The fight at Lexington Green between American colonial militia and British regulars is more significant for what it represents than what actually happened there. The fight itself was brief, spontaneous, and indecisive. But it represented the opening salvo of what became the American Revolutionary War and the birth of our new nation.
On the morning of April 19, 1775, British soldiers set out from Boston to capture colonial leaders Sam Adams and John Hancock. Paul Revere famously rode out to alert local colonists of the British plan. Later that morning, several hundred British soldiers arrived in Lexington and were met by approximately 70-77 militiamen. It’s unclear who fired the first shot, but when the smoke cleared, seven colonists lay dead and eight wounded.
It was chilly when I visited Lexington Battle Green in the Spring of 2017. A recent rain wet the streets and monuments. I found a volunteer tour guide, dressed in period clothes, sitting in the park waiting to give a short tour to whoever was interested. What a cool idea! I felt sorry for her having to stand out in the cold all morning, but it was nice to have an impromptu guide to tell the site’s story.
Before visiting Minuteman National Park, my impression was the battles of Lexington and Concord were separate and distinct engagements. I didn’t realize they were part of a longer, running fight between British soldiers and militiamen spanning several miles. Though periodic rain dampened my trip, it didn’t dampen my enthusiasm to explore this exciting piece of our country’s founding history.
The fight at Concord’s North Bridge actually took place in the middle of the whole affair. On April 19, 1775, after the confrontation at Lexington Green, the British continued on to Concord, where they set fire to some supplies. American colonial militia gathered and tried to push across the bridge. A fight erupted, touching off the Revolutionary War. It was “the shot heard ’round the world.”
At North Bridge, 400 militiamen confronted 100 British regulars, resulting in approximately two militia killed and four wounded, and three British regulars killed and eight wounded. The engagement shocked both sides. On one side of the bridge stands Daniel Chester French’s 1875 Minute Man statue, on the other, an obelisk memorializing the militia casualties. There was a group of British tourists there when I visited, and I couldn’t help wondering how they felt standing on this ground.
The Battle of Bunker Hill was one of the earliest engagements of the Revolutionary War, and the Bunker Hill Monument, a 221-foot granite obelisk, was one of our nation’s first monuments. Neither the battlefield nor the monument, however, are actually located on Bunker Hill. The monument sits atop Breed’s Hill, where most of the fighting occurred.
After the battles of Lexington and Concord, the colonial army besieged the City of Boston, which was held by the British. On the night of June 16, 1775, Colonel William Prescott led a force of 1,200 men onto the Charlestown Peninsula, across the Charles River from Boston, to fortify Breed’s Hill. They built a square earthen redoubt, from which they could fire artillery at British ships on the water and British forces in Boston.
On June 17, the British landed two columns on the peninsula, totaling 1,500 men, with 400 reinforcements joining the final attack, and stormed the colonists’ defenses. Though victorious, they suffered 226 dead and 828 wounded, the highest British casualty count of the war. The colonists lost 135 dead (including 20 prisoners) and 305 wounded.
The Battle of Cedar Creek (or Battle of Belle Grove) was fought in Frederick County, Shenandoah County and Warren County, Virginia on October 19, 1864 between Confederate Lt. Gen. Jubal Early’s Army of the Valley and Union Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan’s Army of the Shenandoah in the American Civil War. The battle resulted in approximately 8,500 total casualties.
Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park was created in 2002 and encompasses over 3,700 acres, 1,500 of which are preserved and administered by partner sites, including the Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation, Belle Grove Plantation, and Hupp’s Hill Civil War Park.
Belle Grove Manor House was built between 1794 and 1797 for Isaac Hite, Jr. and his bride Nelly Conway Madison. Hite owned a general store, grist-mill, saw-mill and a distillery. 276 slaves lived at Belle Grove between 1783 and 1851.
The Battle of Antietam was fought on September 17, 1862 near Sharpsburg, Maryland, between Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and Union Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan’s Army of the Potomac during the American Civil War. The battle ended inconclusively and resulted in approximately 22,717 total casualties.
Established August 30, 1890, Antietam National Battlefield preserves 3,230 acres of the original battlefield east of Sharpsburg. A self-guided driving tour of the park is 8.5 miles long with 11 stops. They also offer several smaller walking tours at principal battle sites, with accompanying full-color booklets. The booklets are available in the Visitor Center for $1 and offer detailed maps, photos, and a narrative of events. It’s a great way to experience the battlefield outside your car, and really understand the battle in relation to the fields, forests, and landmarks.
The Battle of Antietam unfolded in three stages: morning (north), mid-day (center), and afternoon (south), with three uncoordinated Union attacks. The much smaller Confederate army was able to shift forces to meet each attack individually. The fighting was desperate and deadly, some of the bloodiest of the war. Lee’s army was at a low point in terms of manpower because many Confederate soldiers had gone home to harvest their fields. General Lee believed Marylanders would join his ranks as he moved north, but with a few exceptions, they stayed home.
The Siege of Petersburg, encompassing several battles and smaller actions, was fought between June 9, 1864 and March 25, 1865, around Petersburg, Virginia, between Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and Union Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s Army of the Potomac in the American Civil War. The siege ended in a decisive Union victory and resulted in approximately 70,000 total casualties.
Today, only a small portion of the battlefield, mainly northeast of the city, has been preserved as Petersburg National Battlefield. It would be impossible to preserve all the extensive earthworks that ringed the city south of the Appomattox River, but many forts and landmarks have been turned into city parks. The battlefield has been divided into two fronts: Eastern and Western. The Eastern Front Driving Tour is four miles and the Western Front Driving Tour is 16 miles.
The Siege of Petersburg wasn’t technically a siege because the city wasn’t entirely surrounded, but it shared similar characteristics, including fortifications, mortar bombardments, and near-constant, low-intensity fighting. It lasted 9 months, 2 weeks, and 2 days. Over time, the battle lines crawled westward as Ulysses S. Grant tried to find a way to cut Lee’s main supply line to the west and south.
The Battle of Five Forks was fought on April 1, 1865, southwest of Petersburg, Virginia, at junction of Five Forks in Dinwiddie County, Virginia between Confederate units under command of Maj. Gen. George Pickett and Union Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan’s V Corps in the American Civil War. The battle was a decisive Union victory and resulted in approximately 3,700 total casualties, most of which were Confederate.
Five Forks National Battlefield is part of Petersburg National Battlefield Park. The park has a visitors center, several cannon and monuments (erected in the 1960s), and a driving tour. The tour consists of five stops. There hasn’t been much development in this quiet neighborhood, so the battlefield is remarkably preserved.