Five musket balls “heard round the world” found at Concord

Archaeologists excavating Minute Man National Historical Park in Concord, Massachusetts, have discovered five musket balls fired by the colonial militia against the British in the first battle of the Revolutionary War on April 19th, 1775. The musket balls were unearthed by National Parks Services archaeologists at the North Bridge battle site, famed as the place where the colonial militia were for the first time ordered by their leaders to fire on British soldiers.

It was Ralph Waldo Emerson who coined the phrase “The shot heard round the world” to describe the militia firing on the regulars at North Bridge in his 1837 poem “Concord Hymn.” The first shots on that day actually took place on Lexington Green at 5 AM. It was a chaotic and brief scuffle triggered when a shot of unknown source was fired and the British infantry charged the militia. The militia company’s commander, Captain Parker, had no intention of engaging the regular troops and ordered his men to disband when he saw the regulars approach. The British attacked quickly, bayonetting the militia men on the green and shooting at them when they retreated.

The clash at North Bridge took place at 9:30 that morning. The British troops were deployed to secure the bridge to prevent any rebels from sneaking out of town, and so they could cross it seeking armaments and supplies at Barrett’s farm a mile away. At first the militia were outnumber 3:1, but while the regulars were searching Barrett’s farm, colonial officers were getting reinforcements and when the two sides met at the bridge, the militia outnumbered the regulars.

The militia were ordered not to fire unless fired upon, and fired upon they were. Major John Buttrick gave the fateful order to fire back, and the British line broke. Twelve British soldiers and four officers were hit. Three of the soldiers were killed. One militia officer and one private were killed and four others wounded.

The musket balls were discovered by archeologists conducting compliance activities in preparation for the park’s Great American Outdoors Act project. The musket balls were found in an area where, according to contemporary accounts, British soldiers formed up to resist the river crossing. Further analysis of the musket balls indicates that each one was fired from the opposite side of the river and not dropped during the process of reloading.

“It’s incredible that we can stand here and hold what amounts to just a few seconds of history that changed the world almost 250 years ago,” said Minute Man Park Ranger and historic weapons specialist Jarrad Fuoss. “These musket balls can be considered collectively as ‘The Shot Heard Round the World,’ and it is incredible that they have survived this long. It is also a poignant reminder that we are all stewards of this battlefield and are here to preserve and protect our shared history.”

The balls will go on display Saturday, July 13th, at Minute Man National Historical Park.