On Easter Sunday, 16 April 1775, Barrett received warning that British regulars were planning to march on Concord to destroy its weapons and supplies in addition to making him a prisoner for his influence in the cause of liberty. For several days he supervised the relocation and hiding of arms and materials away from and within Concord.
Due to a false report about the possible arrival of British troops at Lexington ten days earlier, one of Concord's leading citizens and commander of the Middlesex militia, Colonel James Barrett, had been busy transporting munitions and arms (and what they could) by wagon to the towns of Acton, Stow (north and west of Concord), and Sudbury (south and west of Concord). He even disassembled some of the cannon and buried them in furrows on his own farm. It made no difference. Concord remained a considerable arsenal by any military standards. They had hidden a lot. According to the notebooks of Barrett, 20,000 pounds of musket balls and cartridges, 50 reams of cartridge paper, 318 barrels of flour, 17,000 pounds of salt fish and 35,000 pounds of rice lay hidden throughout the community. There is no doubt that Massachusetts was getting ready to wage war.
Dr. Samuel Prescott, a dedicated Son of Liberty, rode into Concord at
approximately 2:30am, April 19th, with the news that
the regulars were marching from Boston, and were bound for Concord. Only Lexington stood in their path. Barrett knew he
would most likely have to lead his men into battle, or give up everything hidden among a score of houses and farms, including
Meanwhile, he also promulgated plans for his minute and militia units
in anticipation of the British regulars' invasion of his town.
Hearing the alarm on the morning of 19 April, John Buttrick was one of the first arrivals at the Green and as senior officer set about organizing the mustering companies. As the alarm spread, the militia and minutemen from Concord and surrounding towns began to muster at Wright's Tavern, which still stands across the Concord Green/Common from the Colonial Inn.Concord's two minuteman companies and two militia companies were mustered in front of Wright's Tavern.
From nearby Lincoln, another comapny of minutemen who brought rumor of gunfire at Lexington, joined in as well.
Around 6 AM., provincial officers sent a messenger toward Lexington to verify the news that the regulars were marching toward Concord. The horseman by the name of Reuben Brown ( a Concord saddlemaker ) returned from Lexington with an eyewitness account of the first British volley, which had sent him galloping back to Concord. Colonel Barrett, commanding the militia, asked whether the regulars were firing ball-live rounds, not just powder. The messenger, who had turned his horse back toward Concord when he heard the first shots, said "I don't know, but I think it probable."
Colonel Barrett, after consulting with his officers and men, ordered two companies of the Concord militia to a hill overlooking Merriam's Corner to the east of the town hoping to give the approaching British a show of force, and ordered a company of minutemen to advance down the Lexington Road hoping this might persuade the British to turn back to Boston.
As the militia and minute companies arrived at their positions on the east side of Concord, the regulars came into view 21 companies of men marching in a column three abreast, stretching a thousand yards down the road. As the provincials watched, the light infantry formed a skirmish line to meet the militia on the hill while the grenadiers continued toward the minutemen on the road. The morning light glinted off the regulars' polished muskets and bayonets. However, Colonel Smith was in no mood to be intimidated. He had his orders from General Gage, and he meant to carry them out.
The minute company promptly faced about and headed back to Concord, just a few hundred yards in front of the regulars. They were close enough to hear the fifes and drums of the regulars as they marched back into Concord. As one of the minutemen later recalled, the British Regulars had lively as they marched.
It was now clear to Barrett, his officers and men that the regulars were on their way to Concord, and that this was not just another show of force. At this time, Barrett had about 250 men under his command; additional men were steadily flowing in from surrounding towns.
Colonel Barrett ordered the militia companies on the hill to fall back as the light infantry came up the hill toward them. The militia withdrew in stages as the regulars advanced, keeping the regulars in sight but out of musket range - which required only 200 yards. By doing this, Barrett maintained control of high ground but left the town to the regulars. Barrett's orders and cautious deployment indicate that he intended that the provincial forces would not begin the shooting. Barrett's wise choice to hold the militia back, withdraw from harm even to the detriment of stores, avoid conflict, let the British provoke, allowed time for his forces to increase and defend not attack. As his out numbered force withdrew to Punkatasset Hill to await reenforcements.
At about 7 AM on Wednesday, April 19th, in the face of overwhelming odds, Col. Barrett withdrew his forces (some 250 men mostly from Concord and Lincoln) toward the North Bridge to the hills near Buttrick's farm. He cautioned his men not to be careless or needlessly expose themselves, to be cool but firm, not to fire unless the enemy fired first and asked his soldiers to act as considerate, judicious men and patriots.Lieut.Col. John Robinson, of Westford (arrived with no men; declined command but not a position of honor) advanced to destiny. Col. Barrett chose Buttrick to be his ground commander. The quick promotion and sudden thrust into leadership would bring hazard and fame to the Major, for instead of being with the 2nd unit in the line of march to the Bridge, he would be in the forefront.
Barrett and his men now realized that the regulars were going to search Concord and seize or destroy any military supplies that they could find. Many of the provincial supplies were still hidden in the town-large quantities of powder, musket balls, tents, flour and grain, as well as a number of cannon barrels and carriages-all of which was illegal for the provincials to possess.
By 8am Colonel Smith and his regulars were in the center of Concord.Colonel
Smith ordered his men to search and secure the town. He ordered his grenadiers
to begin seaching houses and barns for gunpowder and other munitions. Smith
sent seven companies of light infantry-about 270 men-to the North Bridge,
to hold the bridge and search Barrett's nearby farm. Three companies were
sent to the South Bridge on a similar mission. The remaining eleven companies,
mostly grenadiers, remained in Concord to search the center of the town.
Smith sent one company to guard the South Bridge, and seven companies to
guard the North Bridge that crossed over the Concord River. Four of these
companies then proceeded on to Colonel Barrett's farm two miles away. Analyzing
the scene before him, Barrett saw no reason to attack. The British would
find no arsenal of powder and arms. They would soon disengage and proceed
back to Boston. Besides, the Brisith commander was surely aware that he
would soon be surrounded by 6,000 minutemen and militia in a wide circle between Concord and Boston.
Seeing the light infantry companies moving out of Concord toward his position, Barrett withdrew his men once more, across the North Bridge to high ground about a half mile from the bridge. He then left Major Buttrick in command of the growing provincial force and galloped back to his farm, two miles away, to inspect the progress of hiding military supplies there. When the regulars searched the Barrett farm, they found none of these hastily-hidden supplies, including several cannon laid in freshly-plowed furrows in a field.
Back in the center of Concord, In the courthouse, the grenadiers finally made one of their few finds - some cannon mounts and other equipment. The regulars had also discovered a large quantity of military supplies in the Town House and were burning as much of these supplies as they could. Soon the town house itself was burning, set afire by sparks blown from the fire. The town residents and grenadiers soon extinguished the fire, but the provincials on the hill overlooking the North Bridge saw the smoke and assumed the worst. As Barrett's ranks grew to some 400 men, the colonials moved closer to the Bridge for ease of observation.
Barrett's Militia Advances To Cross Back Over (North