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Chapter 59:

Boston delivered.

February—March, 1776.

in February, 1776, the commander in chief of
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the American army found himself supplied with only money enough to answer claims antecedent to the last day of December; his want of powder was still Feb. so great as to require the most careful concealment. Congress had strangely lavished its resources on the equipment of a navy; leaving him in such dearth of the materials of war, that he was compelled to look for them in every direction, and at one time had even asked if something could be spared him from the hoped-for acquisitions of Montgomery. Having no permanent army, and unable to enlist for the year a sufficient number of soldiers to defend his lines, he was obliged to rely for two months on the service of three regiments of militia from Connecticut, one from New Hampshire, and six from Massachusetts; but at the same time, with all the explicitness and force that his experience, his dangers, and his trials could suggest, he set before [292] congress the ruinous imperfections of their mili-
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tary system. To the vast numbers of mercenary troops that were to come over in spring to reenforce his enemy, he could indulge no hope of opposing any thing better than fleeting bands of undisciplined men, ill-clad, and poorly armed. In this dark period his own spirit never drooped. Once when the bay, west of Boston, was frozen over, he would have led his army across the ice into the town, if the spirit of the soldiers and the advice of the officers had left him room to hope success; but ever holding it indispensable to make a bold attempt against the British, he persevered in his purpose to break up their ‘nest’ and drive them out of Boston, though he had in reserve but one hundred barrels of powder.

The army in Boston consisted of nearly eight thousand rank and file, beside officers and the complements of the ships of war. The young men who held commissions, were full of ingenious devices to amuse the common soldiers and to relieve the wearisomeness of their own hours. The Old South meeting house was turned into a riding school for the light dragoons; Faneuil Hall became a playhouse, where the officers appeared as actors on the stage; they even attempted balls and planned a masquerade. The winter was mild; so that navigation was not interrupted, and provisions were imported in abundance from Ireland and England, from Barbados and Antigua. Thus they whiled away the time in their comfortable quarters, without a thought of danger, awaiting early summer, and large reinforcements, preparatory to their removal to New York.

The possession of Dorchester Heights would give [293] Washington the command of Boston and of a large

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part of the harbor. Ill supplied as he was with powder, and having no resource for artillery but in the captures made from the enemy by privateers and the cannon which had been dragged overland from Lake George, he still made the necessary arrangements to occupy the position, in the hope to bring the enemy out and force them to offer battle. To that end the council of Massachusetts, at his request, called in the militia of the nearest towns. The engineer employed to devise and superintend the works was Rufus Putnam; and the time chosen for their erection was the eve of the anniversary of ‘the Boston massacre.’ To
harass the enemy and divert attention, a heavy cannonade and bombardment of the town was kept up during the two previous nights. Soon after candlelight on the fourth of March, the firing was renewed with greater vehemence than before from Cobble Hill, now Somerville, from Lechmere's Point, now East Cambridge, and from a battery in Roxbury, and was returned with such zeal by the British, that a continued roar of cannon and mortars was heard from seven o'clock till daylight. As soon as it had begun, Washington proceeded to take possession of the Heights of Dorchester. All the requisite dispositions, including the method of baffling an attack, had been deliberately considered, and prepared with consummate skill; every thing was ready; every man knew his place, his specific task, and the duty of executing it with celerity and silence. A party of eight hundred went in advance as a guard; one half of them taking post on the height nearest Boston; the other at the easternmost point, opposite the castle. They were followed [294] by carts with intrenching tools, and by the working
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party of twelve hundred under the command of Thomas, an officer whose great merit on this occasion is the more to be remembered from the shortness of his career. The ground, for eighteen inches deep, was frozen too hard to yield earth for the defences; but the foresight of the chief had amply provided substitutes; a train of more than three hundred carts, easily drawn by oxen over the frozen marshes, brought bundles of screwed hay to form a cover for Dorchester Neck where it was exposed to a raking fire, and an amazing quantity of gabions and fascines and chandeliers for the redoubts. The drivers, as they goaded on their cattle, suppressed their voices; the westerly wind carried all sound away from the town. Washington perceived with delight that his movement was unobserved, and that the ceaseless noise of artillery alone attracted attention. The hours, as they flew by, were the most eventful of his life; after nine months of intolerable waiting, a crisis was at hand, but every thing was prepared to ensure his success; and as he raised the intrenchments of American independence on the heights of Dorchester, he had a happiness of mind till then unknown to him during the siege. The night, though cold, was not severely so; the temperature was the fittest that could be for out-door work; the haze that denotes a softening of the air hung round the base of the ridge; above him, the moon, which that morning had become full, was shining in cloudless lustre; at his side, hundreds of men toiled in stillness at the frozen ground with an assiduity that knew nothing of fatigue; the three hundred teams [295] were all at the same time in motion, going backwards
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and forwards, some three, some four times; beneath him, in the town, lay the British general, indifferent to the incessant noise of cannon, never dreaming of an ejectment from his comfortable winter quarters; the army that checkered the quiet place with martial show, reposed without special watchfulness or fear; the crowd of ships in the fleet rode proudly in the spacious harbor, motionless except as they turned on their moorings with the tide, unsuspicious of peril; the wretched, unarmed inhabitants of Boston, emaciated from want of wholesome food, pining after freedom, as yet little cheered by hope, trembled lest their own houses should be struck in the tumult, which raged as if heaven and earth were at variance; the common people that were left in the villages all around, chiefly women and children, driven from their beds by the rattling of their windows and the jar of their houses, could watch from the hill-tops the flight of every shell that was thrown, and waited for morning with wonder and anxiety. In England the ministry trusted implicitly the assurances of Howe, that he ‘was not under the least apprehensions of any attack from the rebels;’ the king expected that after wintering in Boston, and awaiting reenforcements, he would, in May or in the first week of June, sail for New York; the courtiers were wishing Boston and all New England sunk to the very bottom of the sea.

At about three in the morning the working party was relieved; but the toil was continued with unremitted energy, so that in one night strong redoubts, amply secure against grapeshot and musketry, crowned [296] each of the two hills; an abattis constructed of trees,

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felled in the neighboring orchards, protected the foot of the ridge; the top was surmounted by barrels, filled with earth and stones, which, as the hill sides were steep and bare of trees and bushes, were, in case of an attack, to be rolled down against the assailing columns. ‘Perhaps there never was so much work done in so short a space of time.’ Some time after daybreak on the morning of the fifth, the British from Boston beheld with astonishment and dismay the forts which had sprung up in a night. At the discovery the batteries on both sides ceased to play, and a fearful quiet prevailed. Howe, as he saw the new intrenchments loom in imposing strength, reported that ‘they must have been the employment of at least twelve thousand men;’ and some of his officers acknowledged, that the sudden appearance recalled the wonderful stories in eastern romances of enchantment and the invisible agency of fairy hands. The British general found himself surpassed in military skill by officers whom he had pretended to despise. One unexpected combination, concerted with faultless ability, and suddenly executed, had in a few hours made his position untenable. His army at that time was well supplied with provisions from vessels which were constantly coming into port; the Americans, on the contrary, were poorly cared for and poorly paid: the British had abundance of artillery; the Americans had almost no large guns that were serviceable: the British had a profusion of ammunition; the Americans scarce enough to supply their few cannon for six or eight days; and yet the British had no choice but to dislodge the New England farmers or retreat. Left [297] very much to himself, Howe knew not what to pro-
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pose; neither Burgoyne nor Clinton was with him to share his responsibility. ‘If they retain possession of the heights,’ said Admiral Shuldham, ‘I cannot keep a ship in the harbor.’ A council of war was called, and it was determined to assault the Americans. Washington had provided for the contingency; and had the British made a vigorous sally against the party at Dorchester, the Americans had floating batteries and boats ready to carry four thousand men into Boston. All day long the neighboring hills which commanded a view of the scene, were crowded with spectators, who watched the bustle, hurry, and alarm in the town. Twenty four hundred men were detailed and put under the command of Lord Percy to make the attack; but the men were pale and dejected; they shared the general consternation and remembered Bunker Hill; and Percy showed no heart for an enterprise, which Howe himself confessed to be hazardous. When they were seen to enter the boats, the Americans on the heights, who now expected an immediate attack, kindled with joy in their confidence of repelling them victoriously. Washington said: ‘Remember, it is the fifth of March, a day never to be forgotten; avenge the death of your brethren;’ and the words, as they flew from mouth to mouth, inflamed still more the courage of his soldiers. But they were doomed to disappointment; the British sallying party and Percy, who did not intend to attempt scaling the heights till after nightfall, were borne in the transports to the castle; in the afternoon a violent storm of wind came up from the south, and about midnight blew with such [298] fury that two or three vessels were driven on shore;
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rain fell in torrents on the morning of the sixth; so that the movement against the American lines was still further delayed, till it became undeniably evident, that the attempt must end in the utter ruin of the British army. ‘If we had powder,’ said Washington, ‘I would give them a dose they would not well like.’ Their hostile appearances subsided; Howe called a second council of war, and its members were obliged to advise the instant evacuation of Boston.

When the orders for that evacuation were issued, the loyal inhabitants and the royalists who had fled to the town for refuge, were struck with sudden horror and despair, as though smitten by a thunderbolt out of a clear sky. Their error had grown from their confidence in the overwhelming force of the British power, which was to have been able to ravage the country in undisputed triumph, and restore them to the safe enjoyment of their possessions. Some of them were wretched time-servers, whose loyalty was prompted by the passion for gain and advancement; others were among the wealthiest and most upright persons in the colony, who, from the principle of honor, had left their homes, their fortunes, and even their families, to rally round the standard of their sovereign. Now the condition of the army was so desperate, that there was no time even to propose a capitulation for their safety, and the best that their sovereign could offer them was a passage in crowded transports from the cherished land of their nativity to the inhospitable shores of Nova Scotia, where they must remain, cut off from all that is dearest and [299] pleasantest in life; condemned to hopeless inferiority

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in a dreary place of exile; foregoing for the future the pride and joy of healthful activity; exchanging the delight of a love of country for a paralyzing, degrading sentiment of useless loyalty; beggared in their sympathies as well as in their fortunes; doomed to depend on the scanty charities, grudgingly doled out, of a monarch for whom they had surrendered every thing, and to find how hard are the steps of the great men's houses, at which needy suppliants must ever renew their importunities.

The greatest disgrace to the arms of the British was the manifest confession of their inability to protect their friends, who had risked every thing in their cause. Who could now put trust in their promises? On the eighth, Howe, through the selectmen of Boston, wished to come to an understanding with Washington that the town should be spared, provided he might be suffered to leave it without molestation. The unauthenticated proposal could meet with no reply from the American commander in chief, who continued to strengthen his lines, drew nearer and nearer to his enemy, and used his artillery sparingly only from want of ammunition. On the night following the ninth, a strong detachment began a fort on Nook Hill, which commanded Boston Neck; but some of the men having imprudently lighted a fire, the British, with their cannon and mortars, were able to interrupt the work; and yet as Washington did not abandon his design, Howe was compelled to hasten his embarkation. In November he had given as a reason for not then changing the scene of the war, that he had not transports enough [300] to remove his troops: now he had a larger force and

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fewer transports. He pretended that he went from Boston for refreshment; but in point of quarters it could be no great refreshment, to go from one of the largest towns in America to one of the least, where the troops were in part kept on shipboard, stived up one upon another, in part encamped on ground deeply covered with snow; where the officers and refugees, many of whom were almost penniless, suffered every extortion, and paid sixfold price for the meanest shelter over their heads; and where he found less forage and provisions for the king's troops than he left behind him, at Boston, for Washington's army.

He gave out that his object was the strengthening of Halifax; but on the third of the preceding December, 1775, he had written home, that ‘that place was in perfect security.’ He offered the excuse that he wanted an opportunity for the exercise of his troops in line; and was it for that end that troops, whose destination was New York, were carried six hundred miles out of their way, as though there had been no place for parade but in Nova Scotia? A chosen British army, with chosen officers, equipped with every thing essential to war, sent to correct revolted subjects, to chastise a resisting town, to assert the authority of the British parliament, after being imprisoned for many tedious months in the place they were to have punished, found no refuge but on board the fleet.

In these very hours the confidence of the ministry was at its point of culmination; they had heard of the safety of Quebec; they had succeeded in engaging more than twenty thousand German mercenaries and [301] recruits, and they would not hearken to a doubt of

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speedily crushing the rebellion. On the morning of the fourteenth of March, the British secretary of state listened to a speech from Thayendanegea, otherwise named Joseph Brant, a full-blooded Mohawk, of the Wolf Tribe, the chosen chief of the confederacy of the Six Nations, who had crossed the great lake to see King George; to boast that the savages, ‘his brethren,’ had offered the last year to prevent the invasion of Canada; and to complain that the white people had given them no support. ‘Brother,’ so the Mohawk chief addressed Germain, ‘we hope to see these bad children, the New England people, chastised. The Indians have always been ready to assist the king.’ And Germain replied: ‘Continue to manifest attachment to the king; and be sure of his majesty's favor.’ George and his ministers promised themselves important aid from the Iroquois and Northwestern warriors. ‘Unconditional submission’ was now the watchword of Germain; and when on the evening of the same day the Duke of Grafton attempted once more, in the house of lords, to plead for conciliation, the gentle Dartmouth approved sending over ‘a sufficient force to awe the colonies into submission;’ Hillsborough would ‘listen to no accommodation, short of the acknowledgment of the right of taxation and the submission of Massachusetts to the law for altering its charter;’ and Mansfield ridiculed the idea of suspending hostilities, and laughed moderating counsels away. The ministers pursued their rash policy with such violence and such a determination to brave all difficulties, that it was evident they followed a superior will, which demanded [302] implicit obedience. In the laying waste which was
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proposed, New England was to be spared the least.

The second night after this last effort in the British parliament to restrain the impetuous arrogance of the ministry had been defeated with contemptuous scorn, Washington gained possession of Nook Hill, and with it the power of opening the highway from Roxbury to Boston. At the appearance of this work, the British retreated precipitately; the army, about eight thousand in number, and more than eleven hundred refugees, began their embarkation at four in the morning; in less than six hours they were all put on board one hundred and twenty transports; Howe himself, among the last to leave the town, took passage with the admiral in the Chatham; before ten they were under way; and the citizens of Boston, from every height and every wharf, could see the fleet sail out of the harbor in a long line, extending from the castle to Nantasket Roads.

But where were Thacher, and Mayhew, and Dana, and Molineux, and Quincy, and Gardner, and Warren? Would that they, and all the martyrs of Lexington and Bunker Hill, had lived to gaze on the receding sails!

Troops from Roxbury at once moved into Boston, and others from Cambridge crossed over in boats. Everywhere appeared marks of hurry in the flight of the British; among other stores, they left behind them two hundred and fifty pieces of cannon, of which one half were serviceable; twenty five hundred chaldrons of sea coal; twenty five thousand bushels of wheat; three thousand bushels of barley and oats; one hundred and fifty horses; bedding and clothing for soldiers. [303] Nor was this all; several British storeships

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consigned to Boston, and ignorant of the retreat, successively entered the harbor without suspicion, and fell into the hands of the Americans; among them the ship Hope, which, in addition to carbines, bayonets, gun-carriages, and all sorts of tools necessary for artillery, had on board more than seven times as much powder as Washington's whole stock when his last movement was begun.

On the next day, Washington ordered five of his best regiments to march under Heath to New York. On the twentieth, the main body of the army made its entry into Boston; alive with curiosity to behold the town which had been the first object of the war, the immediate cause of hostilities, the place of arms defended by Britain at the cost of more than a million pounds sterling, and which the continent had contended for so long. Except one meeting-house and a few wooden buildings which had been used for fuel, the houses had been left in a good condition. When, two days later, all restrictions on intercourse with the town were removed, and the exiles and their friends streamed in, all hearts were touched at ‘witnessing the tender interviews and fond embraces of those who had been long separated.’ For Washington, crowded welcomes and words of gratitude hung on the faltering tongues of the liberated inhabitants; the selectmen of Boston addressed him in their name: ‘Next to the divine power we ascribe to your wisdom, that this acquisition has been made with so little effusion of human blood;’ and the chief in reply paid a just tribute to their unparalleled fortitude. When the quiet of a week had revived ancient [304] usages, Washington attended the Thursday lecture,

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which had been kept up from the days of Winthrop and Wilson, and all rejoiced with exceeding joy at seeing this New England Zion once more a quiet habitation; they called it ‘a tabernacle that should never be taken down, of which not one of the stakes should ever be removed, nor one of the cords be broken;’ and as the words were spoken, it seemed as if the old century was holding out its hand to the new, and the puritan ancestry of Massachusetts returning to bless the deliverer of their children.

On the twenty ninth, the two branches of the legislature addressed him jointly, dwelling on the respect he had ever shown to their civil constitution, as well as on his regard for the lives and health of all under his command. ‘Go on,’ said they, ‘still go on, approved by heaven, revered by all good men, and dreaded by tyrants; may future generations, in the peaceful enjoyment of that freedom, which your sword shall have established, raise the most lasting monuments to the name of Washington.’ And the chief, in his answer, renewed his pledges of ‘a regard to every provincial institution.’ When the continental congress, on the motion of John Adams, voted him thanks, and a commemorative medal of gold, he modestly transferred their praises to the men of his command, saying: ‘They were, indeed, at first a band of undisciplined husbandmen; but it is, under God, to their bravery and attention to duty, that I am indebted for that success which has procured me the only reward I wish to receive—the affection and esteem of my countrymen.’

New England was always true to Washington; the [305] whole mass of her population, to the end of the war

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and during all his life, heaved and swelled with sympathy for his fortunes; he could not make a sign to her for aid, but her sons rose up to his support; nor utter advice to his country, but they gave it reverence and heed.

And never was so great a result obtained at so small a cost of human life. The putting the British army to flight was the first decisive victory of the industrious middling class over the most powerful representative of the medieval aristocracy; and the whole number of New England men killed in the siege after Washington took the command was less than twenty; the liberation of New England cost altogether less than two hundred lives in battle; and the triumphant general, as he looked around, enjoyed the serenest delight, for he saw no mourners among those who greeted his entry after his bloodless victory.

Within the borders of four New England states, permanent peace with self-government was from this time substantially confirmed. And who now, even in the mother land of Massachusetts, does not rejoice at this achievement of a people which so thoroughly represented the middling class of the civilized world? How had they shown patience as well as fortitude! How long they waited, and when the right moment came, how promptly they rose! How they responded to the inward voice which bade them claim freedom as a birthright, and dread an acquiescence in its loss as a violation of the peace of the soul! Pious and contented, frugal, laborious, and affluent; their rule for the government of conduct was not the pride of chivalry, but the eternal law of [306] duty. Lovers of speculative truth, struggling earn-

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estly to solve the problem of the universe, in an age of materialists, they cherished habitually a firm faith in the subjection of all created things to the rule of divine justice, and their distinguishing career was one of action; the vigor of their will was never paralyzed by doubt; they were cheered by confidence in the amelioration of the race, and embraced in their affections the world of mankind. This wonderful people set the example of public schools for all their children, with a degree of perfection which the ancient mother country yet vainly strives to rival; and in their town governments they revealed the secret of republics. None knew better than they how to combine the minute discharge of the every day offices of life with large, and ready, and generous sympathies; sometimes soaring high and far in the daring of their enterprise, and sometimes following with painful assiduity even the humblest calling that promised lawful and honest gain; but always the advocates of disinterested benevolence as the true creed of a nation. The men of this century have crowned Bunker Hill, from which divine, triumphant hope attended their fathers in their retreat, with a monument whose summit greets the ray of morning, and catches the eye of the mariner, homeward bound. Around that spot how all is changed! A wealthy town rises over the pastures which the British columns wet with their blood; the city of Boston covers compactly its old soil and fills the bay, and encroaches on the sea with its magazines, and workshops, and dwellings; the genius of commerce, rapidly effacing every landmark of the siege, has already levelled the site of Washington's [307] last fort; the overflowing population extends
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itself into the adjacent country; the rivers, as they fall and flow on, are made to toil for man; restless intelligence teaches, in countless factories, new beneficial applications of the laws of nature; railroads diverge into the heart of the continent; ships that are among the largest and fleetest that ever were constructed, leave the harbor to visit every quarter of the globe; the neighboring college has grown into a university, true to the cause of good learning, of science, and free inquiry; in the happy development of its powers, New England has calmed the passions that were roused by oppression, and, tranquilly enjoying independence, breathes once more affection for its mother country, peace to all nations, and good will to man.

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