Siege of Boston (1776)

During the night of March 4, 1776, Washington’s troops quietly moved artillery recovered from Ft. Ticonderoga up Boston’s Dorchester Heights, along with all materials needed to construct fortifications.  Upon seeing the “Works” the following morning, British General Howe is said to have remarked, “The rebels did more in one night than my whole army would have done in one month.”  Here is Washington’s account:

“I resolved to take possession of Dorchester Point… which I knew would force the Enemy to an Engagement, or subject them to be enfiladed [shot their entire depth] by our Cannon… The ground at this time being froze upwards of two feet deep, & as impenetrable as a Rock… we were obliged therefore to provide an amazing quantity of Chandeliers [portable frames] and Fascines [bundles of sticks] for the Work, and on the Night of the 4th, after a previous severe Cannonade & Bombardment for three Nights together to divert the Enemy’s attention from our real design, removed every material to the spot under Cover of Darkness…

Upon their discovery of the Works next Morning, great preparations were made for attacking them, but not being ready before the Afternoon and the Weather getting very tempestuous, much blood was Saved…  this remarkable Interposition of Providence is for some wise purpose I have not a doubt[.]  …the Enemy thinking (as we have since learned) that we had got too securely posted before the second morning to be much hurt by them, and apprehending great annoyance from our new Works, resolved upon a retreat, and accordingly Embarked in as much hurry… and confusion as ever Troops did… leaving Kings property in Boston to the amount… of thirty or £40,000 in Provisions, Stores… [and] Cannon…  Baggage Wagons, Artillery Carts, etc. which they have been Eighteen Months preparing to take the Field with, were found destroyed—thrown into the Docks—and drifted upon every Shore.” George Washington, Letter to John Augustine Washington, March 31, 1776

 


A Noble Train of Artillery (1775-1776)

Lacking artillery in the Continental Army, Washington approved Henry Knox’s bold plan to transport 60 Tons of captured British artillery from Ft. Ticonderoga to Boston.  During the dead of winter and over the course of 56 days, Colonel Knox transported the artillery 300 miles across swamps, lakes, rivers and hills.  The artillery’s presence in Boston forced the British to quickly retreat.  Here are a few entries from Knox’s tattered Diary:

Dec ?, 1775  “We had not been out above an hour when the wind sprung up very fresh & directly against us -- the men after rowing exceedingly hard for above four hours seemed desirous of going ashore, to make a fire to warm themselves, I readily [consented] knowing them to be exceedingly weary.”

Dec 13, 1775  “… Received advice that… the Scow [flat-bottom boat] had gotten from off the rock on which she had run… & on the same Night the wind being exceeding high the sea had beaten her in such a manner that she had sunk…”

Dec 26, 1775  “In the morning we sat out & got about 2 miles when our horses tired and refused to go any farther -- I was then Obliged to undertake a very fatiguing march of about 2 miles in snow three feet deep…  almost perished with the Cold” 

Jan 7, 1776  “The Cannon… fell into the River notwithstanding the precautions we took, & in its fall broke All the Ice for 14 feet around It.”

Jan 8, 1776  “Went on the Ice About 8 o’Clock in the morning &… were so lucky as to Get the Cannon out of the River, owing to the assistances the good people of the City of Albany gave, In return for which we christened her the ‘The Albany’”

 


First National Day of Prayer

First National Day of Prayer (1775)

The First National Day of Prayer and Fasting occurred on July 20, 1775.  Congress attended Divine Service and ordered that a copy of the Resolution be “published in the Newspapers, and in Hand-bills.”

“As the Great Governor of the World, by his supreme and universal Providence, not only conducts the course of Nature with unerring Wisdom and Rectitude, but frequently influences the minds of Men…

This Congress, therefore, considering the present, critical, alarm- and calamitous State of these Colonies, do earnestly recommend that Thursday the 20th Day of July next, be observed by the Inhabitants of all the English Colonies on this Continent, as a Day of public Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer; that we may, with united Hearts and Voices… confess and deplore our many Sins; and offer up our joint Supplications to the all-wise, omnipotent, and merciful Disposer of all Events; humbly beseeching him to forgive our Iniquities, to remove our present Calamities, to avert those desolating Judgments, with which we are threatened, and to bless our rightful Sovereign King George the Third, and to inspire him with Wisdom to discern and pursue the true Interests of his Subjects, that a speedy end may be put to the civil discord between Great-Britain and the American Colonies…

[and] that the divine Blessing may descend and rest upon all our civil Rulers, and upon the Representatives of the People in their several Assemblies and Conventions, that they may be directed to wise and effectual Measures for preserving the Union, and securing the just Rights and Privileges of the Colonies…”  Journals of CongressResolution for a Fast, June 12, 1775

 


Taking Up Arms (1775)

In June 1775, Congress appointed a committee to write a“Declaration” to be proclaimed by General Washington“upon his Arrival at the Camp before Boston.”  This proclamation was called the “Declaration on the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms”.

“… a reverence for our Creator, principles of humanity, and the dictates of common sense, must convince all those who reflect upon the subject, that government was instituted to promote the welfare of mankind…  Our forefathers, inhabitants of the island of Great-Britain, left their native land, to seek on these shores a residence for civil and religious freedom…  Honor, justice, and humanity, forbid us tamely to surrender that freedom which we received from our gallant ancestors, and which our innocent posterity have a right to receive from us.  We cannot endure the infamy and guilt of resigning succeeding generations to that wretchedness which inevitably awaits them, if we basely entail hereditary bondage upon them.

… the arms we have been compelled by our enemies to assume, we will, in defiance of every hazard, with unabating firmness and perseverance, employ for the preservation of our liberties…  We fight not for glory or for conquest.  We exhibit to mankind the remarkable spectacle of a people attacked by unprovoked enemies…

With an humble confidence in the mercies of the supreme and impartial Judge and Ruler of the Universe, we most devoutly implore his divine goodness to protect us happily through this great conflict, to dispose our adversaries to reconciliation on reasonable terms, and thereby to relieve the empire from the calamities of civil war.”  Journals of CongressDeclaration on the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms, July 6, 1775

 


The Battle of Bunker Hill (1775)

 

The Battle of Bunker Hill (1775)

In June 1775, the Colonists discovered a British plan to occupy Bunker Hill as a strategic point to control Boston and Boston Harbor.  The Colonists raced to take possession of the hill.  With limited ammunition, Colonel Prescott is said to have ordered his men, “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes.”  The British won the battle but suffered many casualties.  Here is the Massachusetts Committee of Safety’s account:

“… Orders were issued that a Detachment of one thousand Men [Colonial Troops/ Provincials] should march that Evening… and entrench upon… [Bunker] Hill; just before 9 o’clock [p.m.] they left Cambridge, and proceeded to Breeds Hill… for by some Mistake this Hill was marked out for the Entrenchment instead of the other…  it was nearly 12 o’clock[a.m.] before the Works were entered upon.  They were then carried on with the utmost Diligence… so that by the Dawn of the Day, they had thrown up a small Redoubt [earthen fort]…  [and] at this Time a heavy Fire began from the Enemy… an incessant Shower of Shot and Bombs…

Between 12 and 1 o’clock [p.m.] a Number of Boats and Barges filled with the regular Troops, from Boston, were observed approaching… [and] upon their landing… began a very slow March towards our Lines…  The Provincials… reserved their Fire till they came within [150’]… and then began a furious Discharge of small Arms; this Fire arrested the Enemy, which… then retreated in Disorder, and… some of them sought Refuge within their Boats; here their Officers were observed… using the most passionate Gestures, and pushing their Men forward with their Swords; at length they rallied and marched up with apparent Reluctance…

[On the third attempt, the British] attacked the Redoubt on three Sides at once… the Ammunition of the Provincials was expended…” The Comm. of Safety’s Account of The Battle of Bunker Hill, July 25, 1775

 


Washington: The Letter Home (1775)

 

Before leaving Philadelphia to assume command of the Army, George Washington wrote a letter to his wife, Martha, and enclosed his will:

“MY DEAREST,  I am now set down to write to you on a subject, which fills me with inexpressible concern, and this concern is greatly aggravated and increased, when I reflect upon the uneasiness I know it will give you.  It has been determined in Congress, that the whole army raised for the defense of the American cause shall be put under my care, and that it is necessary for me to proceed immediately to Boston to take upon me the command of it.

You may believe me, my dear Patsy, when I assure you, in the most solemn manner, that, so far from seeking this appointment, I have used every endeavor in my power to avoid it, not only from my unwillingness to part with you and the family, but from a consciousness of its being a trust too great for my capacity, and that I should enjoy more real happiness in one month with you at home, than I have the most distant prospect of finding abroad, if my stay were to be seven times seven years…   I shall rely, therefore, confidently on that Providence, which has heretofore preserved and been bountiful to me, not doubting but that I shall return safe to you in the fall.  I shall feel no pain from the toil or the danger of the campaign; my unhappiness will flow from the uneasiness I know you will feel from being left alone…

I shall add nothing more… but to desire that you will remember me to your friends, and to assure you that I am, with the most unfeigned regard, my dear Patsy, your affectionate, [etc.]”  George Washington, Letter to Martha Washington, June 18, 1775

 


Washington: Commander and Friend

Washington: Commander and Friend (1758)

Suffering from bad health in 1758, Washington resigned as Commander of the Virginia Regiment. The letter Washington receives from his Officers provides an excellent glimpse into his character:

“SIR, We your most obedient and affectionate Officers, beg leave to express our great Concern, at the disagreeable News we have received of your Determination to resign the Command of that Corps, in which we have under you long served.  The happiness we have enjoyed, and the Honor we have acquired, together with the mutual Regard that has always subsisted between you and your Officers, have implanted so sensible an Affection in the Minds of us all, that we cannot be silent on this critical Occasion…

Your steady adherence to impartial Justice, your quick Discernment and invariable Regard to Merit, wisely intended to inculcate those genuine Sentiments, of true Honor and Passion for Glory… heightened our natural Emulation, and our Desire to excel. How much we improved by those Regulations, and your own Example…   Judge then, how sensibly we must be Affected with the loss of such an excellent Commander, such a sincere Friend, and so affable a Companion. How rare is it to find those amiable Qualifications blended together in one Man? How great the Loss of such a Man?

… we beg Leave to assure you, that as you have hitherto been the actuating Soul of the whole Corps, we shall at all times pay the most invariable Regard to your Will and Pleasure, and will always be happy to demonstrate by our Actions, with how much Respect and Esteem we are, Sir.” Officers of the Virginia Regiment, Letter to George Washington, Dec 31, 1758

 


Washington: The Indian Prophecy (1770)

In 1755, a young Colonel George Washington fought under British General Edward Braddock against the French at Fort Duquesne [pronounced, “doo-cane”].  The British suffered a devastating defeat.  Fifteen years later, as Washington was surveying lands west of Virginia, he was met by a party of Indians.  An Indian chief, upon learning of Washington’s trip, had traveled to speak to him.  As the Indian party entered the camp, the chief pointed to Washington.  A council fire was lit and the chief told the story of the “great” battle at Fort Duquesne:

“I am a chief, and the ruler over many tribes.  My influence extends to the waters of the great lakes, and to the far blue mountains.  I have traveled a long and weary path, that I might see the young warrior of the great battle.  It was on the day, when the white man's blood, mixed with the streams of our forest, that I first beheld this chief:  I called to my young men and said, ‘Mark yon tall and daring warrior?  He is not of the red-coat tribe- he hath an Indian’s wisdom, and his warriors fight as we do- himself is alone exposed.  Quick, let your aim be certain, and he dies.’  Our rifles were leveled, rifles which, but for him, knew not how to miss- ‘twas all in vain, a power mightier far than we, shielded him from harm.  He cannot die in battle.

I am old, and soon shall be gathered to the great council-fire of my fathers, in the land of shades, but ere I go, there is something, bids me speak, in the voice of prophecy.  Listen!  The Great Spirit protects that man, and guides his destinies- he will become the chief of nations, and a people yet unborn, will hail him as the founder of a mighty empire!”  George Washington Parke CustisRecollections and Private Memoirs of Washington, 1860

 


Washington: Commander in Chief (1775)

By the summer of 1775, it was increasingly clear the Colonies needed an army and General.  Was there anyone who could both unite the Colonies and command an army?  John Adams suggested Washington: “… I had no hesitation to declare that I had but one Gentleman in my Mind for that important command… a Gentleman whose Skill and Experience as an Officer, whose independent fortune, great Talents and excellent universal Character, would command the Approbation of all America, and unite the cordial Exertions of all the Colonies better than any other Person in the Union.” John Adams, Autobiography, Part 1, (June 1775)

Congress agreed with Adams and selected Washington as Commander in Chief. When informed of his appointment, Washington replied:

“Though I am truly sensible of the high Honor done me in this Appointment, yet, I feel great Distress from a Consciousness, that my Abilities and Military Experience may not be equal to the extensive and important Trust: However, as the Congress desire it, I will enter upon the momentous Duty, and exert every Power I possess in their Service, and for Support of the glorious Cause.  I beg they will accept my most cordial Thanks for this distinguished Testimony of their Approbation.

But, lest some unlucky Event should happen unfavorable to my Reputation, I beg it may be remembered by every Gentleman in the Room, that I this Day declare with the utmost Sincerity, I do not think myself equal to the Command I am honored with.

As to Pay, Sir, I beg Leave to assure the Congress, that as no pecuniary Consideration could have tempted me to accept this arduous Employment, at the Expense of my domestic Ease and Happiness, I do not wish to make any Profit from it.  I will keep an exact Account of my Expenses.  Those I doubt not they will discharge, and that is all I desire." George Washington, Journals of Congress, June 16, 1775

 


The Capture of Ticonderoga (1775)

 

Fort Ticonderoga was located on a key military corridor between Canada and the Hudson River.  Military supplies captured at Ticonderoga were later used to force the British to evacuate Boston.  Ethan Allen recorded the event:

“… the first systematical and bloody attempt at Lexington, to enslave America, thoroughly electrified my mind, and fully determined me to take part with my country[.]…  directions were privately sent to me… to raise the Green Mountain Boys, and, if possible, to surprise and take the fortress of Ticonderoga.  This enterprise I cheerfully undertook; and… arrived at the lake [Champlain] opposite to Ticonderoga, on the evening' of the ninth day of May, 1775, with two hundred and thirty valiant Green Mountain Boys[.]…  I landed eighty-three men near the garrison, and sent the boats back for the rear guard… but the day began to dawn, and I found myself under a necessity to attack the fort, before the rear could cross the lake…

The garrison being asleep, except the sentries, we gave three huzzas which greatly surprised them.  One of the sentries made a pass… with a charged bayonet[.]…  My first thought was to kill him with my sword; but in an instant, I altered the design and fury of the blow to a slight cut on the side of the head; upon which he dropped his gun, and asked quarter, which I readily granted him, and demanded of him the place where the commanding officer [was] kept; he showed me a pair of stairs in the front of a barrack… which led up a second story… to which I immediately… ordered the commander… to deliver me the fort…  he then complied, and ordered his men to be forthwith paraded without arms…  This surprise was carried into execution in the grey of the morning of the tenth day of May, 1775.” Ethan AllenThe Capture of Ticonderoga, Mar 25, 1779

 

“The sun seemed to rise that morning with a superior luster; and Ticonderoga and its dependencies smiled on its conquerors, who tossed about the flowing bowl, and wished success to Congress, and the liberty and freedom of America.” Ethan AllenThe Capture of Ticonderoga, March 25, 1779



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