Here is a brief excerpt from the transcript of an interview of Rick Atkinson by Scott Simon for National Public Radio during which they discusses his latest book, The British Are Coming: The War for America, Lexington to Princeton, 1775-1777 (The Revolution Trilogy), published by Henry Holt & Company (May 2019).
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On April 19, 1775, the “shot heard ’round the world” was fired on the Lexington, Mass. town green. No one knows for sure who fired the shot, but when British soldiers heard it, they panicked. The red coats fired at members of the local militia, killing eight and wounding 10. With that, the Revolutionary War had begun.
Rick Atkinson, who wrote the best-selling Liberation Trilogy about the American effort in Europe during the Second World War, has now written the first book in a new trilogy to tell the story of the war that made America. It’s called The British Are Coming.
Atkinson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and historian, says there are lessons from the Revolution that hold true even today, 244 years after the shot heard ’round the world. For example, Atkinson says, we can learn “that however difficult our difficulties today, however burdensome they seem to be, we’ve had much more difficult periods in our national history and we have survived it somehow.”
The Revolution has also taught us, he says, “that in difficult times, leaders have emerged who have helped us to get to where we need to go.”
Atkinson sat down recently with NPR’s Scott Simon right across from the green in Lexington — where militia members spent the night waiting to see the whites in the eyes of more than 800 British soldiers who’d been sent to stop the American Revolution before it could begin. Here are highlights from that conversation.
On what happened on April 19, 1775
The ambition of the British was to send a force of about 900 men to Concord, 18 miles from Boston, not to seize the patriot leaders, which is what London had suggested to General [Thomas] Gage, the British commander, but rather to seize the cannons, the muskets, the gunpowder, the other war material that they knew to be in Concord. They got here 12 miles outside of Boston to Lexington, found a small militia force waiting for them — maybe 50 men by the time everything had settled out — and there was a massacre, is really what it amounted to. Eight Americans dead and 10 others wounded, two lightly wounded British soldiers, and then they proceeded on to Concord. By that point Concord was ready for them.