“The Shot Heard ‘Round the World”
As we observe the anniversary of the outbreak of open hostilities between Britain and her restive subjects in America, I thought you all might enjoy this brief peek into the moment on that cool spring morning that has echoed through history to today.
As the sun rose on a cool spring morning, a knot of men stood in the Lexington common, muskets on their shoulders, nerves frayed. The past few years has brought the American colonies to the brink of open conflict with their King, between crackdowns on traditional smuggling operations, new taxes, and punitive measures imposed by Parliament in distant London in answer to provocative protests in Boston and other ports along the New England coastline.
The men had gathered in response to a warning dispatched from Boston that the British troops there were moving out into the countryside to seize provincial stores of powder and arms. They’d just received a pair of riders who had said that the Crown’s forces we less than a quarter hour distant on the road through town.
At a word from their neighbor, John Parker, they lined up in ranks, swallowing their fear and determined to present a brave face to the naked force they expected to see on display. “We’re looking for no trouble,” Parker said in a raspy voice, facing them. “The Redcoats are said to have been offering insult to the countryside as they’ve advanced this way; let us give them no cause to molest us here.”
He looked grim. “I expect none of you to fire unless we are fired upon. Should that happen, though, if the British mean to have a war, then let us show them what a war it shall be.” He nodded crisply to the men who faced him, and noted that despite the chill, nervous sweat stood out on more than one brow.
Chewing the inside of his lip to hide his own nervousness, he turned back to face the road, squinting into the sun as it stood low on the horizon. He could see a pall of dust over the rise and swallowed hard. The British were coming, and in enough numbers to darken the morning, no matter his own actions.
And then, a solitary British officer appeared on the brim of the hill. Parker saw him pause at the sight of the village, and of the neatly-arrayed ranks of men who stood on the common behind him. The head of the column of troops appeared behind him, and the officer spurred his horse and rode forward, drawing his sword and holding it aloft before him.
As he rode close enough to be heard, the Redcoat shouted, “Lay down your arms, you damned rebels! You’ve no business with us – go back to your homes and let us pass without challenge.” The man’s face was red with exertion, and Parker saw with some surprise that he looked nearly as nervous as he felt, himself.
The British column had sped up to a trot to catch up with their officer, and the thunder of their hooves raised such a din that Parker struggled to make himself heard. He turned his head and said over his shoulder, “We’ve made our point, boys. Let’s go on home, and let these rascals do what they must.”
The men broke ranks and those around the edges of the common began to move away toward their homes, already thinking of cider and bread that awaited.
It was not to be, though. Parker’s blood ran to ice as a shot rang out, and he threw himself to the ground beside his men as it was followed by a second, and then a storm of thundering fire and clouds of acrid smoke. He found his own finger on his trigger as he picked his target, and he knew that the world had just changed before his eyes…