The War Begins
In October, 1774, Massachusetts leaders, meeting as a Provincial Congress, voted to resist violation of colonial rights. This determination was secretly backed up by the formation of Committees of Safety in key communities of the colony. Their task was to collect munitions, persuade members of the militia to join the cause, and organize a force known as Minutemen to answer a call to arms at a minute's notice.
General Thomas Gage, commander in chief of the British forces in the colonies and royal governor of Massachusetts, brought matters to the shooting stage in April, 1775. He ordered 700 soldiers to march from Boston to seize munitions stored at nearby Concord by the Massachusetts patriots. Paul Revere, William R. Dawes, and Samuel Prescott spread the alarm on the night of April 18.
About 70 Minutemen met the British troops the next day as they moved into Lexington on the way to Concord. In the shooting that followed, 8 Minutemen were killed and 10 were wounded. The others retreated. At Concord the Minutemen, in the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, fired the shot heard round the world." The Revolution had begun.
After the British returned from Concord, they were fired upon all along the way to Boston by Minutemen concealed behind fences, trees, and buildings. This combat was followed immediately by mobilization of militia throughout New England. Within a few weeks, 16,000 armed colonials had gathered in the area near Boston, threatening the British troops in the city.
In May, 1775, the British forts at Ticonderoga, which controlled the best invasion route from Canada, and at Crown Point were captured by other New England forces under Ethan Allen, Benedict Arnold, and Seth Warner.
With reinforcements from England under Generals William Howe, Henry Clinton, and John Burgoyne, Gage soon had a total of 6,000 British regulars in Boston. Gage called for the Americans to lay down their arms. Compliance would bring pardons, but Americans who refused would be hanged, Gage said.
The answer of the Americans, in June, 1775, was to fortify Breed's Hill near Boston. In the attack, called the Battle of Bunker Hill, the British took the hill, but lost 1,054 casualties to the Americans' 450. The Patriots were greatly encouraged because they had stood up to British regulars until their ammunition was exhausted.
The second Continental Congress, which convened at Philadelphia in May, 1775, approved the New England uprising. The Congress also advised the various colonies to establish new governments free from royal officials. Royal governors began to flee.
In June, 1775, at the request of Massachusetts, the Congress voted to put the New England troops under Congressional control. This was the beginning of a national army. It was called the Continental Army of the United Colonies. George Washington of Virginia was named commander in chief and took command on July 3, 1775.
Washington found himself commanding troops who were poorly disciplined and poorly supplied with weapons and ammunition. In addition, most of the troops had enlisted in colonial regiments for only a few months. As their terms expired, whole regi-ments would depart, taking their muskets with them. Washington delayed moving against the British force in Boston until he had a more stable army.