Robert Tomes.

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

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suaded of their intention of going, as all
their movements indicated it ; but he felt
that it was necessary to continue on his
guard, lest after all it should prove a feint
to deceive him. He resolved, with the
advice of his council, to precipitate Howe s
movements, by making another attempt
on Nook s hill. A strong force was ac
cordingly detached for this pur
pose; and it succeeded in taking
possession, erecting a breastwork, and
holding that important post, in spite of a
sharp cannonade from the enemy.

This successful movement of the Amer
icans was what " the king s troops had
most fearfully dreaded," as Nook s hill
gave Washington the entire command of
Boston neck and the south end of the
town. The British commander now no
longer hesitated, and began to embark
his troops as early as two o clock on the
next morning (Sunday), and had
every man on board and the ships
under sail before ten. The whole number
of soldiers thus hastily shipped amounted
to seven thousand five hundred and sev
enty-five. These, with the sailors and
marines, made up the entire available
force of the British, to the number of
about ten thousand.

Mar. 17.



[PART 11.

So soon as the last red-coat disappeared,
the inhabitants hurried out of their dwel
lings and began anxiously to seek for any
lurking evidences of fire. Combustibles,
so placed as to indicate a design of burn
ing the town, were found in some of the
houses. These preparations had proba
bly been made to carry out the threat of
Howe, in case of being fired upon during
embarkation. The Americans, however,
did not fire a shot. " Our troops," wrote
an English officer, " did not receive the
smallest molestation, though the rebels
were all night at work on the near hill
...and we kept a constant fire upon them
from a battery of twenty-four pounders.
They did not return a single shot. It
was lucky for the inhabitants now left in
Boston they did not ; for I am informed
everything was prepared to set the town
in a blaze, had they fired one cannon."

The hurry of the retreat is shown by
this graphic letter of another British offi
cer : " Our not being burdened with pro
visions, permitted us to save some stores
and ammunition, the light fieldpieces and
such things as were most convenient of
carriage. The rest, I am sorry to say, we
were obliged to leave behind; such of
the guns as, by dismounting, we could
throw into the sea, was so done. The
carriages were disabled, and every precau
tion taken that our circumstances \vould
permit; for our retreat was by agreement.
The people of the town who were friends
to government, took care of nothing but
their merchandise, and found means to
employ the men belonging to the tran
sports in embarking their goods, so that
several of the vessels were entirely filled

with private property, instead of the
king s stores. By some unaccountable ac
cident, the medicines, surgeons chests,
instruments, and necessaries, were left in
the hospital. The confusion unavoidable
to such a disaster will make you conceive
how much must be forgot, where every
man had a private concern. The neces
sary care and distress of the women, chil
dren, sick, and wounded, required every
assistance that could be given. It was
not like breaking up a camp, where every
man knows his duty; it was like depart
ing your country with your wives, your
servants, your household furniture, and
all your incumbrances. The officers, who
felt the disgrace of their retreat, did their
utmost to keep up appearances. The
men, who thought they were changing
for the better, strove to take advantage
of the present times, and were kept from
plunder and drink with difficulty ."*

The departure of the British from Bos
ton had been so sudden and unexpected,
that there had not been provided a suffi
cient number of vessels, properly appoint
ed, for carrying away the fugitives. In
addition to the troops, there were nearly
a thousand of the inhabitants who were
either so attached to the royal cause that
they preferred to go, or who were so far
suspected of tory principles that they did
not think it prudent to remain. These
greatly encumbered the transports with
their numbers, and their plunder and ef
fects. The ships, too, had been hurried
away so quickly, that many of them were
quite unfit for sea. Some had hauled out
even before their yards, booms, and bow-

* Remembrancer, vol. iii., p. 108 ; quoted by Irving.



sprits, had been bent ; and the fleet was
now supposed to be delaying, in the Nan-
tasket roads, where it had come to an
chor, in consequence of not being in a fit
condition to sail, particularly at a season
when the equinoctial gale was hourly to
be expected.

As soon as the British troops had left
Bunker s hill, and were observed passing
in crowds to the ships at anchor below
the castle, the continental forces were
drawn out in parade. Several regiments,
under the command of Putnam, then em
barked immediately in boats, and went
down the river; while two men were sent
in advance to Bunker s hill, to reconnoi
tre that position and report upon its con
dition. As the latter approached, they
were surprised to find the British sentries
still at their posts; but, advancing cau
tiously till they came close to the works,
they discovered that the supposed sol
diers on guard were merely wooden men,
with muskets on their shoulders, which
the enemy had put up there, to conceal
the moment of their departure, and thus
guard themselves against an attack du
ring their flight. The two Americans,
finding the fort entirely deserted, made
a signal to the camp, and a detachment
of soldiers was immediately ordered to
take possession.

The troops which sailed down the river
had in the meantime landed at Sewall s
point, where, learning that all the British
had left Boston, a portion of them entered
to take possession, and the main body re
turned to Cambridge. At the same time,
General Ward with about five hundred
troops, under the immediate command

of Colonel Learned who unbarred and
opened the gates entered Boston from
the Roxbury quarter. On their way over
the Neck, the men picked up numbers of
crowfeet, which had been scattered there
by the enemy. The "crowfoot" is an iron
instrument, consisting of a round ball with
spikes, so arranged that it will wound the
step of horse or man in whatever manner
it may be thrown.

Everything in Boston showed the pre
cipitation with which the British had de
parted. Their barracks and other works
on Bunker s hill, although of wood, were
all left standing, while but a small part
of their lines was destroyed. Some two
hundred and fifty cannon, among them
a very large iron mortar, had been left
behind, and one piece of artillery was
thrown into the water from the end of
the wharf. Some thirty thousand pounds
of powder, twenty-five hundred chaldrons
of sea-coal, twenty-five thousand bushels
of wheat, twenty-three hundred bushels
of barley, six hundred bushels of oats, a
hundred jars of oil, and a hundred and
fifty horses, were among the stores left
by the British in their haste to get away.

Washington, in a letter to his brother,
says: "The enemy left all their works
standing in Boston and on Bunker s hill;
and formidable they are. The town has
shared a much better fate than was ex
pected, the damage done to the houses
being nothing equal to report. But the
inhabitants have suffered a good deal in
being plundered by the soldiery at their
departure. All those who took upon
themselves the style and title of govern
ment-men in Boston, in short all those




who have acted an unfriendly part in this
great contest, have shipped themselves off
in the same hurry, but under still greater
disadvantage than the king s troops, be
ing obliged to man their own vessels, as
seamen enough could not be had for the
king s transports, and submit to every
hardship that can be conceived. One or
two have done, what a great number
ought to have done long ago, committed
suicide. By all accounts, there never ex
isted a more miserable set of beings than
these wretched creatures now are : taught
to believe that the power of Great Brit
ain was superior to all opposition, and, if
not, that foreign aid was at hand, they
were even higher and more insulting in
their opposition than the regulars. When
the order issued, therefore, for the em
barking the troops in Boston, no electric
shock, no sudden explosion of thunder,
in a word, not the last trump, could have
struck them with greater consternation.
They were at their wits end, and, con
scious of their black ingratitude, they
chose to commit themselves, in the man
ner I have above described, to the mercy
of the waves at a tempestuous season,
rather than meet their oifended country

Washington, in his letter to John Han
cock, the president of Congress, was en
abled to say: "I have a particular pleas
ure in being able to inform you, sir, that
your house has received no damage worth
mentioning. Your furniture is in toler
able order, and the family pictures are
all left entire and untouched." This was
a fortunate result, which Hancock well
merited for his patriotic readiness of self-

sacrifice, when, in communicating the re
solve of Congress (December 22), author
izing Washington to make an assault up
on the enemy, "notwithstanding the town
and property in it might be destroyed,"
he had written : " May God crown your
attempt with success ! I most heartily
wish it, though I may be the greatest suf

The small-pox was prevailing with se
verity in several parts of Boston, and ac
cordingly Washington, to prevent the
spread of the infection, forbade any one
to enter the town without a pass, which
was given but to few, except those who
had had the disease, or been protected
by inoculation. A great many, however,
who were from inland places, and had
never been in a seaport, were so far ex
cited by the natural curiosity of rustics
to see " the great town of Boston," that
they did not hesitate to resort to tricks
and fraud in order to gain admission.
"The thought of being liable to catch the
distemper would have terrified them in
the highest degree a little while back ;
but to gratify a different passion they
suppressed their fears, which might oper
ate for the preventing of their taking the
infection. The works of the enemy nat
urally engaged their attention. These,
by judicious persons who have surveyed
them, are acknowledged to be excellent,
and every one is convinced that it would
have been a most hazardous attempt to
have endeavored forcing them."

Washington, believing the scene of
war was to be shifted to New York, sent
five regiments and some artille-
ry there, under the command of




General Heath, and moved his main body
into Boston. On the next day he issued
a proclamation, enjoining mutual
good feeling and treatment on
the part of the soldiers and citizens ; and
soon a concourse of people from the coun
try came crowding into the town, " full
of friendly solicitude." Then were wit
nessed " the tender interviews and fond
embraces of those who had been long
separated under circumstances so pecu
liarly distressing."

The British fleet, after having, by fire
and powder, destroyed the works on Cas
tle William, dropped down, and lingered
for ten days in Nantasket roads. In the
.meantime, Washington was kept quite
anxious by its movements. " The ene
my," he says, " have the best knack at
puzzling people I ever met with in my
life. They have blown up, burnt, and de
molished the castle totally, and are now
all in Nantasket road. They have been
there ever since Wednesday. What they
are doing, the Lord knows." After spec
ulating upon various supposed causes of
the enemy s delay, Washington adds :
" My opinion of the matter is, that they
want to retrieve their disgrace before
they go off, and I think a favorable op
portunity presents itself to them. They
have now got their whole force into one
collected body, and no posts to guard.
We have detached six regiments to New
York, and have many points to look to ;
and, on Monday next, ten regiments of
militia, which were brought in to serve
till the first of April, will be disengaged.
From former experience, we have found
it as practicable to stop a torrent as these

people, when their time is up. If this
should be the case now, what more favor
able opening can the enemy wish for, to
make a push upon our lines, nay upon
the back of our lines at Roxbury, as they
can land two miles from there, and pass
behind ? I am under more apprehension
from them now than ever, and am taking
every precaution I can to guard against
the evil ; but we have a kind of people
to deal with who will not fear danger till
the bayonet is at their breast, and then
they are susceptible enough of it."

Washington went on preparing for the
worst, by fortifying ; and when he had
made considerable progress with his works
on the commanding position of Fort hill,
he had the satisfaction of finding the ene
my gone. The fleet finally sailed, with
the exception of a few cruisers,
which were left for the protec
tion of any British vessels which might
arrive off the New-England coast with
supplies for the British troops. The de
lay in the harbor seemed to have greatly
vexed the patience of some of the Eng
lish officers : "We were," writes one, "can
nonaded fourteen days by the provincial
army, and, at last, after many losses, em
barked on board several vessels, and are
got thus far. We do not know where
we are going, but are in great distress....
I wish I was with you." "Our men have
suffered," writes another, who, better in
formed, knew where he was going. " We
have one consolation left. You know the
proverbial expression, Neither Hell, Hull,
nor Halifax, can afford worse shelter than
Boston. To fresh provision I have, for
many months, been an utter stranger.

Mar, 27,



[PART n.

An egg was a rarity. Yet I submit. A
soldier may mention grievances, though
he should scorn to repine when he suffers
them. The next letter from Halifax."
Halifax, in fact, was the destination of
the fleet, and not New York, as Washing
ton supposed.

The evacuation of Boston by the Brit
ish was hailed throughout the colonies as
a great triumph for the American cause,
and Washington received congratulations
from all quarters on his success, and flat
tering testimonials to his skilful conduct
of the siege. First came the selectmen
of Boston, with an address ; then a long
and flattering testimonial from the coun
cil and house of representatives of Massa
chusetts ; and finally from Congress a
vote of thanks moved by John Adams,
and this letter, drawn up by him, John
Jay, and Stephen Hopkins :

PHILADELPHIA, April 2, 1776.

" Sir : It gives me the most sensible
pleasure to convey to you, by order of
Congress, the only tribute which a free
people will ever consent to pay the
tribute of thanks and gratitude to their
friends and benefactors.

" The disinterested and patriotic prin
ciples which led you to the field have also
led you to glory; and it affords no little
consolation to your countrymen to reflect
that, as a peculiar greatness of mind in
duced you to decline any compensation
for serving them, except the pleasure of
promoting their happiness, they may,
without your permission, bestow upon
you the largest share of their affection
and esteem.

" Those pages in the annals of America

will record your title to a conspicuous
place in the temple of fame, which shall
inform posterity that, under your direc
tions, an undisciplined band of husband
men, in the course of a few months, be
came soldiers ; and that the desolation
meditated against the country by a brave
army of veterans, commanded by the
most experienced generals, but employed
by bad men, in the worst of causes, was
by the fortitude of your troops, and the
address of their officers, next to the kind
interposition of Providence, confined for
near a year within such narrow limits as
scarcely to admit more room than was
necessary for the encampments and for
tifications they lately abandoned.

" Accept, therefore, sir, the thanks of
the united colonies, unanimously declared
by their delegates to be due to you, and
the brave officers and troops under your
command ; and be pleased to communi
cate to them this distinguished mark of
the approbation of their country.

" The Congress have ordered a golden
medal,* adapted to the occasion, to be
struck, and when finished to be presented
to you.

"I have the honor to be, with every
sentiment of esteem, sir, your most obe
dient and very humble servant,

" JOHN HANCOCK, President"

* "The medal, which was struck in Paris, contains on
the obverse a head of Washington in profile, exhibiting an
excellent likeness, and around it the inscription : Georgio
Washington supremo duci exercituum adsertori libertatis
comitia Americana. On the reverse is the town of Boston
in the distance, with a fleet in view under sail. Washington
and his officers are on horseback in the foreground, and he
is pointing to the ships as they depart from the harbor.
The inscription is : Hostibus primo fugatis Bostonium re-
cuperatum xvii. Martii, MDCCLXXVI."




Private individuals no less than public
bodies too 1 , occasion to congratulate and
compliment Washington upon his tri
umph. "I congratulate you," wrote John
Adams, " as well as all the friends of man
kind, on the reduction of Boston ; an
event which appeared to me of so great
and decisive importance, that, the next
morning after the arrival of the news, I
did myself the honor to move for the
thanks of Congress to your excellency,
and that a medal of gold should be struck
in commemoration of it." Eldridge Ger
ry declared, " I am at a loss to know how
Great Britain will reconcile all this to
her military glory."

The intelligence of the evacuation of
Boston was received in England with a
feeling of such surprise that few would
believe it true. There were those, how
ever, who were well aware of the fact,
and the duke of Manchester, in a remark
able speech in the house of lords, showed
that he was not only fully informed of
the circumstances of the flight from Bos
ton, but conscious how much they les
sened the prestige of Great Britain and
brightened the fame and hopes of the
colonies. " To come now, my lords," said
the duke, "to that which has cast the
deepest stain on the glory of the British
arms, to that which must rouse the indig
nation of all who feel for her disgrace ;
the arnry of Britain, equipped with every
possible essential of war, a chosen army,

with chosen officers, backed by the power
of a mighty fleet, sent to correct revolted
subjects, sent to chastise a resisting city,
sent to assert Britain s authority, has for
many tedious months been imprisoned
within that town by the provincial army,
who, their watchful guards, permitted
them no inlet to the country, who braved
all their efforts, and defied all that their
skill and abilities in war could ever at-
tempt. One way, indeed, of escape is
left ; the fleet is still respected ; to the
fleet the army has recourse ; and British
generals, whose names never met with a
blot of dishonor, are forced to quit that
town, which was the first object of the
war, the. immediate cause of hostilities,
the place of arms, which has cost this na
tion more than a million to defend. We
are informed of this extraordinary event
by a gazette, published by authority from
government, in which it is related that
General Howe had quitted Boston ; no
circumstances mentioned to palliate the
event, no veil but that of silence to cast
over the disgrace. But, my lords, though
the government account is short and 1111-
circumstaiitial,yet private intelligence and
public report, on which, till it is with au
thenticity denied, I must rely, informs us
that General Howe quitted not Boston
of his own free will ; but that a superior
enemy by repeated efforts, by extraordi
nary works, by the fire of their batteries^
rendered the place untenable."





Washington still perplexed about the Enemy s Movements. Another Command proposed for Lee. Canada first pro
posed. Finally the South. Lee goes to Virginia. Lord Stirling left in Command at New York. His Life and Char
acter. Sterling continues the Works at New York and on Long Island. Washington resolves upon going to New
York. General Thomas appointed to the Command of the American Troops in Canada. Arnold before Quebec.
General Wooster arrives at last. The Small-Pox among the Troops. Thomas, anxious to do something, sends
down the St. Lawrence a Fire-Ship. Failure. Retreat. Carleton sallies out. His Success. Death of Thomas.
The Canadians less favorably disposed toward the Cause of the Patriots. Washington s Solicitations about Canada.
Schuyler censured. His Character. Unpopular with the New Englandcrs. Why ? Defended by Washington.
Schuyler justifies himself. His life.

Mar, 27,

WASHINGTON was perplexed about the
destination of the British fleet. " Whither
they are bound and where they will next
pitch their tents I know not," he says, but
bolieving that New York was to be the
place he ordered the main body of his
army there, and determined soon to fol
low himself. General Lee, it
will be remembered, had with
his usual energy repressed the mischie
vous machinations of the tories, and driven
by his military operations, Governor Try-
on and the enemy s ships from the North
river to the safer distance of the bay, where
they were now moored off Staten island.
Congress had other occupation in view for
L ee, and ordered him to take the command
in Canada. These orders were hardly giv
en, however, when they were changed, and
it was resolved to send Lee to the South.
He would have preferred the Canadian
command, as he thought himself, from the
fact that he was the only general officer
on the continent who could speak or think
in French, the best adapted for that quar
ter. Washington seemed to be of the
same opinion, and wrote to Lee, saying:
" I was just about to congratulate you on

your appointment to the command in
Canada, when I received the account that
your destination was altered. As a Vir
ginian, I must rejoice at the change ; but
as an American, I think you would have
done more essential service to the com
mon cause in Canada. For, besides the
advantage of speaking and thinking in
French, an officer who is acquainted with
their manners and customs, and has trav
elled in their country, must certainly take
the strongest hold of their affection and
confidence." Washington had a high
opinion of Lee s capacity, but was not
unconscious of his irritable and capricious
temper. To his brother John Augustine,
who remained at Mount Vernon, Wash
ington writes: "General Lee, I suppose,
is with you before this. He is the first
officer, in military knowledge and expe
rience, we have in the whole army. He
is zealously attached to the cause, honest
and well-meaning, but rather fickle and
violent, I fear, in his temper. However,
as he possesses an uncommon share of
good sense and spirit, I congratulate my
countrymen (Virginians) upon his ap
pointment to that department."




Lee accordingly proceeded to Virginia,
. and soon after his arrival, in an
swer to a letter he had received
from Washington at Boston, giving an
account of his success there ; wrote : " I
must sincerely congratulate you, I con
gratulate the public on the great and
glorious event, your possession of Boston.
It will be a most bright page in the an
nals of America, and a most abominably
black one in those of the beldam Britain.
Go on, my dear general, crown yourself
with glory, and establish the liberties and
lustre of your country on a foundation
more permanent than the capitol rock."
What he says of himself in the same let
ter, does not seem so satisfactory, and is
stated in his usual half-humorous, half-
discontented tone : " My situation is just
as I expected. I am afraid I shall make
a shabby figure, without any real demerits
of my own. I am like a dog in a dancing
school. I know not where to turn my
self, where to fix myself. The circum
stances of the country intersected by

Online LibraryRobert TomesBattles of America by sea and land. With biographies of naval and military commanders (Volume 01) → online text (page 33 of 126)