The Battle Road reenactment is a recreation of (and ceremonial tribute to) some of the fighting which took place on April 19, 1775, along what we now call the Battle Road, the route down which the rebellious provincial militia chased the British regulars from the North Bridge in Concord back to Charlestown. Reenactments and ceremonies take place in Lexington and then from Concord through Lincoln to Lexington. This event will follow in the footsteps of the Parliamentarian Regulars and Provincial Militia. Battle Road today is now a commuter route but some sections in Minute Man National Historic Park still have their original dirt and clay surface and along the route still stand several houses which the British army marched past. Areas further in along the Battle Road are too urban to include in the Battle Road event.
Reenactments of the Battle Road event mimic the original events as closely as possible, but because of the intrusions of modern life, because of the need for event safety, and because no opposed firing is allowed on National Park grounds, there are significant differences between the events of the reenactment and the original day. Nevertheless, we believe that it is possible for participants and spectators to feel enough of what the original Battle Road was like.
On the 18th of April, 1775, word flashed through the countryside of Middlesex County in the Massachusetts Bay colony that the Regulars were out. Odds were that they were on their way to Concord to seize weaponry stockpiled there by the local militia companies (although due to recent rumors, much of it had already been moved to the outskirts of town and hidden).
Rebellion had been brewing for a long time. Recent events had brought tempers to a fever pitch. In June, 1774, the port of Boston had been closed, wreaking economic havoc. In [month, year], General Gage, on orders from Parliament, had replaced the elected members of the governor's council with Crown appointees. Since October '74, local militias had been drilling frequently and acquiring weapons, with the direction, encouragement and financial support of the unofficial provincial congress, which met illegally [right?]. In a series of "Powder Alarms", unarmed or armed militiamen had seized powder and weapons and spirited them away from the control of the English authorities. In some cases shots had been fired, but no provincial had yet killed a British soldier.
As the alarm went out on April 19th, militiamen streamed in toward Concord. The Provincials and Regulars first exchanged shots on Lexington Green, at 4 a.m. on the 19th, where several Provincials were killed. The Regulars continued on to Concord, where they attempted to destory the few munitions not yet hidden or removed. By then, hundreds of Provincials had gathered from the nearest towns. Again, shots were exchanged, at the North Bridge, and men were killed on both sides. The Regulars began a retreat toward Boston, increasingly beleagured by the Provincials who streamed in endlessly from towns further and further away, who reinforced the tired men who had fought from the beginning, and who all harried the Regulars unceasingly, nearly causing them to surrender before they were saved by reinforcements in Lexington.
Still the Provincials surrounded the Regulars and kept up constant fire as the Regulars retreated toward Boston in the most savage fighting of the day. Finally the Regulars reached sanctuary in Charlestown, where what had now become the beginnings of a Provincial standing army set up camp and laid a sort of seige to Charlestown and Boston.
For a more detailed history of the Battle Road, see the History page.
This was the first time that organized Provincials had killed British Regulars. It could not be ignored or glossed over. It was rebellion; armed insurrection; revolution; war.
The Battle Road is both the route which the Regulars took out to Concord and back and the running battle which took place that day.
How will this Battle Road event be different from past Battle Roads (for men and women who have participated in Battle Road in the past)?
This is the 225th anniversary of the Battle Road, and this year's event will be much bigger than in recent years, with more reenactors and many more spectators. There will be three times as many reenactors as last year and four times as many as in 1998. What's more, the crowd of public will be enormous -- easily ten times more than last year. Traffic will be a mess. Part of Mass. Ave. will be shut down for an hour or more. Getting reenactors and public from site to site on time and making the event worthwhile for participants and public will call for months of planning, precision timing, a little luck -- and your cooperation.
We will be providing buses to take participants from site to site (but only if you are counted on your unit's return -- campfollowers and children included). To get people to the right place at the right time, we will have to bus people by categories: Provincials of the 1st, 2nd, and 2rd Battalions, British Regulars, massed music, interpreters, and campfollower-spectators. We will do our best to keep families together at sites, but this can't be our first priority. No one (except the British Regulars) will be able to go to every site. In most cases, you will "leapfrog" to every other site, sometimes every third site.
Men-at-arms and musicians (including women portraying them), your roles are defined by the structure of the event.
Women and children and "civilian" men, we urge you to sign up as interpreters and follow the clothing guidelines. We desperately need interpreters to help with crowd control and to help the public understand the event. As an interpreter, you will have busing priority over campfollower-spectators and you will probably have a better view of events, as most interpreters will be stationed at the edges of the fields.
How will this Battle Road event be different from other reenactments (for men and women who are new to Battle Road)?
Battle Road is very different from typical reenactments. It follows the original timeline of the day and starts before dawn, jumps from site to site across [how many?] miles, and runs through late afternoon. No other reenactment skips between so many sites, so widely separated, in such a populous area, in a single day.
For this 225th anniversary of the orginal battle, the reenactment has been expanded into a weekend-long event. The main reenactments -- the "Battle Road" proper -- will take place on Saturday, and the rest of the weekend will be a relatively standard reenactment with an encampment (set during the Siege of Boston, which lasted from the end of Battle Road through March, 1776), drills and military exercises, sutlers, historical programs, and so forth.
Everyone will be bused from site to site (except that the British Regulars will march between some sites) (but only if you are counted on your unit's return -- campfollowers and children included). Provincials will "leapfrog" to every other site or so. Due to the large number of participants and the limited location in these suburbs unless you are a Regular in Smith's column you will only participate at about 50% of the sites that we will be using.
Men-at-arms and musicians (including women portraying them), your roles are defined by the structure of the event.
Women and children and "civilian" men, since Battle Road predates the raising of the provincial army and since non-combatants either hid or fled on the original day (at least for the parts we will be reenacting), there are no roles for you in reenacting the event. However, there is a rewarding and valuable role you can play by helping out with crowd control and historical interpretation as interpreters and pickets. The events of Battle Road take place in crowded suburban locations wedged in between roads, houses, and businesses. This year's event will be swarmed with tourists -- tens of thousands of them -- eager, impressionable minds who might actually learn something about history -- if someone tells them why a bunch of guys in funny clothes are chasing each other around a gazebo, and if they don't run out on the field and make the whole show stop, or get bored and wander off just before the fun starts.
If you are not interested in being an interpreter, your options are to stay in camp or to follow the events as a spectator and member of the crowd (we would prefer you to wear 20th century clothes). You will be bused between sites (leapfrogging like everyone else) (provided you and your children are counted on your unit's return). We will try to send you to the same sites as your family members on the field, but our first priority must be to keep the reenactments running smoothly. We urge you to sign up as interpreters and follow the interpreter guidelines, rather than following the event as part of the crowd. We feel sure you will find it more fulfilling, and we need your help.
Please keep in mind that the Battle Road reenactment is a long, hard day which starts before dawn in very cold weather. It may not be appropriate to bring very young children to events, particularly early morning events. You may have more fun spending the morning in Lexington -- which is in walking distance of the camp -- shopping, eating, or exploring the town during the morning, and then watching the battle as it comes down Mass. Ave. in Lexington Center.
Children are welcome to accompany their non-fielding parents or guardians. Children who are qualified musicians may apply to be admitted into the Massed Music but must be accompanied by an adult chaperone. (Chaperones may bring additional children but it will ease our logistics if you do not.) We will be especially happy to have children join their parents as interpreters -- they are very well received by the public -- however, they will not be allowed on the field unless their parent or guardian is immediately next to them.
Bus transportation will be available between all sites for all participants, regardless of whether you are in Colonial or modern dress (provided you are counted on your unit's return). Because of the difficult logistics of the event, however, it will be necessary for you and your children to wait for transport from time to time. There will be bathrooms and/or portapotties within a short walk of most sites.
Anyone desiring bus transportation must make sure that they and their children are on the list which their unit must submit by April 1st.
Where do I have to be, and when, on Saturday morning? I have to get up HOW early? Are you out of your @#&%$ minds?
See the Starting Schedule for Saturday, April 15th.
Yes, and so are you -- you're a reenactor, aren't you?
That's it. That's what it all boils down to. Well, also, some prints won't do, but it's hard to describe prints with words.
If you have any questions or concerns about prints or about anything in the guidelines, please contact us. We would be happy to send a representative from the Battle Road Committee to meet with groups of half a dozen or more, and for individuals or smaller groups, we will do our best to work something out.
See also I'm a Little Short on... (time, ...).
We know that the rules sound imposing, but you might be surprised how easy it is to satisfy them. See What do the clothing guidelines really mean?, above, and please contact us if you have any questions or need help finding or making clothing or equipment. We want you as an interpreter. We will do our best to work something out with you.
The rifle shirt was not worn in the Massachusetts Bay area before or during spring of 1775. Just a short time later, when Washington took command of the newly formed Continental Army, he ordered that militia be issued rifle shirts. He was familiar with the garment, which was popular in his area. But if there was any rifle shirt worn in Massachusetts at or before Battle Road, it would have been a highly unusual item of clothing, and viewed as outlandish. We have seen no primary documentation showing they were worn here at that time.
The history of the rifle shirt is obscure. It is difficult to trace. The garment goes by many names -- rifle shirt, rifle frock, rifle coat, hunting shirt, hunting frock -- and "hunting frock/coat/shirt" could also be used to describe a different garment which just happened to be used for hunting. It seems that the rifle shirt originated in the South some time before the Revolution. Once the Revolution began, it spread rapidly, probably largely due to Washington's orders and Continental Army soldiers' travels.
[More information is forthcoming on the history of the rifle shirt, but it's not a high priority for us. We'd be happy for you to help us out with this. Or anything else.]
If you have primary documentation of rifle shirts being worn in the areas which responded to the Battle Road alarm, please contact us and let us see it; we would love to hear about it. If we find your documentation convincing, then you can wear a rifle shirt to Battle Road!
In grade school, they teach us about the battles on Lexington Green and at the North Bridge in Concord and they leave out the rest of the day. The Battles of Lexington and Concord are distinguished as the two times during the Battle Road that all of "us" stood in ranks facing all of "them", and as the first two times during the day that shots were exchanged.
In Lexington, it is the first shot fired on Lexington Green. In Concord, it is the first shot fired at the North Bridge. According to Ralph Waldo Emerson's poem The Concord Hymn, it is a shot fired at the North Bridge.
Longfellow's famous poem begins:
So far so good, but the rest of the poem is almost entirely fact-free. Longfellow implies that Paul Revere rowed alone across the Charles, that he needed to see the lanterns before he knew which way the "British" were coming, that he waited alone for the signal, that his primary -- indeed, sole -- purpose was to warn the populace, that he gave the alarm to individual households as he passed, that he passed Lexington without stopping, that he reached the North Bridge, and for icing on the cake, that the "farmers" fought exclusively from behind fences and walls.
In fact, Revere sent the messenger to set the lanterns as a backup in case he himself was caught; Dawes was an additional backup. Revere had arranged to be rowed across the Charles, and had arranged for a horse to be brought for him on the other side; he was well-prepared. His primary stated purpose was to warn Hancock and Adams to leave Lexington, as the Regulars were reportedly marching there to arrest them, although he also took the opportunity to alarm the countryside by contacting, as previously arranged, a leading member of the revolutionary movement in each community, who spread the alarm locally and to communities in other directions. He stayed some time in Lexington before continuing on toward Concord, with Dawes, but was captured before he reached the town center. Fortunately, they had run into Prescott shortly before meeting the Regulars' advance party, and Prescott, a local, was able to escape and reach Concord center with the warning. While the farmers and others who participated in the fight did at times fight from behind fences and walls, they had been training for some time in standard 18th century line-fighting techniques, which they employed frequently and effectively. Even when fighting from cover, they generally maintained their unit cohesion, and only at one brief point in the day was it "every man for himself".
The full text of the poem is available at www.vboston.com/VBoston/Content/Poems/midride.cfm. (Also, you might enjoy The Midnight Ride of William Dawes. And "He is famous and I am forgot / For more rhymes with Revere than rhymes with Prescott.")
Last updated: 29 Mar 2000
Webmaster: Sue Felshin