19 April 1775 As the British advance party approached shortly after dawn, 77 Minutemen were instructed by Captain Parker: “Stand your ground; don’t fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here.” The British commander, Major John Pitcairn, who was pleasantly surprised by the small size of the American force, ordered the colonists, “Disperse, ye Rebels! Lay down your arms and disperse.” Some began to obey the order to leave, but held on to their arms. At that point a shot was fired — its source is unknown. Other shots quickly followed and when the smoke cleared, eight Americans lay dead and 10 were wounded; one British soldier was slightly wounded. The outmatched Minutemen retreated into the nearby woods and the redcoats proceeded westward to Concord.
Who actually fired the first shot cannot be answered with certainty, but a number of experts have theorized that it was probably an American who may have fired from a hidden position — perhaps from behind a stone fence or from the nearby tavern.