Minute Man National Historical Park | BLOODY ANGLE

Battle Road near Bloody Angle, Minute Man National Historical Park

Battle Road near Bloody Angle, Minute Man National Historical Park

After starting their march from Boston on the night of April 18, 1775, seven hundred British troops first encountered a small outfit of Patriot militiamen at Lexington around 5 AM the following morning. Someone fired a shot—nobody knows who—and a skirmish broke out that left eight militiamen dead and ten wounded. The British suffered one wounded.

The British then proceeded to their intended destination, Concord, to seize a supply of weapons being stockpiled by the Patriots about two miles west of town on the farm of Colonel James Barrett. By this time, approximately four hundred Patriot Minute Men and militiamen had gathered on Punkatasset Hill a mile north of Concord. The hill gave them a good view of the North Bridge and the town. There were very few trees in the area at the time, for this was mainly farmland. (Minute Men were the elite of the general militia and received extra training.)

The bulk of the British soldiers made a search of the town while around 220 of them continued north on Groton Road to the North Bridge where they crossed the Concord River on their way to the Barrett farm. Approximately 100 of these men were left to guard the bridge so that the Patriots couldn’t capture it and cut off the men at the farm, or cross the river to start trouble in Concord.

The British soldiers in Concord made house to house searches for weapons, and while most had been hidden elsewhere by this time, they did find a few items to confiscate. These were taken outside and burned. Some accounts claim the flames got out of hand and accidentally set fire to a nearby building, but regardless, large clouds of smoke rose into the air. The Patriots on Punkatasset Hill, believing the British had just set the town on fire, began advancing towards the North Bridge shortly before 9 AM. The British troops opened fire, and Patriot Major John Buttrick ordered his men to shoot back. Three British soldiers and two Patriots were killed (one of the British was carried away, but later died from his wounds).

Shortly afterwards, the 120 soldiers who went to Colonel Barrett’s farm returned empty handed only to find that their comrades were gone and that dead men were scattered about the bridge area. Outnumbered, they quietly marched back to town, not even stopping to pick up their own dead.

After completing their search for weapons, the British began their 18-mile march back to Boston. They were followed by the militiamen from Concord who shot at them from a distance to avoid being shot themselves. As mentioned, much of the area was farmland, so there were no trees to hide behind. While this tactic certainly harassed the British, from this range the muskets were highly inaccurate, so hitting somebody was just a matter of luck. (There is a misconception that the militia took cover behind the stone walls that lined the road, but that would be like hiding behind guardrails along a modern highway, and they were very likely to get shot just getting to that position.)

In the meantime, more Patriot militiamen were gathering at various bottlenecks along Battle Road to set up ambushes, the first being at Meriam’s Corner where the British had to cross a small bridge. On the open road, most of the soldiers marched in a column five men wide, while other troops known as flankers fanned out like wings on a bird to protect the column by keeping the Patriots out of accurate range. Of course, at a bridge the flankers had to join the main column so they could cross as well, which allowed the Patriots to come closer. Fighting at this location resulted in the Patriots killing two British soldiers and wounding six. They took no casualties.

Patriot militiamen then gathered for an ambush at Brooks Hill where they could fire at the British from above the road, and at Brooks Tavern where another bridge awaited. However, it was the fourth ambush point that would prove to be one of the deadliest on Battle Road, an area that would become known as Bloody Angle. The road took a sharp turn to the left and proceeded northeast, and after a quarter mile it took a sharp right and began a gradual southeast trajectory, forming what resembles a mountain peak-shaped curve in the road. This area had plenty of trees that could provide cover, so the Patriots—nearly 1,000 strong by now—could get within accurate firing range. To make matters worse for the British, there are also hills on this section that blocked the view of what lie ahead.

Bloody Angle (click to enlarge)

Bloody Angle (click to enlarge)

Because the British didn’t know the area, they had to stick to the road. Militiamen who knew the terrain well could cut across fields to reach the ambush locations first. Militiamen from Woburn had positioned themselves on the southeast side of the road, while the militiamen who had been following the British since Concord cut through the fields to the northwest side. Other militias remained to the rear. With militiamen on both sides of the road, the British were caught in a crossfire. Their only saving grace was that they could run down the road, whereas the wooded terrain slowed the Patriot pursuit. Of the seventy or so British soldiers who were killed on April 19, 1775, it is estimated that thirty were killed at Bloody Angle. Only four Patriots were killed in this area.

The British troops continued their march back to Boston, sustaining more ambushes at bottlenecks along the way. At Lexington they were met by 1,000 reinforcements under the command of Hugh Percy. These men had no idea that fighting had broken out when they left, and only heard about it when they reached present day Arlington (then called Menotomy). However, the additional British troops did nothing to stop the harassing fire and ambushes because the militia now numbered around 4,000 men. By the time the British made it back to Boston they had marched or ran nearly 40 miles in less than 24 hours with weapons and full packs. That goes to show what getting shot at can do for motivation.

The British had no time to stop and bury their comrades, so that task was left to the Patriots. Today, the areas where men were buried are marked with memorials, though the exact locations of many graves are no longer known. There are two graves near the Bloody Angle intersection and five at Hartwell Tavern. As you walk the Battle Road Trail you will see a few more of these monuments. There is also a marker at the North Bridge for the two British soldiers killed there.

Memorial to British soldiers killed at Bloody Angle, Minute Man National Historical Park

Memorial to British soldiers killed at Bloody Angle, Minute Man National Historical Park

Memorial to British soldiers killed at the North Bridge, Minute Man National Historical Park

Memorial to British soldiers killed at the North Bridge, Minute Man National Historical Park

If you have ever seen the movie Black Hawk Down, which dramatizes a battle that took place in Mogadishu, Somalia, in October 1993 between American troops and Somali militiamen, then you have a perfect understanding of the Battles of Lexington and Concord. The similarities are uncanny. Just as the British troops traveled from Boston, a friendly town, to capture weapons, the Americans departed from a friendly base to the center of Mogadishu to capture rebel leaders. In both situations rebel militia gathered after being warned of the operation. In both situations the British/Americans reached their destinations and were attacked as they tried to make their way back to safety. In both situations the rebel militia sustained the attack for the entire time. The only difference is that in Somalia the militia came out on the losing end with anywhere from 300 to 500 killed, compared to 18 U. S. soldiers. In the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the British suffered approximately 73 killed, 173 wounded, and 26 missing, whereas the Patriots had 50 killed, 39 wounded, and 5 missing.

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Last updated on September 5, 2023
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