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What was the "shot heard round the world"?

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The phrase of "shot heard around the world" originates from Ralph Waldo Emerson's (25 May 1803 - 27 April 1882) poem about the Battle of Concord, titled, "Concord Hymn" and referred to this Massachusetts town as the place where the first shot of the American Revolutionary War occurred on 19 April 1775. Technically, this is untrue as it is known that the first shots were fired at the nearby Battle of Lexington earlier in the day and due to contradicting accounts of events from both sides, it will probably never be known who actually fired the first shot at Lexington, the first official battle of the American Revolution. It was four and a half hours later, at 9:30 a.m., that three companies of British Regulars (about 96 men) encountered approximately 400 citizen-soldiers on the hill overlooking the North Bridge in Concord. Gunfire was exchanged and further casualties ensued on both sides. A battle monument in the form of an obelisk was erected at the foot of the bridge over the Concord River and its tablet inscription reads: "HERE on the 19 of April 1775 was made the first forcible resistance to British aggression. On the opposite Bank stood the American Militia. Here stood the Invading Army and on this spot the first of the Enemy fell in the War of that Revolution which gave Independence to these United States. In gratitude to GOD and In the love of Freedom this Monument was erected AD. 1836." The dedication ceremony was originally to be held on 19 April 1836 but due to delays, the celebration was held a little more than a year later, on 4 July 1837. In 1837, Emerson was asked to write a poem to be read during this dedication ceremony and accordingly, his poem was sung by the assembled townspeople to the tune of Old Hundred (derived from the hundredth Psalm) but Emerson was not among them on that day as he was in Plymouth with his second wife Lidian.

In 1872, a committee of citizens awarded a commission to Daniel Chester French (20 April 1850 - 7 October 1931), a 22 year old Concord man at the time, to create a monument commemorating the centennial anniversary of the battle at the North Bridge. As shown in the photograph, French chose a seven-foot-high figure of "The Minute Man" to be cast in bronze from Civil War cannons that had been melted down. The statue does not represent a particular person; it symbolizes a typical farmer who leaves his plow and picks up his musket to defend his land and liberty. French was paid $1,000 for the statue and it was unveiled as planned on 19 April 1875 in front of a large crowd and in the presence of distinguished guests such as President Ulysses S. Grant and poets Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Ralph Waldo Emerson. It was noted that the sculptor was not present as he had already left to study in Europe. Carved onto the granite pedestal is the opening stanza of "Concord Hymn": "By the rude bridge that arched the flood,/ Their flag to April's breeze unfurled,/ Here once the embattled farmers stood,/ And fired the shot heard round the world." So while the first shots of the American Revolution were fired at Lexington, the "shot heard round the world" was fired in Concord to mark America's first victory in the fight for America’s independence. Emerson's historical revisionism has been a source of friendly debate for over a century between residents of Lexington and Concord on where is the official birthplace of the Revolutionary War. In 1894, the Massachusetts Legislature proclaimed 19 April as Patriots' Day as a civic holiday commemorating the anniversary of the Battles of Lexington and Concord. Up until 1969, the holiday was celebrated on the actual anniversary of the battles and afterwards has been observed on the third Monday in April.

On this day, 19 April 2022, we commemorate the 157th anniversary of the "shot heard round the world" as well as the 147th anniversary of the unveiling of "The Minute Man" statue in Concord, Massachusetts.

André M. Levesque

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