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Determining the Facts

Reading 2: More Than One Side to Every Story

As with all histories, there is more than one side to every story. Thomas Gage’s letter and the coverage of the battles in the colonial press illustrate how different the intentions can be portrayed depending on what side a person is on.

First-hand accounts of the battle are a useful source for determining different perceptions of the same event from opposite sides. Here are examples from both the British and colonial perspectives about the battles.

General Thomas Gage, Military Governor of Massachusetts, to the commander of the expedition, after recieving an order for the British to march on Concord to take possession of the patriots’ weapons:

Boston, April 18, 1775 
Lieut. Colonel Smith 
10th Regiment Foot 

Sir: 

Having received intelligence, that a quantity of ammunition, provision, artillery, tents and small arms, have been collected at Concord, for the avowed purpose of raising and supporting a rebellion against his majesty, you will march with the corps of grenadiers and light infantry, put under your command, with the utmost expedition and secrecy to Concord, where you will seize arms, and all military stores whatever. But you will take care that the soldiers do not plunder the inhabitants, or hurt private property. 

Your most obedient humble servant 

Thomas Gage1

Lt. John Barker, British Soldier, 4th Regiment, Diary Account on the beginning of the march to Lexington:

[April] 19th…about 5 miles on this side of a Town called Lexington which lay in our road, we heard there some hundreds of People collected together intending to oppose us and stop our going on: at 5 o’clock we arrived there and saw a number of People, I believe 2 and 300, formed on a Common in the middle of the Town; we still continued advancing, keeping prepared against an attack tho’ without intending to attack them, but on our coming near them they fired one or two shots, upon which our Men without any orders rushed in upon them, fired and put ‘em to flight; several of them were killed…2

Statement of James Barrett, Colonel of Concord Militia, on the Battle at North Bridge:

…I ordered said militia to march to said bridge and pass the same, but not to fire on the King’s troops unless they were first fired upon. We advanced near said Bridge, when the said troops fired upon our militia and killed two men dead on the spot, and wounded several others, which was the first firing of guns in the town of Concord. My detachment then returned fire, which killed and wounded several of the King’s soldiers.3

Questions for Reading 2

1) What do you think was the purpose of General Gage’s orders? What specific order does Gage issue regarding the treatment of local inhabitants?

2) Compare General Gage’s order with the account in Reading 1. How well do you think his orders were carried out?

3) How do the first-hand accounts differ? What does this mean for people trying to study this historical event and its place in the Revolutionary War? Do you think the first shot being fired on either side make a significant difference in larger conflict of the Revolutionary War? Why or why not?

 

1 French, Allen. General Gage’s Informers, p. 31, University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor MI,. 1932.
2 “Diary of a British Soldier”, Atlantic Monthly, April 1877 Vol. 39.
3 The Journals of each Provincial Congress of Massachusetts, p. 674, Boston MA. Dutton and Wentworth, 1838.

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