Who fired the first shot on Lexington Green on the morning of April 19, 1775, remains in dispute. Both the British regulars and the American rebels vehemently denied that it came from their side. What is agreed on is that after that first shot was heard, there was immediately sporadic and then volley fire from the British regulars. In June, there was the catastrophic Battle of Bunker Hill. While the result was indecisive, it was a self-proclaimed British victory at a staggering cost. The engagement was costly for the rebels as well, but they left no doubt that they were not about to give up. This was all-out war.

Events during the first six months of 1775 were crucial to determining whether the colonies were to remain obedient to Great Britain or to become independent and form a more representative government. Walter R. Borneman’s superb American Spring: Lexington, Concord, and the Road to Revolution tells the story of that period in significant detail with descriptions of military engagements and legislative actions, but never loses sight of the personalities at all levels. To a great extent, Borneman relies on the original affidavits, correspondence and memories of the participants and views events from their perspective—before they knew what the outcome would be—giving us a remarkably fresh look at this transformative period.

Among the colorful figures are two unlikely couplings. There was politically savvy Samuel Adams, a failed businessman and part-time brewer, and the wealthy merchant John Hancock. For their own reasons, having to do with money or lack of it, they worked for rebellion. A second coupling, the ambitious wheeler-dealer Benedict Arnold and Ethan Allen, a frontiersman of bravado and bluster, teamed to capture Fort Ticonderoga. Lesser-known figures who played important roles include John Derby Jr., who was entrusted with delivering early reports of the Lexington battles to moderates in Great Britain sympathetic to the rebel cause. Unknown to him, the person who was to receive these documents, Benjamin Franklin, had sailed for North America. But Derby reached the helpful Lord Mayor of London who helped to spread the rebel version of events before the official version arrived from General Thomas Gage.

Borneman’s authoritative, carefully structured and very well written account often seems to place readers in the moment with events that changed the course of history.

 

This article was originally published in the June 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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