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Chapter 42:

The army round Boston.

July, 1775.

on Monday, the third day of July, Washington rode
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forth from his quarters at Cambridge, numerously attended, and, under an elm tree on the common, assumed command of the continental army. A favorable opinion had gone before him; but his presence was greater than his fame. Of his companions, Miffin, a brave and honest officer, though not of deep insight, charmed by his activity, spirit, and obliging behavior; the intelligence, culture, and manners of Reed engaged esteem; Lee personally excited disgust, but the general persuasion of his skill and experience in the art of war, and of his sincerity in professing a zealous attachment to ‘the cause of mankind,’ won for him the confidence of Washington, and expressions of admiring gratitude from the congress in Massachusetts. Gates, who arrived within a week, gained friends by his affability, and his usefulness in a subordinate station. [41]

From the first moment of his coming, the com-

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mander in chief took the hearts of all about him, and of all New England; though he himself was unused to the ways of its people, whose character he never could thoroughly understand. The provincial congress at Watertown welcomed him in a cordial address. From Philadelphia, Hancock expressed the wish to serve under him; Greene and the Rhode Island officers received him with words of affectionate confidence. ‘Now be strong and very courageous,’ wrote Trumbull, the governor of Connecticut; ‘may the God of the armies of Israel give you wisdom and fortitude, cover your head in the day of battle, and danger; and convince our enemies that all their attempts to deprive these colonies of their rights and liberties are vain.’ To Trumbull Washington made answer: ‘The cause of our common country calls us both to an active and dangerous duty; divine providence, which wisely orders the affairs of men, will enable us to discharge it with fidelity and success.’

The camp contained a people in arms, rather than an army. No one could tell precisely its numbers, or the state of its stores. The soldiers had listed under different agreements and for periods indefinite but short. Each colony had its own rules of military government, and its own system of supplies; and the men, chiefly freeholders and sons of freeholders, held themselves bound only by a specific covenant, of which they interpreted the conditions and required the fulfilment.

Immediate orders were given for a return of the state of the army. While this was preparing, Washington visited the American posts and reconnoitred [42] those of the enemy. From Prospect Hill he

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took a comprehensive view of Boston and Charlestown. Of the latter town, nothing was to be seen but chimneys and rubbish. Above the ruins rose the tents of the great body of the British forces, strongly posted on Bunker Hill. Their sentries extended about one hundred and fifty yards beyond Charlestown Neck. On Breed's Hill there was a redoubt; two hundred men kept guard at Moultrie's Point; a battery was planted on Copp's Hill; three floating batteries lay in Mystic river; and a twenty-gun ship was anchored below the Charlestown ferry. The light horse and a few men were in the town of Boston; the remainder were on Roxbury Neck, where they were deeply intrenched and strongly fortified, with outposts so far advanced, that the sentries of the two armies could almost have conversed together.

Of the inhabitants of Boston six thousand seven hundred and fifty three still remained in the town, pining of sorrow; deprived of wholesome food; confined to their houses after ten o'clock in the evening; liable to be robbed without redress; ever exposed to the malice of the soldiers, and chidden for tears as proofs of disloyalty.

The number of the British army should have exceeded ten thousand men, beside the complements of ships of war and transports, and was estimated by the American council of war as likely to amount altogether to eleven thousand five hundred; yet such were the losses on the retreat from Concord, at Bunker Hill, in skirmishes, from sickness, and by desertion, that even after the arrival of all the transports, the commanding officer had never more than sixty [43] five hundred effective rank and file. But these were

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the choicest troops, thoroughly trained, and profusely supplied with the materials of war; and as he had the dominion of the water, he was able; as from a centre, to bend them against any one point in the straggling line of their besiegers.

Washington found the American army dispersed in a semicircle, from the west end of Dorchester to Maiden, a distance of nine miles. At Roxbury, where Thomas commanded two regiments of Connecticut and nine of Massachusetts, a strong work, planned by Knox and Waters, crowned the hill, and with the brokenness of the rocky ground, secured that pass. The main street was defended by a breastwork, in front of which sharpened and well-pointed trees, placed with the top towards Boston, prevented the approach of light horse. A breastwork also crossed the road to Dorchester. The men of Rhode Island were partly on Winter Hill, partly at Sewall's Farm, near the south bank of the Charles. The centre of the army was with Ward at Cambridge, its lines reaching from the colleges almost to the river. Putnam, with a division of four thousand men, composed of troops from Connecticut and eight Massachusetts regiments, lay intrenched on Prospect Hill, in a position which was thought to be impregnable. The New Hampshire forces were fortifying Winter Hill; assisted perhaps by a Rhode Island regiment, and certainly by Poor's Massachusetts regiment, which for want of tents had its quarters in Medford. The smaller posts and sentinels stretched beyond Maiden river. Apart, in a very thick wood, near where the Charles enters the bay, stood the wigwams of about [44] fifty domiciliated Indians of the Stockbridge tribe.

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They were armed with bows and arrows, as well as guns, and were accompanied by their squaws and littie ones.

The American rolls promised seventeen thousand men; but Washington never had more than fourteen thousand five hundred fit for duty. The community in arms presented a motley spectacle. In dress there was no uniformity. The companies from Rhode Island were furnished with tents, and had the appearance of regular troops; others filled the college halls, the episcopal church, and private houses; the fields were strown with lodges, which were as various as the tastes of their occupants. Some were of boards, some of sailcloth, or partly of both; others were constructed of stone and turf, or of birch and other brush. Some were thrown up in a careless hurry; others were curiously wrought with doors and windows, woven out of withes and reeds. The mothers, wives, or sisters of the soldiers were constantly coming to the camp, with supplies of clothing and household gifts. Boys and girls, too, flocked in with their parents from the country to visit their kindred, and gaze on the terrors and mysteries of war. Eloquent and accomplished chaplains kept alive the habit of daily prayer, and preached the wonted sermons on the day of the Lord. The habit of inquisitiveness and self-direction stood in the way of military discipline; the men had never learnt implicit obedience, and knew not how to set about it; between the privates and their officers there prevailed the kindly spirit and equality of life at home.

In forming a judgment on the deficiency of num [45] bers, discipline, and stores of the army, Washington

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made allowances for a devoted province like Massachusetts, which had so long suffered from anarchy and oppression. ‘Their spirit,’ said he, ‘has exceeded their strength.’ In the ‘great number of able-bodied men, active, zealous in the cause, and of unquestionable courage,’ he saw the materials for a good army; but, accustomed to the watchfulness of the backwoodsmen in the vicinity of wily enemies, he strongly condemned the want of subordination, and the almost stupid confidence of inexperience, which pervaded not only the privates but many of the in ferior officers. He set diligently about a reform, though it made ‘of his life one continued round of vexation and fatigue.’ The great inefficiency lay with the officers. ‘If they will but do their duty,’ said Hawley, ‘there is no fear of the soldiery.’ Towards the incompetent, who, in the suddenness of calling together so large a body of men, had crowded themselves upward with importunate selfishness, Washington resolved to show no lenity. By a prompt and frequent use of courts martial, he made many examples, and by lending no countenance to public abuses, and by insisting on the distinction between officers and soldiers, he soon introduced the aspect of discipline. Every day, Sundays not excepted, thousands were kept at work under strict government from four till eleven in the morning, strengthening the lines, and fortifying every point which could serve the enemy as a landing place. The strong and uniform will of Washington was steadily exerted, with a quiet, noiseless, and irresistible energy. ‘There are many things amiss in this camp,’ [46] said the chaplain Emerson; ‘yet, upon the whole,
Chap. XLII.} 1775. July.
God is in the midst of us.’

Meantime Lee had not been many days in the camp before the British generals in Boston, who knew him well, showed a disposition to tamper with him for their own purposes. From Philadelphia he had, in June, addressed to Burgoyne, his old comrade in Portugal, a public letter condemning American taxation by parliament, and tracing the malady of the state to the corrupt influence of the crown. In an able reply, Burgoyne insisted, for himself and for Howe, that their political principles were unchanged, and invited Lee to ‘an interview’ within the British lines, for the purpose of ‘inducing such explanations as might tend in their consequences to peace, for,’ said he, as if with the highest authority, ‘I know Great Britain is ready to open her arms upon the first overture of accommodation.’ Clutching at the office of a negotiator, Lee avoided asking advice of a council of war, and of himself requested the Massachusetts congress to depute one of their body to be a witness of what should pass. That body wisely dissuaded from the meeting, and referred him to a council of war for further advice. Thwarted in his purpose, Lee publicly declined to meet Burgoyne, but he also sent him a secret communication, in which among other things he declared ‘upon his honor that the Americans had the certainty of being sustained by France and Spain.’ This clandestine correspondence proved that Lee had then no fidelity in his heart; though his treasons may as yet have been but caprices, implying momentary treachery rather than a well considered system. His secret was kept in America, but the statement found [47] its way through the British ministry to Vergennes,

Chap. XLII.} 1775. July.
who pronounced it an absurdity worthy only of contempt.

All the while skirmishes continued. A party of Americans on the eighth of July drove in the British advance guard nearest Roxbury, and took several muskets. On the evening of the tenth, three hundred volunteers swept Long Island, in Boston harbor, of more than seventy sheep and fifteen head of cattle, and carried off sixteen prisoners. Two days later, just after the arrival of six crowded transports, Greaton, with one hundred and thirty six men, went again to the same island, and burnt the hay which was stacked there for the British cavalry. After a few days more, companies at Weymouth and Hingham reaped and brought off the ripe grain from Nantasket.

On the fifteenth of July, the army of Cambridge heard Langdon, the president of Harvard college, read the declaration by the continental congress for taking up arms, which they interpreted to mean that the Americans would never sheathe the sword till their grievances were redressed to their utmost wishes. On the eighteenth it was read on Prospect Hill amidst such shouts that the British on Bunker Hill put themselves in array for battle; but neither then, nor even after the arrival of their last transports, did they venture an attack or even a sally. ‘I despair seeing a battle fought this time coming down,’ wrote Emerson to his wife at Concord.

In conformity to the direction of the continental congress, the people of Massachusetts, holding town meetings according to their usage and their charter, [48] chose a house of representatives. Boston took part

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in the elections; for the wanderers from that town were considered as bearing with them its living spirit, and the exiles, many of whom had not seen each other since they left their homes, came together at Concord. On the nineteenth the provincial congress dissolved itself forever, and the new house of representatives began the restoration of government by electing James Warren, of Plymouth, as its speaker. The following night, Vose, a major in Heath's regiment, set fire to the lighthouse in Boston harbor, bringing off a field piece, a swivel, and the lamps. The boats of a British man of war, which lay within a mile, pursued the adventurous party; but they were in whaleboats and escaped by rowing.

The continental fast was rigidly kept on the twentieth; the next day the Massachusetts government was permanently constituted. An annually elected legislature themselves elected an annual council of twenty eight, and that multitudinous body, which also had concurrent legislative power, assumed all executive authority. In a few weeks the old civil and military offices were abolished, and the seal of the commonwealth was changed into an Anglo-American, holding a drawn sword, with the motto: Ense petit placidam sub libertate quieter, ‘With the sword he seeks placid rest under liberty.’ Forty thousand pounds were assessed on polls and estates, and authority was given to issue one hundred thousand more in bills of public credit, varying in amount from forty shillings to one.

‘Congress and committees rule every province,’ said the British commander in chief. He looked [49] about for colonial sympathy and contributions of

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men; but none wished to share his confinement. He sent officers to New York to board emigrant ships from Scotland, in the hope to enlist a few Highlanders. Growing more and more uneasy, on the twenty fourth of July, he wrote home that Boston was ‘the most disadvantageous place for all operations,’ and he wished himself safely at New York.

To repair the Boston lighthouse carpenters were sent with a guard of thirty marines. On the evening of the thirtieth, Major Tupper attacked them with a party from Squantum and Dorchester, killed the lieutenant and one man, and captured all the rest of the party, fifty three in number. The Americans had but one man killed and two or three wounded. The next day in general orders, Washington praised their gallant and soldier like conduct. The country regarded with amazement what Jefferson called ‘the adventurous genius and intrepidity of the New Englanders.’

For all this, Washington, who was annoyed by shoals of selfish importuners, and had not yet become aware how bad men clamorously throng round the distributors of offices, misjudged the Massachusetts people; but the existence of the army was itself a miracle of their benevolence, and its sustenance during May, June, and July cannot be accounted for by ordinary rules. There was nothing regularly established, and yet many thousands of men were abundantly supplied. Touched by an all pervading influence, each householder esteemed himself a sort of commissary. There were no public magazines, no large dealers in provisions; but the wants of the army [50] rung in the ears of the farmers, and from every cellar,

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and barn yard, and field throughout Worcester and Hampshire and even Berkshire, such articles of food as could be spared were devoted to the camp, and everybody's wagons were used to forward them. But for this the forces must have dispersed; how it was done, cannot exactly be told; popular enthusiasm keeps little record of its sacrifices; only it was done, and though great waste prevailed, the troops of Massachusetts, and for a long time also those of New Hampshire, were fed by the unselfish care of the people, without so much as a barrel of flour from the continental congress. It was time for ‘the confederated colonies’ to interpose.

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