John Pitcairn's Report of the Battle of Lexington

April 26, 1775

In the aftermath of the Battles of Lexington and Concord, Major John Pitcairn wrote a report for General Thomas Gage, documenting the Battle of Lexington. Pitcairn reported the Americans fired first at Lexington.

Battle of Lexington, 1775, Doolittle, Plate 1 Detail, NYPL

This illustration depicts Pitcairn’s men firing on the Lexington Militia. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Pitcairn’s Report to Gage

Please note that section headings, spacing, and notes have been added to make the text easier to scan and comprehend.

Introduction

Boston Camp,
26th April, 1775
To: General Thomas Gage

Sir,

As you are anxious to know the particulars that happened near and at Lexington in the 19th Inst agreeable to your desire, I will in as concise a manner as possible state the facts, for my time at present is so much employed, as to prevent a more particular narrative of the occurrences of that day.

Pitcairn Leads the Advance Force

Six companies of Light Infantry were detached by Lt Colo Smith to take possession of two bridges on the other side of Concord, near three in the Morning, when we were advanced within about two miles of Lexington, intelligence was received that about 500 men in arms were assembled, determined to oppose the Kings troops, and retard them in their march. 

Someone Tried to Fire on the British

On this intelligence, I mounted my horse, and galloped up to the six Light Companies. When I arrived at the head of the advance Company, two officers came and informed me, that a man of the rebels advanced from those that were assembled, had presented his musket and attempted to shoot them, but the piece flashed in the pan. 

Pitcairn Arrives in Lexington

On this I gave directions to the troops to move forward, but on no account to fire, or even attempt it without orders; when I arrived at the end of the Village, I observed drawn up upon a Green near 200 rebels; when I came within about 100 yards of them, they began to file off towards some stone walls on our right flank.

The Battle of Lexington

The Light Infantry, observing this, ran after them. I instantly called to the soldiers not to fire, but surround and disarm them, and after several repetitions of those positive orders to the men, not to fire, etc. some of the rebels who had jumped over the wall fired four or five shots at the soldiers, which wounded a man of the Tenth and my horse was wounded in two places, from some quarter or other, and at the same time several shots were fired from a meeting house on our left. 

AHC Note — See Battle of Lexington and Battle of Concord.

Upon this, without any order or regularity, the Light Infantry began a scattered fire, and continued in that situation for some little time, contrary to the repeated orders both of me and the officers that were present. It will be needless to mention what happened after, as I suppose Colo Smith hath given a particular account of it.

I am, Sir, Your Most Obedt
Humble Servant
John Pitcairn

Interesting Facts About Pitcairn’s Report to Gage

  • Major John Pitcairn was an officer in the British Army stationed in Boston.
  • On the night of April 18, 1775, General Thomas Gage issued orders to Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith (see Gage’s Orders to Smith) to lead a military expedition to Concord to destroy military supplies that were stored there by the Massachusetts Provincial Congress for use by the New England Army, which it was working to organize.
  • Major Pitcairn was second-in-command to Lieutenant Colonel Smith.
  • By the morning of April 19, Smith’s expedition was approaching Lexington when Smith sent Pitcairn forward with six companies of Light Infantry.
  • As Pitcairn and his men approached Lexington, he received reports of 500 men assembled in the town, blocking the path.
  • Pitcairn was told an American tried to fire on the troops, but his musket misfired.
  • As his column marched into Lexington, he ordered his men not to fire.
  • Pitcairn witnessed about 200 men gathered on Lexington Common. These men were under the command of Captain John Parker. Pitcairn overestimates the number of men under Parker’s command. There were around 80, but there also could have been townspeople near the Common.
  • He said they started to disperse but does not mention ordering them to do so, or to leave their weapons behind.
  • Pitcairn said some of the Americans jumped over a wall and then fired on the British, wounding one of his men and his horse.
  • His men responded by opening fire on the Americans, defying his order.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations, including APA Style, Chicago Style, and MLA Style.

  • Article Title John Pitcairn's Report of the Battle of Lexington
  • Date April 26, 1775
  • Author
  • Keywords John Pitcairn, Battle of Lexington
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date May 30, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update May 2, 2024

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