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EVACUATION OF BOSTON, MARCH 17, 1776.
Whilst these transactions were carrying on to the northward of the American continent, the inhabitants of the middle and southern provinces were employed in preparing for resistance against the demands of the British government, and in general compelled such of their governors as took any active measures for the support of royal authority, to consult for their safety by taking refuge on board of ships of war. In Virginia, the imprudence of Lord Dunmore provoked open hostilities, in the course of which he burned the town of Norfolk. By this act, however, and by a proclamation, in which he promised freedom to such of the negroes as should join his standard, he only irritated the provincials, without doing them any essential injury; and being finally driven from the colony, he returned to England.
Towards the close of this year, the commander-in-chief of the American forces found himself in circumstances of extreme embarrassment. “It gives me great distress,' thus he wrote in a letter to Congress of the date of Sept. 21, 1775, “to be obliged to solicit the attention of the honorable Congress to the state of this army, in terms which imply the slightest apprehension of being neglected. But my situation is inexpressibly distressing, to see the winter fast approaching upon a naked army; the time of their service within a few weeks of expiring; and no provision yet made
What of the middle and southern provinces?
the negroes? What was the situation of the commander-in-chief towards the close of
17752 To whom did he write on the 21st September, 1775?
for such important events. Added to these, the military chest is totally exhausted: the paymaster has not a single dollar in hand; the commissary-general assures me he has strained his credit, for the subsistence of the army, to the utmost. The quarter-master-general is precisely in the same situation; and the greater part of the troops are in a state not far from mutiny upon the deduction from their stated allowance. The fact is, that the troops had engaged in the service of their country with feelings of ardent zeal; but, with a mistaken idea that the contest would be decided by a single effort, they had limited the time of their service to a short period, which was ready to expire. Congress had appointed a committee, consisting of Dr. Franklin and two other individuals, to organize an army for the year 1776. But when these gentlemen repaired to head quarters, and sounded the dispositions of the troops as to a second enlistment, they did not find in them the alacrity which they expected. The soldiers were, as they had evinced in all services of danger, personally brave; but they were unaccustomed to the alternate monotony and violent exertion of a military life, and their independent spirit could ill brook the necessary restraints of discipline. From these causes so many quitted the camp when the term of their service was expired, that on the last day of the year Washington's muster-roll contained the names of only 9650 men. By the exertions of the committee, however, these were speedily reinforced by a body of militia, who increased their numbers to 17,000. Upon these circumstances, the commander-in-chief, in one of his despatches to Congress, made the following striking remarks.
What did Gen. Washington say was the situation of the army?
"It is not in the pages of history, perhaps, to furnish a case like ours—to maintain a post within musket-shot of the enemy for six months together without ammunition, and, at the same time, to disband one army and recruit another, within that distance of twenty odd British regiments, is more, probably, than ever was attempted. But if we succeed as well in the last, as we have heretofore in the first, I shall think it the most fortunate event of my whole life.' It
may be permitted us to conjecture that in these circumstances the uneasiness of Washington was enhanced by his consciousness of the risk which he ran in thus communicating the secret of his difficulties to so numerous a body as the Congress. Had there been found one coward, one traitor, or even one indiscreet individual in that assembly, the British general would have been apprised of the vast advantages which he had over his antagonist; he would have adopted the offensive, and the cause of American independence would have been lost. But every colonjal senator was faithful to his trust. Every one was silent as to the real situation of the army; and the commander-in-chief still confidently presented a bold front to
It was well known that the British troops in Boston were much straitened for provisions; and the militia having joined the army in expectation of immediate battle, were eager for the onset, and murmured at the delay of the general in giving the signal for an assault on the town. They were little aware of the distress by which he was embarrassed. Notwithstanding the Congress had even sent to the coast of Africa to purchase gunpowder, his magazines still contained but a scanty stock of that essential article, and many of his troops were destitute of
What then did Washington write to congress?
muskets. But he kept to himself the important secret of the deficiency of his stores, and patiently submitted to the criticisms which were passed on his procrastination, till he had made the requisite preparations. He then proposed to storm the British lines; but was advised by his council of war, in preference to this measure, to take possession of Dorchester heights,* an eminence which from the southward commands the harbor and city of Boston. To this advice he acceded, and having diverted the attention of the British garrison by a bombardment, which was merely a feint, on the night of the 4th of March he pushed forward a working party of 1200 men, under the protection of a detachment of 800 troops. The Americans were very expert in the use of the spade and pickaxe, and by day-break they had completed respectable lines of defence. The British admiral no sooner beheld these preparations, than he sent word to General Howe, that if the Americans were not dislodged from their works he could not with safety continue in the harbor. On the 6th Howe had completed his arrangements for the attack of the enemy's lines, and a bloody battle was expected; but the transports in which his troops were embarked for the
purpose of approaching the heights by water were dispersed by a storm; and the enemy so industriously took advantage of the consequent suspension of his operations to strengthen their position, that when the storm subsided he despaired of success in attacking it. Finding the town no longer tenable, he evacuated it on the 17th of March, and sailed with his garrison, which amounted to 7000 men, to Halifax in Nova Scotia.
* Now added to Boston and called South Boston.
What did the commander-in-chief still do?
What did he finally do?
In consequence of an implied threat on the part of General Howe, that if he was interrupted by any hostile attack during the embarkation of his troops, he would set fire to the town, the British were allowed to retire without molestation, though their commander, immediately before his departure, levied considerable requisitions for the use of his army upon the merchants, who were possessed of woolen and linen goods; and though the soldiery, availing themselves of the relaxation of military discipline which usually accompanies the precipitate movements of troops, indulged themselves in defiance of orders issued to the contrary, in all the license of plunder. Previously to the evacuation of the place, Howe spiked all the cannon and mortars which he was obliged to leave behind him, and demolished the fortifications of Castle William. Immediately on the withdrawing of the royal forces, Washington, entering Boston in triumph, was hailed as a deliverer by the acclamations of the inhabitants. He also received the thanks of the congress and of the legislature of Massachusetts; and a medal was struck in honor of his services in expelling the invaders from his native land.
The exultation which the Americans felt at the expulsion of the British from Boston was tempered by the arrival of sinister intelligence from Canada. In sending an expedition into that country, Congress had been influenced
Where did Gen, Howe sail for? How many men had he?