On April 16 in the morning, Warren sent Paul Revere to Lexington to warn John Hancock and Samuel Adams, who were hiding there, that something was up. Revere returned that night, stopping in Charlestown on the way to arrange signals should the British move at night: one lantern to be hung in the steeple of North Church if the troops moved inland over the Neck, and two if they came by water.
The sequence of events that followed is not clear, and probably never will be. Someone fired; American eyewitnesses accuse a British officer, and English eyewitnesses deny that any regular fired first. A British officer apparently then gave the command “Fire, by God! Fire,” and one of the platoons delivered a volley. Pitcairn attempted to stop the firing, but before he could make himself heard, a second volley ripped into the militia. The answering fire was weak and the regulars charged. It was all over in a minute or two—eight militiamen dead, ten wounded, one British private grazed in...
In several respects the battle was unlike any other in the Revolution. Never again would there be a “front” sixteen miles long. But different as the battle was, it forecast the central problem the British would face: how to subdue not just another army but a population in rebellion. Of course the war would often resemble many of the eighteenth century, with conventional armies facing one another using well-known tactics. But it was different at times in the enlistment of civilian populations and the discard of the usual methods of battle. It never became an entirely civilian war, a people-in-revolt...
George Washington arrived in Cambridge on July 2, just two weeks after the battle of Bunker Hill. He did not exude confidence in himself or in American prospects. Though the performance of the militia against Howe’s regulars heartened him, he did not feel certain that the Americans could win a war with Britain or even that they could force the British to an accommodation of American liberties. In fact, he had accepted his appointment with misgivings, registering his protests with Congress: “my Abilities and Military experience may not be equal to the extensive and important Trust.” Washington...