It will do us well to remember, 237 years after the shot heard round the world, that it was the epitaph on a Slave’s tomb that put steel in the spines of the victors of North Bridge. May that epitaph, far more than the first shot fired in this country for liberty, strike fire in the hearts of patriots everywhere.
Rumors of the events at Lexington, vague and uncertain, had reached the Minute-men at Concord. All Middlesex was awakened. The militia were flocking in from Carlisle, Chelmsford, Weston, Littleton, and Acton; and before ten o’clock the force amounted to full four hundred men–about one-half that of the regulars. They were drawn up in line by Joseph Hosmer of Concord, acting adjutant, and Major Buttrick of the same village took the immediate command. When they saw the smoke ascend from the town, the question pressed itself upon the heart and judgement of every man; “What shall we do?” There was no Continental Congress; they had no orders from the Provincial Congress; they were a little army of Middlesex farmers gathered for the defence of their homes and their rights: by what authority might they attack British troops acting under lawful orders? Would it not be treason? But the troops were trampling upon their rights, and the smoke of their burning property was rising before their eyes. They took counsel of duty, and acted promptly. In the burying-ground on a hill near by, was the following epitaph on a stone over the grave of a slave:
“God wills us free; man wills us slaves: I will as God wills; God’s will be done.”
Acting in the spirit of these lines, Isaac Davis of Acton drew his sword, and, turning to the company of which he was captain, said: “I haven’t a man that’s afraid to go.” Then Colonel Barrett gave the word march, and the Acton company, followed by others, all under the command of Major Buttrick, pressed forward, in double file with trailed arms, to drive the British from the North Bridge. The latter began to destroy it, when Buttrick urged his men forward to save it. As they approached the river, they were fired upon by the regulars. Captain Davis and one of his company were killed, when Buttrick Shouted: “Fire, fellow-soldiers; for God’s sake fire!” Immediately a full volley was given by the Minute-men, which killed three of the British and wounded several. Some other shots were fired, when the invaders retreated and the Minute-men took possession of the bridge.