Samuel Adams Drake.

Historic fields and mansions of Middlesex online

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ested that the pages of history have recorded.

A British officer who knew Lee well gives this account of
his capture : —

" He was taken by a party of ours, under Colonel Harcourt, who
surrounded the house in which this arch-traitor was residing, Lee
behaved as cowardly in this transaction as he had dishonorably in
every other. After firing one or two shots from the house, he came
out and entreated our troops to spare his life. Had he behaved with
proper spirit T should have pitied him, and Avished that his energies
had been exerted in a better cause. I could hardly refrain from tears
when I first saAv him, and thought of the miserable fate in Avhich his
obstinacy had involved hiin. He says he has been mistaken in
three things : 1st, That the Ncav England men Avould fight ; 2d,
That America Avas unanimous ; and 3d, That she could aiFord two
men for our one."

Opposed to this narration is that of Major (afterAvards Gen-
eral) Wilkinson, Avho Avas Avith the General at the moment of
his capture, but Avho made his escape. He Avas the bearer of a
letter from General Gates, to which Lee Avas penning a reply,
and saAV from the window the approach of the British dragoons.
He says : —

" Startled at this unexpected spectacle, I exclaimed, ' Here, sir,
are the British cavalry ! ' ' Where ? ' replied the General, Avho had
si'nied his letter in the instant. 'Around the house'; for thev had

lee"s headquarters and vicinity. 147

opened files and encompassed the building. General Lee appeared
alarmed, yet collected, and his second observation marked his self-
possession : ' Where is the guard l Damn the guard, why don't they
fire 1 ' and after a momentary pause, he turned to me and said, ' Do,
sir, see wh.'it has become of the guard.' The women of the house at
this moment entered the room, and proposed to him to conceal him-
self in a bed, which he rejected with evident disgust."

The exact language used by "VYashington in the hurried alter-
cation with Lee at Monmouth has been a matter of much curi-
osity. The officers who overheard this celebrated colloquy
exhibited at the trial a remarkable forgetfulness on this point.
They agree, however, that His Excellency addressed his lieu-
tenant " ivith much tvrcrmth," the conventional expression for
strong language. Lafayette, who was both on the field and at
the trial, is accredited Avith having related to Governor Tomp-
kins, in 1824, that Washington called Lee "a damned pol-
troon." " This," said Lafayette, " was the only time I ever
heard Washington swear." *

After the battle Lee certainly wrote two very impudent and
characteristic letters to the commander-in-chief. His subse-
quent trial, equalled only in interest in our military annals by
that of Andre, failed to fix any treasonable design on the gen-
eral, though it punished his insubordination by a year's suspen-
sion from command. His military peers evidently considered
him unfit to command in conjlmction with WashingtoUt

Lee's encounter with the beautiful Miss Franks of Phila-
delphia forms a humorous episode. The lady, who had been
one of the bright stars of Sir William Howe's entertainment
of the Mischianza, and was celebrated for her keen Avit, had
asserted that General Lee wore green breeches patched with
" leather. The General met the allegation by sending the unmen-
tionables in question to the lady, accompanied by a letter, which
Miss Franks received in very bad part.

The will of General Lee contains this singular request : —

" I desire most earnestly that I may not be buried in any church
or churchyard, or within a mile of any Presbyterian or Anabaptist

* Note to Custis's Recollections, p. 218.


meeting-house; for since I have resided in this country I have kept
so much bad company when living that I do not choose to continue
it when dead."

General Lee died at an oljscure inn (the sign of the Conestoga
Wagon, in Market Street, Philadelphia), October 2, 1782. The
last words he distinctly articulated were : " Stand by me, my
brave grenadiers."

Prospect Hill, second in the line of investment, had formerly
two eminences, both of which were strongly fortified. The
citadel, defended by outworks, was on the most easterly sum-
mit, and covered with its fire the road coming from Charles-
town, which winds around its base, Cobble Hill (McLean
Asylum), and the low ground towards Mount Benedict. Both
eminences were connected by a rampart and ditch, which, after
being carried the whole length of the summit, were continued
along the lower plateau of the hill in a northerly direction, tiU
they terminated in a strong redoubt situated very near the pres-
ent High School. On the Cambridge side the works joined
Fort No. 3 by redoubts placed on each side of the road from

It was here Putnam took his stand after the retreat from
Bunker Hill, and the next day found hijn busy intrenching
himself in fuU view of the late battle-field. Putnam was, per-
haps, the only general officer then willing to take and hold so
advanced a position. He says he halted here Avithout orders
from anybody ; it was expfected the British would follow up
their success, and he placed himseK resolutely in their path.

A foreign officer of distinction, who examined the works on
Prospect Hill five years after the events of the siege, says of
them : —

" All these intrenchments seemed to me to be executed -wdth intel-
ligence ; nor was I surprised that the English respected them during
the whole winter of 1776."

I^early fifty years afterwards a visitor thus records his obser-
vations of the same lines : —

" The forts on these hills were destroyed only a few years ago, but

lee's headquarters and vicinity. 149

theii' size can be distinctly seen. On the southern eminence the
fort is still entire, and the southwest face of the hill is divided into
several platforms, of which I cannot exactly understand the use.
There are also evident marks of the dwellings of the soldiers. The
extensive view from this hill, the walk on the ancient ramparts, and
the site of the various stations occupied by the American army, will
render this hill at a futnre period a favorite resort."

After the arrival of General Washington the army was regu-
larly brigaded, and General Greene was assigned, under the
orders of Lee, to the command at Prospect Hill. He accord-
ingly took up his quarters there on the 26th of July, with
Sullivan on his left at Winter Hill, Patterson at his feet in
No. 3, and Heath on his right. Greene had with him his own
Ehode-Islauders that had been encamped at Jamaica Plain, and
the regiments of Whitcomb, Gardner, Brewer, and Little, — a
fluctuating garrison of from three to four thousand men. The
leader was the right man in the right place.

Nathaniel Greene is one of the grandest figures of the Eevo-
lution. He is known to us as the man whom Washington
deemed most worthy to be liis lieutenant, and how he vindi-
cated that confidence the pages of history relate. It is said he
was the only general officer who testified his gratification at
the appointment of Washington by presenting an address from
himself and his officers to the General upon his arrival at
Cambridge, — a circumstance not likely to escape the memory
of the commander-in-chief. At his decease, which occurred in
1786, Congress voted to raise a monument to his memory.
It was never erected, and we are left to reflect

" How nations slowly wise and meanly just,
To buried merit raise the tardy bust. "

General Knox, the bosom friend of Greene, said to a dis-
tinguished son of Carolina : —

" His knowledge is intuitive. He came to us the rawest and most
untutored being I ever met with, but in less than twelve months he
was equal in military knowledge to any general officer in the army,
and very superior to most of them."


His ability as commissary-general of the army is well known,
as is the fact that he would not retain the office unless per-
mitted to command in the field. On relieving General Gates
after the disastrous battle of Camden, Greene sat up the whole
night with General Polk of Gates's commissariat, investigating
the resources of the country ; and, as was stated by that officer,
Greene better understood what those resources were on the fol-
lowing morning than Gates had done in the whole period of
his command. His treatment of General Gates on this trying
occasion was remarkable for delicacy and magnanimity.

Greene was seen, in 1774, in a coat and hat of the Quaker
fashion, attentively watching the exercises of the British troops
on Boston Common. Perhaps Knox, whose shop in Cornhill
he frequented for certain treatises on the art of war, was his
companion. Such was the primary school in which these two
great soldiers were formed.

When Greene was selected by the commander-in-chief to
command the Southern army, he urged in the strongest terms
the superior qualifications of Knox for that position. "With his
usual modesty, the Quaker General said : " Knox is the man for
that difficult undertaking ; all obstacles vanish before him ; his
resources are infinite." Washington, in admitting the truth
of all Greene had advanced, replied, in effect, that these were
the very reasons that impelled him to retain Knox near his

It was General Greene's fortune to preside over the board of
officers at Tappan which condemned the chivalric but ill-starred
Andre. That board was composed of the most distinguished
men of the army. Among them all, we will venture to say, no
heart was wrung more acutely by the inexorable necessity for
the vindication of military law than was that of the president.
Alexander Hamilton said, near the close of the war, while
opposing reprisals for the death of Captain Huddy : " The death
of Andre could not have been dispensed with ; but it must still
be viewed as an act of rigid justice."

General Greene retired from the army in very embarrassed
circumstances. Like the other general officers, he had received

lee's headquarters and vicinity. ■ 151

no equivalent for the sums he was compelled to disburse for his
support while in the field. These officers were obliged to apply
to Congress for " relief," such being then, as now, the legal
phraseology of an application of a creditor when government
is the debtor. Greene met with losses at the South which
hurt him. He turned to the soil ; but the season was un-
kind, and his first crop was a failure. Congress voted him
military trophies, but these did not afford him the means of

It is pleasant to turn from the contemplation of the neglect
which Greene experienced as a general to examine the inner
characteristics of the man. These cannot better be illustrated
than by the following extracts from a letter Avritten by him in
the autumn of 1 781, from his camp on the High Hills of Santee.
Henry Jackson, of whom the General speaks, was the burly,
good-natured colonel of the 16th, sometimes called the Boston

" We have fought frequently and bled freely, and little glory comes
to our share. Our force has been so small that nothing capital could
be effected, and our operations have been conducted under every dis-
advantage that could embarrass either a general or an army

" How is my old friend Colonel Jackson ? Is he as fat as ever, and
can he still eat down a plate of fish that he can't see over ? God
bless bis fat soul with good health and good spirits to the end of the
war, that we may all have a happy meeting hi the North."

One who had frequent opportunities of observing the General
has admirably painted his portrait. Fortunately for us, beards
were not worn at the Eevolution, so that we are enabled to
trace the lineaments of celebrated public characters of that time
with a degree of satisfaction that will hardly reward the future
biographers of the men of the present day.

" Major-General Greene in person was rather corpulent, and above
the common size. His complexion was fair and florid, his counte-
nance serene and mild, indicating a goodness which seemed to soften
and shade the fire and greatness of its expression. His health was
dehcate, but preserved by temperance and regularity."


" On martial ground the school of heroes taught,
He studied battles where campaigns were fought;
By valor led, he traced each scene of fame.
Where war had left no spot witliout a name.
Great by resolve, yet by examjsle warned,
Himself the model of his glory formed."

General Greene's wife (Catharine Littlelielcl) was every way
worthy of her distinguished husband. Her conversation and
manner were fascinating and vivacious. It is noteworthy tliat
Eli Whitney conceived the idea of his wonderfid machine while
under Mrs. Greene's roof at Mulberry Grove, Georgia, in 1792.
Whitney, then a poor law-student, was protected by Mrs.
Greene, who provided him an apartment, where he labored and
produced his cotton-gin.

The high elevation of Prosj^ect Hill exposes it on all sides to
the chill wintry winds. Even now a residence there has its
drawbacks, in spite of the charming panorama constantly un-
folded to the eyes of the residents. What, then, was it diuing
the winter of '75 -'76, when the ground was held by men who
slept in barracks rudely constructed of boards, through the crev-
ices of which the snow drifted until it sometimes covered their
sleeping forms 1 Greene wrote to his neighbor, Sulhvan, the
last of September, that his fingers were so benumbed he could
scarcely hold his pen. The General occupied a hut in the rear
of his encampment, where he was visited by his wife shortly
after he assumed the command on Prospect Hill.

As what we desire to give the reader is as accurate a view as
possible of the Continental camps during the period we are
considering, we cannot do better than to exliibit their resources,
and especially how they were provided with artillery to defend
such extensive lines. In so far as such testimony is attainable,
the evidence of the actors themselves or of eyewitnesses is

Dr. Thacher, who was a siirgeon's mate in Asa Whitcomb's
regiment in barracks on Prospect Hill, in 1775, says : —

" Before our privateers had fortunately captured some prizes with
cannon and other ordnance, our army before Boston had, I believe,



only fonr * small brass cannon and a few old honey-comb iron pieces
with their trunnions broken off ; and these were ingeniously bedded
in timbers in the same manner as stocking a musket. These
machines were exceedingly unwieldy and inconvenient, requiring
much skill to elevate and depress them."


As early as January, 1775, four brass pieces, two seven-inch
mortars, and an unknown number of battering cannon, were
in possession of the provincial committees. Besides these, oth-
ers are obscurely hinted at without mentioning the number.
Worcester and Concord were selected as the places of deposit
for all the artillery and munitions of war. Even as far back as
November, 1774, the committees had begun to purchase heavy
cannon, which coidd be found in all the seaports from Boston
to Falmouth. IMany of these were ship's guns. Others had
been purchased to defend the ports during the frequent Avars
with France ; and not a few had come from the fortifications of
LouisbTirg and Annapolis Eoyal. It appears that the Pievolu-
tionary executive had voted to equip a park of sixteen field-
pieces, in which tliose brought o\it of Boston Avere to be in-
cluded. This Avill serve to shoAV that, long before Lexington,
the Americans Avere earnestly preparing for war, and that
although the artillery in their hands was generally of light
calibre, they Avere by no means as defenceless as has been
supposed. The sixteen field-pieces Avere, in February, A'oted to
be distributed among the seven regiments of militia, in the pro-

* This was an underestimate.



portion of two to each, and two to the Boston company, lately
Paddock's, it being the intention to have an artillery company
in each regiment of minute-men. In March eight field-pieces
and two brass mortars, with their ammunition, were ordered to
be deposited at Leicester.

At Concord, on the 19th of April, the British disabled three
iron 24-pounders by knocking oif the trunnions. These were
too heavy to remove as readily as had been done in the case
of the lighter pieces, but Yankee ingenuity made the guns ser-
viceable. Dr. Preserved Clap invented the carriage which is
described by Thacher, and in our di-awmg made by an officer
of artillery present at the siege. There were also field-pieces
concealed at iSTewburyport, and cannon at Maiden, Watertown,
and Marlborough. Four light brass pieces (3-pounders), two
of which had belonged to Paddock's Artillery, were, in the
early days of the blockade, brought out of Boston under the
very noses of the British officers.

Two days after tlie battle of Lexington the Provincials began
to collect their warlike material, and couriers were despatched
to Gridley, at Stoughton, and to David Mason,* then upon
furlough at Salem. Mason was ordered to provide the neces-
sary implements for eight 3- and three 6-pounders.

On the 29th of April the Committee of Safety reported
to the Provincial Congress that there were in Cambridge six
3-pounders complete, with ammunition, and one 6-pounder.
In Watertown there were sixteen pieces of artillery of differ-
ent sizes. The Committee say : —

" The said 6-pounder and sixteen pieces of artillery will be taken
out of the way; and the first-mentioned six pieces will be used in a
proper way of defence." t

Measures were taken on the same day to organize two com-
panies of artillery, Captain Joseph Foster being appointed to
the command of one and Captain William Lee of Marblehead
to the other. This appears to be the first step taken towards
organizing the subsequently famous regiment of Massachusetts

* Afterwards major of Knox's Artillery,
f Records of the Provincial Congress.

lee's headquarters and vicinity. 155

artillery, -which Gridley, Knox, and Crane comnnnanded. The
pieces lirst used were 3-pounders, and were those taken to
Bunker Hill, where live of the six were captured by the enemy.
Among the Ehode Island troops which arrived at Cambridge
early in June was a fine company of artillery, with four excel-
lent field-pieces. On the 1 2th of June Edes's Gazette stated that

" Many large pieces of battering cannon are expected soon from
different places ; twelve pieces. 18 and 24 pounders, with a quan-
tity of ordnance-stores, we are informed, are already arrived from

A train with four field-pieces had also arrived in camp from
Connecticut. We have been thus circumstantial because much
curiosity has existed in relation to the Provincial artillery
before the arrival of Knox from CroAvn Point with fifty-five
pieces of various calibres. In the autumn of 1776 Massa-
chusetts began to cast cannon.

With regard to small-arms the difiiculties were even greater.
Spears Avere largely used to supply the want of bayonets, and
were kept within all the Avorks to repel assault. They were
frequently examined, cleaned, and kept ready for service. As
for muskets, the General Court, as far back as 1770, had tried
to wheedle Hutchinson out of the Province arms, but he refused
to distribute them to the militia as recommended. The arms
were seized, however, in February, 1775, and removed from
Harvard College, where they were deposited, to Worcester, to
be out of Gage's clutches. Private sources were soon exhausted,
and there were no public workshops. Washington paid £ 3
for a gun on his arrival at Cambridge; and by September, 1776,
the price for a serviceable musket with bayonet made in tlie
State was £ 4. During the siege the scarcity became so great
that the muskets had to be taken by force from soldiers whose
term of enlistment had expired, and who brought their own
guns, in order to supply those coming to take their places.

Rev. William Emerson, grandfather of Ralph Waldo Emer-
son, who Avas a chaplain in the army at this time, affords us
glimpses of the Continental camps after the arrival of Wash-
ington : —


" My quarters are at the foot of the famous Prospect Hill, Avhere
such great preparations are made for the reception of the enemy. It
is very diverting to walk among the camps. They are as different
in their form as the owners are in their dress, and every tent is a
portraiture of the temper and taste of the persons who encamp in it.
Some are made of boards and some of sail-cloth. Some partly of
one and some partly of the other. Again, others are made of stone
and turf, brick and brush. Some are thrown up in a hmTy; others
curiously wrought with doors and windows done with wreaths and
withes in the manner of a basket. Some are your proper tents and
marquees, looking like the regular camp of the enemy. In tliese are
the Rhode-Islanders, who are furnished with tent-equipage and
everything in the most exact English style. However, I think this
great variety is rather a beauty than a blemish in the army."

Rhode Island has always sent her sons to the field in a man-
ner highly creditable to herself. As in the Eevolution so in the
late Eebellion her troops presented themselves supplied with
every necessary for active service. When the Ehode-Islanders
reached Wasliington, in 1861, their commander was asked,
" What are your wants V ' " Xothing," was the reply ; " my
State has provided for everything."

It was on Prospect Hill that Putnam raised, on the 18th of
July, 1775, his celebrated flag, bearing on one side the motto,
" An Appeal to Heaven ! " and on the reverse the three vines,
which are the armorial bearings of Connecticut, with the legend,
" Qui Transtulit Sustinet ! " The shouts that rent the air when
Old Put gave the signal are said to have caused the British
on Bunker Hill to rusli to arms, in the fear of an immediate

Among Greene's officers Colonel Whitcomb of Lancaster has
been mentioned. The Deacon, as he was usually called, was
left out in the new organization of the army, on account of his
age. His men, who were much attached to him, highly re-
sented this treatment of the old man, and declared they would
not re-enlist. The Colonel told them he did not doubt there
were good reasons for the regulation, and said he would enhst
as a private soldier.- Colonel Brewer, who heard of this deter-
mination, offered to resign in favor of Whitcomb. The affair

lee's headquartees and vicinity. 157

coming to Washington's knowledge, he permitted Brewer to
carry his proposal into effect, giving him at the same time an
appointment as harrack-master until a vacancy should occur in
the line. The General then published the whole transaction
in orders.

On i^TeAv- Year's Day, 1776, the Union Flag, bearing thirteen
stripes, Avas hoisted at Prospect Hill, and saluted with thirteen
guns. This was the birthday of the new Continental army of
undying fame. Xow, for the first time, the thirteen united
Colonies had a common flag. From this lofty height the colors
were plainly distinguishable in the enemy's camps, and Avere at
first thought to be a token of submission, ■ — the king's speech
having been sent to the Americans the same day. But the
enemy were speedily undeceived ; the proclamation was not re-
ceived until after the flag had been flung to the breeze. There
it continued to fly until raised in triumph on the abandoned
works of the British.

Prospect Hill is occasionally mentioned as Mt. Pisgah. It
could be reached by the enemy's battery at West Boston, which
thrcAv a 13-inch shell into the citadel during the bombard-
ment preceding the possession of Dorchester Heights. The
missile exploded without doing any injury. The hill, too, is
associated with the last days of the siege by two incidents. An
accidental fire which occurred in 'the barracks was conceived by
HoAve to be a signal for calling in the militia from the country,
and probably accelerated his preparations to depart. The fol-
loAving order was issued to the army from headquarters, March
4,1776:— ^

" The flag on Prospect Hill and that at the Laboratory on Cam-
bridge Common are ordered to be hoisted only upon a general alarm :
of this the Avhole army is to take particular notice, and immediately
iipon these colors being displayed CA^ery officer and soldier must re-

Online LibrarySamuel Adams DrakeHistoric fields and mansions of Middlesex → online text (page 14 of 39)