Robert Tomes.

Battles of America by sea and land. With biographies of naval and military commanders (Volume 01) online

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cards, and other games of chance. At
this time of public distress, men may find
enough to do in the service of their God
and their country, without abandoning
themselves to vice and immorality.

"As the season is now fast approaching



[PART 11.

when every man must expect to be drawn
into the field of action, it is highly impor
tant that he should prepare his mind, as
well as everything necessary for it. It
is a noble cause we are engaged in ; it is
the cause of virtue and mankind ; every
temporal advantage and comfort to us
and our posterity depends upon the vigor
of our exertions ; in short, freedom or
slavery must be the result of our conduct.
There can, therefore, be no greater in
ducement to men to behave well. But
it may not be amiss for the troops to
know that, if any man in action shall pre
sume to skulk, hide himself, or retreat
from the enemy without the orders of his
commanding officer, he will be instantly
shot down as an example of cowardice ;
cowards having too frequently disconcert
ed the best-formed troops by their das
tardly behavior."

A night was now appointed for the at
tempt on Dorchester heights. The time,
at the suggestion of the New-England
officers, was the 4th of March ; the next
day, which probably would be the day
of action, being the anniversary of the
" massacre of Boston," which, it was be
lieved, would stimulate by its memories
the courage of the Massachusetts troops.

For two days previously, the Ameri
cans bombarded Boston, but with no ef
fect on the enemy, beyond splintering a
few of their wooden buildings and wound
ing a soldier or two. The Americans
themselves, however, met with a serious
loss in the bursting of two heavy mortars,
one of which was the big gun the " Con
gress," Old Put s christling. The bom
bardment, notwithstanding, had the effect

intended, of concealing from the enemy
the preparations for taking possession of
Dorchester heights. General Howe, not
suspicious of anything more serious, con
tented himself with responding to the
American fire, and threw a shower of
bombs, but fortunately without serious

All things being ready, the expedition
sets out for Dorchester on the night ap
pointed. The covering-party of
eight hundred men lead the way ;
then go the carts with the intrenching-
tools, followed by the working-detach
ment of twelve hundred men, under Gen
eral Thomas; while the rear of the pro
cession is closed by a long train of more
than three hundred carts laden with fas
cines and bundles of hay, and dragged
by oxen. The bundles of hay are de
signed for Dorchester neck, which is very
low, and exposed to be raked by the en
emy on one side, where accordingly they
are to be laid to cover the Americans in
passing and repassing. " Every man,"
says Gordon, who describes the whole af
fair quaintly yet graphically, " knows his
place and business. The covering-party,
when upon the ground, divides; half goes
to the point nearest to Boston, the other
to that next to the castle. All possible
silence is observed. But there is no oc
casion to order the whips to be taken
from the wagoners, lest their impatience
and the difficulty of the roads should in
duce them to make use of them, and oc
casion an alarm. The whips used by the
drivers of these ox-carts are not formed
for making much noise, and can give no
alarm at a distance. The men in driving




their oxen commonly make most noise
with their voices ; and now a regard to
their own safety dictates to them to speak
to their cattle, as they move on, in a whis
pering note.

" There are no bad roads to require an
exertion ; for the frost having been of
long continuance, they are so hard frozen
as to be quite good. The wind lies to
carry what noise can not be avoided in
driving the stakes, and picking against
the ground (still frozen above eighteen
inches deep in many places), into the har
bor between the town and the castle, so
that it can not be heard and regarded by
any who do not suspect what is going on,
especially as there is a continued cannon
ade on both sides. Many of the carts
make three trips, some four ; for a vast
quantity of materials has been collected,
especially chandeliers and fascines.

" By ten o clock at night the troops
have raised two forts, one upon each hill,
sufficient to defend them from small-arms
and grape-shot. The night is remarka
bly mild; a finer for working could not
have been selected out of the three hun
dred and sixty-five. They continue work
ing with the utmost diligence until re
lieved at three o clock next morning. It
is so hazy below the heights, that the men
can not be seen, though it is a bright
moonlight night above on the hills.

" It is some time after daybreak before
the ministerialists in Boston can clearly
discern the new-erected forts. They loom
to great advantage, and are thought to
be much larger than is really the case.
General Howe is astonished upon seeing
what has been done ; scratches his head,

and is heard to say: I know nci: what I
shall do ; the rebels have done more in
one night than my whole army would
have done in months ! "

Washington felt confident that this
movement of his troops would bring on
an attack from the enemy ; and he pre
pared in case of this event which he
not only supposed probable, but eagerly
hoped for to make an assault, while the
British should be engaged in the direc
tion of Dorchester heights, on another
part of Boston to the west. He had ac
cordingly ordered four thousand picked
troops to be in readiness to embark on
forty-five batteaux which had been pre
pared for the purpose, and were moored
at the mouth of Charles river, under the
cover of two floating batteries. These
troops were formed in two divisions :
General Sullivan leads the first, General
Greene the second ; and all are under the
general command of Putnam.

The whole plan of defence and offence
has been settled by Washington. Every
movement of the enemy is watched : from
the hills, which command a view of Bos
ton, the officers can observe with their
glasses everything that takes place in the
city which lies below them. Proper sig
nals are arranged, by which intelligence
can be rapidly communicated from height
to height from Dorchester to Roxbury,
and from Roxbury to Cambridge. The
boats being prepared, and the troops in
readiness to embark, Washington is on
the alert, when the enemy attack the
American position on Dorchester heights,
and are defeated, to signalize to Putnam
to send his four thousand men across from



[PART 11.

Cambridge to assault the city, while the
British are in a state of confusion from
their expected repulse.

All is hurry and bustle in Boston. Gen
eral Howe is collecting all the ladders in
town, and having them cut to the proper
length for scaling. A large body of troops
is drawn up by the water-side ; and the
transportrvessels are weighing their an
chors, in readiness to receive them. The
men finally embark ; an observer reports
that most look pale and dejected, and
some are heard to say, with a sad pre
sentiment, "It will be another Bunker s-
hill affair, or worse !" while others, in a
spirit of bravado, talk of how they intend
" to serve the rebels." The gallant Lord
Percy commands the force, and all seems
read} for the attack.

The Americans, as they behold this
movement of the British troops, clap

their hands for joy, and " wish
March 5. J n J >

them to come on. Washington

is on the heights, and says to those about
him, " Remember it is the 5th of March,
and avenge the death of your brethren !"
"What says the general ?" eagerly in
quire those who had not distinctly heard
his words. " Remember it is the 5th of
March, and avenge the death of your
brethren !" is repeated in answer, and
passed rapidly from man to man, until
the whole body of troops is aroused to
martial excitement, as by an electric

Crowds of people gather upon the sur
rounding hills, and with hushed lips and
beating hearts fearfully await the com
ing struggle. They wait and wait un
til the evening, straining their eyes to

catch, if possible, through the gathering
darkness, the approach of the enemy.
Night closes; the tide ebbs; the struggle
is put off until another day ; the specta
tors go homeward, with sad expectations
of the morrow. Mrs. Adams is amon^


these anxious beholders, and on return
ing home, before retiring for the night,
writes a hurried note to her absent hus
band : " I have just returned," she says,
" from Penn s hill, where I have been sit
ting to hear the amazing roar of cannon,
and from whence I could see every shell
which was thrown. The sound, I think,
is one of the grandest in nature, and is of
the true species of the sublime. Tis now
an incessant roar; but oh, the fatal ideas
which are connected with the sound !
How many of our dear countrymen must
fall !" She goes to bed, but not to sleep,
for she writes on the following morning :
" I went to bed about twelve, and rose
again a little after one. I could no more
sleep than if I had been in the engage
ment; the rattling of the windows, the
jar of the house, the continual roar of
twenty-four pounders, and the bursting
of shells, give us such ideas, and realize
a scene to us of which we could scarcely
form any conception."

The troops continue their work, while
the whole camp is on the alert for the
call of duty at any moment. The bom
bardment goes on from both sides during
the whole night. The British transports
and floating batteries are hauled out in
the night, to be in readiness for the de
barkation of the troops on the next day;
but, in attempting to make their way to
Castle William, their rendezvous, the wind



proves unfavorable, and blows with such
a gale, that three of the vessels are driven
ashore, and the rest are obliged to return.
The gale increases to a storm which rages
all the night and next day, while torrents
of rain keep pouring down. The attack
is postponed once more ; for, with the vio
lence of the wind, and the heavy surf
beating against the shore, it is in vain to
attempt to land the troops.

In the meantime, the Americans con
tinued to strengthen their fortifications.
The quartermaster-general, Mifflin, who
had the supervision of the work, was in
defatigable in his exertions. Having
brought upon the ground the buildings
already framed, he had the men in three
days under the cover of fairly comfortable
barracks. Moreover, he ingeniously de
vised a new species of arms, which prom
ised to prove of great effect. These were
barrels filled with stones, gravel, and sand,
and placed round the works in readiness
to be rolled down against the enemy, in
order to break their ranks and legs, if
they should venture to attempt to ad
vance up the hill.

Another day passes, and the
weather continuing unfavorable
the British still hold back ; and, finally,
giving up all hopes of dislodging the pa
triots from their now formidable position
on Dorchester heights, they determine
to evacuate Boston. Howe had no other
alternative. The last spirited and effect
ual movement of the Americans, favored
by the weather, so propitious to them
and so fatal to their enemy, had made
the town untenable. The admiral had
told Howe that, if the Americans contin-

Marcli 6,

ued in possession of the heights of Dor
chester, not one of his majesty s ships
could be kept in the harbor; and Howe
was now forced to admit that his enemy
was too formidable to be dislodged. The
British army, thus hemmed in, was use
less for offence, and would soon be inca
pable of defence ; the fleet, thus exposed,
was in hourly danger, and could only
save itself by sailing away.

Howe had long been in favor of remo
ving the scene of hostilities from Boston
to New York, but had never expressed
a doubt of the safety of his army in its
present position. He had, in fact, in his
despatch to the British government, de
clared, " We are not under the least ap
prehension of an attack upon this place
from the rebels, by surprise or otherwise."
So far was he from having any fears on
that score, that he expresses the wish that
" they would attempt so rash a step, and
quit those strong intrenchments to which
they may attribute their present safety."
He had felt perfectly secure, and had de
termined to take his own good time, when
the spring had fairly advanced, and rein
forcements had come in from Great Brit
ain, in shifting the scene of war from Mas
sachusetts to a southern province. On
the morning when those works on Dor
chester heights which had been raised
in a single night, " with an expedition,"
as a British officer wrote, " equal to that
of the genii belonging to Aladdin s won
derful lamp" struck the astonished eyes
of Howe, he felt for the first some "ap
prehension" of the "rebels." When, more
over, Nature herself seemed to join the
Americans, and he was baffled by the




winds and storms in his only hope of tri
umph, he wisely submitted to his misfor-
t une, and judiciously giving up all thought
of victory, sought only a means of escape.

Great preparations were now made in
Boston, evidently for departure. The
transports were preparing for sea with
the utmost expedition. There was the
greatest movement and confusion among
the troops. Night and day they were
hurrying down their cannon, ammunition,
and stores, to the wharves. Such was the
haste with which they were loading the
vessels, that no time was taken to make
even a memorandum of what was put on
board. The carpenters were hard at work
on the transports, fitting up bunks for the
soldiers and cabins for the officers, and
there was everywhere proof of an early
intention on the part of the British to
escape from Boston.

Intelligence of Howe s resolution was
now conveyed to the American camp, in
a manner which, although not directly
official, could leave no doubt of the fact.
A flag of truce came out from the enemy,
with a letter, which was received by Colo
nel Learned, in command of the advance
post at Roxbury. This communication,
being taken to headquarters, was there
opened by Washington, for whom it was
evidently intended, although not so ad
dressed. Here is the letter :

"BOSTON, 8th March, 1776.

"As his excellency General Howe is
determined to leave the town, with the
troops under his command, a number of
the respectable inhabitants being very
anxious for its preservation and safety,
have applied to General Robertson for

this purpose, who at their request has
communicated the same to his excellen
cy General Howe, who has assured him
that he has no intention of destroying the
town, unless the troops under his com
mand are molested during their embarka
tion, or at their departure, by the armed
force without ; which declaration he gave
General Robertson leave to communicate
to the inhabitants. If such an opposition
should take place, we have the greatest
reason to expect the town will be exposed
to entire destruction. Our fears are qui
eted with regard to General Howe s in
tentions. We beg we may have some
assurance that so dreadful a calamity may
not be brought on by any measures with
out. As a testimony of the truth above,
we have signed our names to this paper,
carried out by Messrs. Thomas and Jona
than Amory and Peter Johannot, who
have, at the earnest entreaties of the in
habitants, through the lieutenant-govern
or, solicited a flag of truce for the pur


Howe had succeeded in frightening the
inhabitants by his threat to burn the town
in case of his being assaulted by Wash
ington s troops, and effected the object
he is said to have intended. His pride
is supposed to have revolted at making
terms of capitulation directly with the
" rebel" leader ; and at the same time, be
ing conscious how much he was at the
mercy of his enemy, he was desirous of
securing conditions of safety to his army.
The citizens of Boston, as was expected,




took the alarm, and, by writing the letter,
did as was hoped and probably suggested.
Washington, on receiving the commu
nication, called together such of the gen
eral officers as he could immediately as
semble, and with their advice determined
not to answer it, as it was not addressed
to him, nor signed or authenticated by
General Howe. It was, however, thought
proper to direct Colonel Learned, to whom
the letter had been first presented, to an
swer it thus :

ROXBURY, March 9, 1776.

" GENTLEMEN : Agreeably to a promise
made to you at the lines yesterday, I
waited upon his excellency General Wash
ington, and presented to him the paper
handed to me by you, from the selectmen
of Boston. The answer I received from
him was to this effect: that as it was an
unauthenticated paper, without an ad
dress, and not obligatory upon General
Howe, he would take no notice of it. I
am, with esteem and respect, gentlemen,
your most obedient servant,



Somehow or other, the object of the
letter was obtained, through a tacit un
derstanding between the two general;?,
although each dodged the responsibility
of committing himself to a written agree
ment. "General Washington," writes a
chronicler of the time, brought himself
under no obligation ; but expressed him
self in words which admitted of a favora
ble construction, and intimated his good
wishes for the towns-people." General
Howe probably never thought seriously
of burning the city. His preparations for


departure were such as to indicate no
such intention. Washington himself had
come to that conclusion ; for he infers,
" from the destruction they are making
of sundry pieces of furniture, of many of
their wagons, carts, &c., which they can
not take with them," that there is no de
sign to burn the city, for in that case the
whole might have been destroyed togeth
er. At any rate, Washington did not at
tack, and Howe did not burn.

The Americans, however, went on with
their works, and now attempted to take
possession of Nook s hill, which was still
nearer Boston than Dorchester heights,
and completely commanded the town.

Washington sent out during the

. March 8,

night a strong force to raise a

redoubt, and establish a position there.
On reaching the height, however, some
of the men imprudently lighted a fire,
which alarmed the British, and drew from
their ships a heavy cannonade, which, al
though well returned by the American
batteries, was so severe, that the patriots
were forced to retire. The camp and the
whole country round were kept in a state
of anxious excitement by the incessant
firing throughout the night. Mrs. Adams
is again on the alert with her ever-ready
pen, and writes to her husband on Sun
day evening, March 10: "A most terrible
and incessant cannonade from half-after
eight till six this morning. I hear we
lost four men killed, and some wounded,
in attempting to take the hill nearest to
the town, called Nook s hill. We did some
work, but the fire from the ships beat off
our men, so that they did not secure it,
but retired to the fort on the other hill."



[PART n.



General Howe s Proclamation. Crean Brush, Esquire. His Proceedings. Impatience of Howe to depart. The Licence
of Sailors and Soldiers. Howe threatens. Offers Rewards. Washington hastens the Departure of the British by
another and Successful Attempt on Nook s Hill. The Result. The British depart. The Inhabitants of Boston.
Alarms of Fire. The Precipitate Hurry of the Enemy. The Tories anxious to get away. Many of them unable to
escape. The Patriot Army enters Boston. Appearance of the City. Washington s Letters to his Brother and John
Hancock. The Small-Pox. General Heath sent with a Detachment to New York. The Puzzling Movements of the
British Fleet. It sails at last. The Joy of the Enemy at getting away. Tribute of Honor to Washington. The
Evacuation of Boston. How received in England.


Mar. 10.

THE attempt on Nook s hill, al
though temporarily unsuccessful,
served to hasten the preparations for de
parture of the British. General Howe
issued a proclamation, which was
addressed to Crean Brush, Es
quire, an inveterate tory of New York,
who had become notorious as an impor
tunate adviser and an active and insolent
agent of British tyranny. The procla
mation was printed in the form of a hand
bill, and was circulated throughout the
city. These are its words :

"Sin: I am informed there are large
quantities of goods in the town of Bos
ton, which, if in possession of the rebels,
would enable them to carry on war. And
whereas I have given notice to all loyal
inhabitants to remove such goods from
hence, and that all who do not remove
them, or deliver them to your care, will
be considered as abettors of rebels, You
are hereby authorized and required to
take into your possession all such goods
as answer this description, and give cer
tificates to the owners that you have re
ceived them for their use, and will deliv
er them to the owners order, unavoidable
accidents excepted. And you are to

make inquiry if any such goods be se
creted or left in stores ; and you are to
seize all such and put them on board the
Minerva ship or the brigantine Elizabeth.

" Given under my hand, at headquar
ters, Boston, this 10th day of March, 1776.
" W. HOWE, Com. Chief.

" To CREAN BRUSH, Esquire."

This order was interpreted by Crean
Brush, Esquire, with all the liberality of
insolence for which he was notorious. Va
rious shops, belonging to persons in the
country were broken open, and all goods
of whatever sort or kind (although Howe
had more particularly specified, in one of
his orders, linens and woollens) were ta
ken out and put on board ship, to be car
ried away. Brush was not content with
despoiling the absent, but, growing more
audacious, in the confusion of the ap
proaching departure of the troops, he be
gan to strip the shops of all their goods,
in the very face of the owners who were
in town ! Under this apparent official
sanction, the soldiers and sailors went
about plundering and committing depre
dations. Shops, stores, and dwelling-
houses, were entered by these ruthless
robbers, who destroyed what they could




not carry away. Howe strove to check
the villains by proclamations and or
ders ; but, although he threatened the
guilty with death, they continued their

The British commander was now evi
dently impatient to depart. The streets
were barricaded in different parts of the
town, and proclamation was made by the
crier for every inhabitant to keep
to his house from eleven o clock
in the morning till night, that there might
be no interference with the troops, who
were now disposed in readiness for em
barkation. The wind, however, being
unfavorable for the ships, the departure
was postponed, and the troops sent back
to their quarters. The soldiers thus de
tained were thrown loose from their or
dinary discipline, and had "little else to
study but mischief, which they practised
to a great degree, by breaking open stores
and tossing the contents, being private
property, into the dock ; destroying the
furniture of every house they could get
into, and otherwise committing every
kind of wantonness which disappointed
malice could suggest." The naval depart
ment acted in ready concert of licentious
ness with the military, and sailors landed
in gangs from the ships of war (led, it was
said, by officers), and went about the city,
rifling and destroying everything within
their reach. Howe continued by procla
mation to threaten the rogues with hang
ing, but with little or no effect. He
proved his anxious loyalty by securing
safety to its appurtenances, by the more
effective system of pecuniary awards: he
offered fifty pounds sterling for the con-

Mar, 13.

Mar, 16.

viction of any one found cutting or de
facing the king s or queen s picture hang
ing in the townhouse, which had already
been entered and somewhat damaged
by his lawless soldiers.

These delays of the British in evacua
ting Boston were a disappointment to
Washington, as he fully expected that
he would have got rid of them
before. He was now well per

Online LibraryRobert TomesBattles of America by sea and land. With biographies of naval and military commanders (Volume 01) → online text (page 32 of 126)