< Back to the History Camp America 2022 Video Archive

J.L. Bell

Looking for the Shot Heard ’Round the World

Travel the Battle Road to and from Concord as J. L. Bell, proprietor of Boston 1775, explores the start of the Revolutionary War

In 1837 Ralph Waldo Emerson coined the phrase “the shot heard ’round the world” for what he deemed to be the most important gunfire of the Revolutionary War. Emerson was a son of Concord, and it was only natural for him to view the shooting that took place within sight of his grandfather’s house as crucial.

But was that gunfire the start of the Revolutionary War? If we define the war as beginning when organized military units confront each other with lethal force, then it had actually started four months before and more than 60 miles away. If we look for the first shot on April 19, 1775, that was definitely fired in Lexington—though British army officers reported it came before their soldiers even arrived at the town common.

This video talk visits more than half a dozen sites, famous and little-known, from Menotomy to Concord and back, to discuss when and how the Revolutionary War began, according to different perspectives. It traces how both sides tried to show restraint at dawn but, in seeing the worst of the enemy, went all-out by the end. Examining the events of April 18–19, 1775, (and earlier) illuminates what it really means to go into a war.

J. L. Bell is the proprietor of the Boston 1775 website (boston1775.blogspot.com), providing daily helpings of history, analysis, and unabashed gossip about Revolutionary New England. He is the author of The Road to Concord: How Four Stolen Cannon Ignited the Revolutionary War, a book-length study for the National Park Service about General George Washington in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and numerous articles and book chapters.