concord, the troops were allowed to shout three “huzzahs” to celebrate their victory.
Results of the Battle of Lexington
- The outcome of the Battle of Lexington was a British victory.
- Fighting continued throughout the day along the Battle Road, which runs from Concord to Boston.
Quotes About the Battle of Lexington
- At the end of the day, Samuel Adams is said to have exclaimed to John Hancock, “What a glorious morning for America!”
Important Leaders and Casualties
Prominent American Military Leaders
- John Parker
Prominent British Military Leaders
- John Pitcairn
- Francis Smith
- The total estimated casualties at the Battle of Lexington were around 19 killed, wounded, or missing.
- The Americans suffered around 18 casualties.
- The British suffered 1 injury.
First Americans Killed in the American Revolutionary War
The men who were killed by the British that morning at Lexington Common were:
- John Brown
- Samuel Hadley
- Caleb Harrington
- Jonathan Harrington
- Robert Munroe
- Isaac Muzzey
- Asahel Porter
- Jonas Parker
The Battle of Lexington is important because it was the opening battle of the American Revolutionary War. Although no one knows who fired the first shot, the British Redcoats did, in fact, fire intentionally on the Americans and then attacked them. One American was even killed by a bayonet. Intense fighting continued throughout the day, and the Americans showed they were a match for the highly regarded British troops. By the end of the day, the British were trapped in Boston, surrounded by thousands of militia from Massachusetts.
Timeline of the Battle of Lexington
This list shows the main battles and events that took place before and after the Battle of Lexington, and how it fits into the chronological order of the Boston Campaign.
- April 18–19, 1775 — Midnight Rides of Paul Revere, William Dawes, and Samuel Prescott
- April 19, 1775 — Battle of Lexington
- April 19, 1775 — Battle of Concord
- April 19, 1775 — Parker’s Revenge
- April 19, 1775 — Battle of Menotomy
- April 19, 1775 — Siege of Boston Started
- April 23, 1775 — Artemas Ward Placed in Command of the Massachusetts Militia Forces
- May 10, 1775 — Capture of Fort Ticonderoga
- May 10, 1775 — Second Continental Congress Started
- May 25, 1775 — British Generals John Burgoyne, Henry Clinton, and William Howe arrived in Boston
- May 27, 1775 — Battle of Chelsea Creek
- June 14, 1775 — Continental Congress Organized the Army of Occupation into the Continental Army
- June 15, 1775 — George Washington Named Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army
- June 17, 1775 — Battle of Bunker Hill
- July 3, 1775 — George Washington Took Command of the Continental Army
- October 10, 1775 — William Howe Replaced Thomas Gage
- November 9, 1775 — Skirmish at Lechmere Point
- November 17, 1775 — Knox Expedition Left Boston
- January 25, 1776 — Knox Expedition Arrived in Framingham
- March 3, 1776 — American Occupation of Dorchester Heights
- March 7, 1776 — Howe Decided to Evacuate Boston
- March 17, 1776 — Evacuation Day
Video of the Battle of Lexington and Concord
This video from the American Battlefield Trust provides a quick overview of the Battles of Lexington and Concord.