On September 5, 1774, representatives from all the colonies, except Georgia, met in Philadelphia at a meeting that was known as the First Continental Congress. Georgia did not send delegates as, at the time, they were seeking help from London in pacifying its smoldering Indian frontier. The 56 members met to consider their options, including an economic boycott of British trade; publish a list of rights and grievances; and petition King George for redress of those grievances. The delegates also called for a second meeting in the event that their petition was unsuccessful in halting enforcement of the Intolerable Acts.
When their appeal to the Crown had no effect, the Second Continental Congress was convened the following year on May 10, 1775 to organize the defense of the colonies at the onset of the American Revolutionary War. The delegates also urged each colony to set up and train its own militia.
It had been but a month or two before, that Patrick Henry had stood up in old St. John’s Church in Richmond, Virginia, and cried, ” We must fight. I repeat it, sir, we must fight. I know not what course others may take, but, as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”
And, he had but voiced the feelings of the greater part of the colonists. For a long time they had been working together to avoid war. Now, they had to work together to prepare for it.
Meanwhile, in all the towns, civilians were secretly meeting at night, practicing and drilling, so that they might be ready for war at a minute’s notice. For this reason, they were called Minute Men. Further preparations were made by storing away supplies such as powder, shot and food.
Though all this was done secretly, Governor Gage of Massachusetts found out that supplies were being stored at Concord. At about the same time, he received orders to arrest and send to England for treason, two of the leaders — Samuel Adams and John Hancock. But, neither Adams nor Hancock was to be found in Boston and it was reported that they were in Lexington.
Governor Gage thought that if he could make a quick, unexpected dash for Lexington and Concord he might succeed in capturing the men and the hidden stores. Accordingly, in the dead of night, April 18, 1775, he sent a force of British soldiers from Boston to make their way secretly to Lexington. But, the Americans had been warned by Paul Revere.
When the British arrived at Lexington the next morning (April 19th), Adams and Hancock had gone and the Minute Men were drawn up on the village green. The astonished English commander ordered the patriots to disperse, but they stood their ground. The commander then drew his own pistol and gave the order to fire*. With the first volley, eight of the Minute Men fell dead and ten more were wounded. The Revolutionary War had begun. (* Editors note: No one really knows who fired the first shot of the American Revolution, known as ‘The shot heard round the world’, as there have been many contradictory accounts passed down from the event)
The British then continued their advance for Concord to get possession of the supplies. However, when the soldiers arrived, the supplies had mysteriously disappeared. Still more surprising than the disappearance of the stores was the great number of Minute Men who guarded the city and drove back some 200 Redcoats from the Concord Bridge. As the British began their retreat to Boston, they were fired upon all they way by patriots hiding in the bushes along the roadside.
The news of the war quickly spread through the colonies. On all sides came the call, “Minute Men to arms!” How this call was answered is well illustrated by the zeal of Israel Putnam, an old fighter of the French and Indian War. When a horseman galloped by his field giving the cry to arms, Putnam rode quickly to Boston, where Minute Men had gathered from all parts of the colony.
In colonial days Boston occupied only one of the several peninsulas which the city now covers, and on one, the British army was quartered. Across the channel was the village of Charlestown, and beyond it, Bunker Hill. The Americans saw that if they could fortify and hold this hill, they would command Boston.
So, on the night of June 16, 1775, their men crept up the slope and set to work throwing up rude fortifications. When morning dawned they stood in firm possession of the hill. The British realized that if they were to keep Boston they must dislodge the Americans from their position. They debated as to the best method of attack. Had they gone by sea to the rear of the hill they might have been easily successful; but they decided to make a charge at the front.
The Americans had little powder, so their two commanders, General Putnam and Colonel Prescott, warned the men to wait until the enemy was close upon them. Up the hill marched the well-trained soldiers of England. Closer and yet closer they came, and still no sign from the Americans.
Then, quick and sharp came the order from behind the breastworks, “Fire!” A great volley broke forth, scattering the British and forcing them down the hill. Again they formed, and again they climbed the hill.
Again that death-dealing volley forced them back and down. A third time they tried. The American powder was nearly exhausted; yet the valiant defenders fought on, with guns, with stones, with knives, even with their fists. But the British were too strong. The Americans were forced back, and the British held the hill. Putnam was disappointed. It seemed to him that after such gallant fighting the patriots should have held out longer, but others said that the defense put up that day was wonderful, even though it ended in defeat. Throughout the country there was great rejoicing.
But, there were great difficulties ahead. An army was needed, but, it was hard to get each colony to promise its share of men. To make matters more difficult, the new Congress was constantly bickering, which weakened its power and discouraged the people. They did make one very wise decision; however, that of appointing George Washington as Commander in Chief of the Continental Army. His remarkable military skill, already shown in the French and Indian War, and his high character made him a fitting leader in the great cause.
When told of his appointment, Washington said, “I beg it may be remembered by every gentleman in this room, that, I this day declare, with the utmost sincerity, I do not think myself equal to the command I am honored with.” Despite his modest doubts, he would bring honor and glory to himself and to his country.
Beneath a famous old elm tree, at Cambridge, Massachusetts on July 3, 1775, that Washington, tall and dignified, first stood before the eager young soldiers and drew forth his sword as commander of the American Army.
No one knew better than Washington the great task that was before him. The drilling of the soldiers until they were weary, the constant begging for supplies, which were so slow in coming, the petty quarrels among the soldiers themselves — all these difficulties, together with the great responsibility of the position, would have daunted most men.
A number of great battles and hundreds of skirmishes would take place over the next eight years in the fledgling nation’s struggle for independence.
In April, 1782, the British Commons voted to end the war in America and preliminary peace articles were signed in Paris at the end of November, 1782, though the formal end of the war did not occur until the Treaty of Paris and Treaties of Versailles were signed on September 3, 1783. The last British troops left New York City on November 25, 1783, and the United States Congress of the Confederation ratified the Paris treaty on January 14, 1784.
The total loss of life resulting from the American Revolutionary War is unknown, but it is estimated that some 25,000 American Revolutionaries died during active military service. Only about 8,000 of these deaths were in battle; the other 17,000 soldiers died from disease. The number of patriots seriously wounded or disabled by the war has been estimated from 8,500 to 25,000.
About the Article: This article on the American Revolution was, for the most part, written by Arthur Cecil Perry and Gertrude A. Price and included in a chapter of their book “American History,” published in 1914. However, the original content has been heavily edited and additional information added.
So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm, —
A cry of defiance and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo forevermore!
— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Paul Revere’s Ride
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