Many Boston-area living history groups that research the Revolutionary War and produce battle reenactments are descendants of the same groups that first responded to the alarms of the Midnight Riders. For example, the Lexington Minute Men, the oldest such society in continuous operation in New England, is a historical society; a subset of their members participate as reenactors in the Lexington Training Band, taking their name from the original defenders of the town.
Every April 19th
The first known reenactment of the battles took place half a century after the actual event. For the centennial of the battles, President Ulysses S. Grant attended a reenactment in Lexington and the Lexington Minute Men adopted buff and blue uniforms that year, the same style of uniform they wear today. In 1971, the Lexington Minute Men organized a reenactment in anticipation of the battle's bicentennial. That year, the events were held during the day, but the annual battle reenactments since then start at dawn -- as the actual events did in 1775.
Early Morning Spectacle
Every April 18, at the Hancock-Clarke House in Lexington, spectators gather before midnight to witness a recreation of Paul Revere's ride as a messenger arrives to warn the revolutionary leaders John Hancock and Samuel Adams of the impending British march. Jim Roberts, archivist of the Lexington Minute Men, explained what happens most years: "Spectators begin to arrive at Lexington Green at 3:30 in the morning in order to get a prime spot for the events that begin with the alarm bell sounding in the Old Belfry at 5:30. There are usually 8-10,000 spectators lining the Green to watch the 77 Lexington Minute Men and their families portray the colonists, and more than 150 British recreate the 'redcoats' of 1775."
Patriots Day is a state holiday in Massachusetts and Maine, and some communities organize large celebrations. Each military company has jurisdiction over reenactments in their town, and larger committees may oversee the rest of the holiday activities. In Lexington, the Training Band is responsible for the battle, inviting a British group to meet them on Lexington Green. A separate Lexington Town Celebration Committee organizes the parades and other activities that follow. For example, the Minute Men participate in the Lexington Sunrise Youth Parade at 7:30, more ceremonies at the Green just after 8am and 10am, and then the Lexington Patriot's Day Parade at 2pm.
At the North Bridge
In Concord, they begin at dawn with a salute and a memorial service for the Minute Men at the North Bridge. Muskets are inspected by the National Park Service before the participants take their position above the town. The reenactment occurs at about 9am, and within an hour, the local parade will have arrived.
A Long Day
After a long day of physical theater, carrying equipment and staying alert and focused on gun safety, minute man Jim Roberts knew he would not see the first broadcast of the film Patriot's Day on American Experience that night. After all his Patriot's Day activities, he's usually asleep by 6pm.
Reenactments All Over
Almost a dozen different groups, each with dozens of members, participate in Patriot's Day events each year. In addition to the Minute Man groups, there are three British military units. The Massachusetts branch of the National Lancers sends two horsemen out to retrace Revere's and William Dawes's journeys. While some schedule their parades for the state's official holiday (the third Monday of April), others make sure the 19th is the day they are mobilized, even if they have to take vacation or "sick" days from work. The strict adherence to the 19th usually avoids traffic entanglements with another local Patriot's Day tradition, the Boston Marathon.
The marathon, over a century old, attracts a global audience, but the local audience in Massachusetts' historic towns that same day is just as suspense-filled. In Lexington and Concord, thousands of spectators come to the reenactments, not because they want to know who wins, but because they want to understand why and how the battles were fought.