People ask, “Why is Yorktown important?” Yorktown is the other bookend of the American Revolution. The war began with the two engagements between Massachusetts militia and the British Army. What is not well-known is the hurry, surprise and confusion leading to those battles. In  takes us on an intimate journey into the events of April 1775. In chapter four Tourtellot provides a detailed description of the Lexington common and the people present at the moment the British Army approached.
–Museum of the American Revolution, Philadelphia
The War BeginsThe Lexington Common that Pitcairn saw that April sunrise was a two-acre triangle, not wholly open but somewhat cluttered for its size with the ungainly three-snorted oblong meetinghouse facing down the road toward the oncoming British. On the left was the belfry that looked as if it had been plucked off the top of the meetinghouse by some gargantuan child and left incongruously at its side. Behind the belfry was the little schoolhouse and to its left the well put there for the townspeople’s use.
On and around the little Common stood perhaps a quarter of the town’s population. Sergeant Munroe had got some forty of his minutemen in line. Perhaps thirty more were milling around. They walked to the meetinghouse for ammunition. They came in across the meadows and pastures from their houses. Some crossed the road from Buckman’s. Other townspeople, unarmed but curious, stood around the Common. Otheres stood in the yards of the three houses or behind the stone walls of the pastures and meadow. Jonas Clarke among them later on.
The War BeginsFrom their own windows the families of Daniel and Jonathan Harrington and Nathan Munroe could watch all that went on. Seventy militia, more or less; a hundred spectators, most of whom would be getting up at this hour anyway; and, hauling the trunk up the edge of the Common, Revere and Lowell—this was the formidable force that confronted Major Pitcairn and his five companies of light infantry as they came within sight of the Common.
Primed as they were for at least 500 and possibly 1,000 armed belligerents, the approaching British must have at first got the impression that the whole number present was much larger than it actually was, and in the dawning light it would have been difficult to distinguish combatant from spectator. Yet there was no mention later by the British officers of the figures 500 or 1,000. Major Pitcairn thought that he saw “near two hundred of the rebels.” Ensign de Berniere of the Tenth Infantry light infantry company, which was in the van of the British march, said that “there were about a hundred and fifty rebels,” and he also mentioned that the militia were drawn out widely separated in their lines.
The War BeginsThe disgruntled Lieutenant Barker of The King’s Own Regiment, who resented so much the delay at Cambridge and was convinced from the beginning that the whole expedition would fail, put the number “between two and three hundred.” The British official reports, in language of qualifying vagueness, used “about two hundred.” Only the British captured later in the day and who gave depositions to the provincials came closer in their estimates, perhaps because they did not have to justify actions of the British army any longer or perhaps because the provincial authorities saw to it that they did not overestimate the size of their opposition. John Bateman of the 52nd Regiment deposed of “a small party of men gathered together.”’ Lieutenant Edward Gould of The King’s Own proved the most nearly accurate of all. “We saw a body of provincial troops armed, to the number of about sixty or seventymen.”
A little more than half of them joined Sergeant Munroe’s deceptively stretched out platoons. Captain Parker presented seventy men altogether on or near the Common. Even this small number constituted one tenth of Lexington’s entire population. Or a little less than half the adult male population. And they were, in fact, pretty much what would be found as the male population of any country village.
The War BeginsAmong the oldest was Ensign Robert Munroe, the old veteran officer who had fought other wars on the British side. At 63, he could have been excused from duty as a minuteman. But old men of his type are not easy to put aside. So he joined his two sons and two sons-in-law in the field. Of the same determined bend was his 54-year-old cousin, Jedediah Munroe. He armed himself with—in addition to his musket—a long sword brought by his forebears from Scotland. Another senior minuteman was the close neighbor of the pastor and a first cousin of Captain Parker. He had told everyone in Lexington that, no matter what the circumstances, he would never run from the British, and whose son, Jonas, Jr., stood at his side. The oldest of all was Grandfather Moses Harrington, sixty-five. His youngest son Caleb was with him. His nephew, Jonathan, who owned the house facing the Common, was also with him. So were a dozen other nephews and remote cousins. There were other father-and-son combinations as well.
There was the slave, Prince Estabrook, highly popular with Lexington children as a willing referee in their games. Then there were also some minutemen from the companies of other towns who just happened to be in Lexington by chance and who enlisted in Parker’s company for the night. As a military company the whole collection would never look like much: some old men, a generous block of the middle-aged, some inexperienced youths in their teens.

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