"Permit me," writes Washington in reply, "with the freedom of a friend (for you know I always esteemed you), to express my sorrow that fortune should place you in a service that must fix curses, to the latest posterity, upon the contrivers, and, if success (which, by the by, is impossible) accompanies it, execrations upon all those who have been instrumental in the execution. ... When you condemn the conduct of the Massachusetts people, you reason from effects, not causes, otherwise you would not wonder at a people, who are every day receiving fresh proofs of a systematic assertion of an arbitrary power, deeply planned to overturn the laws and constitution of their country, and to violate the most essential and valuable rights of mankind, being irritated, and with difficulty restrained, from acts of the greatest violence and intemperance.
"For my own part, I view things in a very different point of light from the one in which you seem to consider them; and though you are led to believe, by venal men, that the people of Massachusetts are rebellious, setting up for independency, and what not, give me leave, my good friend, to tell you that you are abused, grossly abused. ... I think I can announce it as a fact, that it is not the wish or interest of that government, or any other upon this continent, separately or collectively, to set up for independence; but this you may at the same time rely on, that none of them will ever submit to the loss of their valuable rights and privileges, which are essential to the happiness of every free state, and without which, life, liberty, and property, are rendered totally insecure.
"These, sir, being certain consequences, which must naturally result from the late acts of Parliament relative to America in general, and the government of Massachusetts in particular, is it to be wondered at that men who wish to avert the impending blow, should attempt to oppose its progress, or prepare for their defence, if it cannot be averted? Surely I may be allowed to answer in the negative; and give me leave to add, as my opinion, that more blood will be spilled on this occasion, if the ministry are determined to push matters to extremity, than history has ever yet furnished instances of in the annals of North America; and such a vital wound will be given to the peace of this great country, as time itself cannot cure, or eradicate the remembrance of."
In concluding, he repeats his views with respect to independence: "I am well satisfied that no such thing is desired by any thinking man in all North America; on the contrary, that it is the ardent wish of the warmest advocates for liberty, that peace and tranquillity, upon constitutional grounds, may be restored, and the horrors of civil discord prevented." [Footnote: Sparks. Washington's Writings, vol. ii., p. 899.]
This letter we have considered especially worthy of citation, from its being so full and explicit a declaration of Washington's sentiments and opinions at this critical juncture. His views on the question of independence are particularly noteworthy, from his being at this time in daily and confidential communication with the leaders of the popular movement, and among them with the delegates from Boston. It is evident that the filial feeling still throbbed toward the mother country, and a complete separation from her had not yet entered into the alternatives of her colonial children.
On the breaking up of Congress, Washington hastened back to Mount Vernon, where his presence was more than usually important to the happiness of Mrs. Washington, from the loneliness caused by the recent death of her daughter, and the absence of her son. The cheerfulness of the neighborhood had been diminished of late by the departure of George William Fairfax for England, to take possession of estates which had devolved to him in that kingdom. His estate of Belvoir, so closely allied with that of Mount Vernon by family ties and reciprocal hospitality, was left in charge of a steward, or overseer. Through some accident the house took fire, and was burnt to the ground. It was never rebuilt. The course of political events which swept Washington from his quiet home into the current of public and military life, prevented William Fairfax, who was a royalist, though a liberal one, from returning to his once happy abode, and the hospitable intercommunion of Mount Vernon and Belvoir was at an end for ever.
GAGE'S MILITARY MEASURES—REMOVAL OF GUNPOWDER FROM THE ARSENAL—PUBLIC AGITATION—ALARMS IN THE COUNTRY—CIVIL GOVERNMENT OBSTRUCTED—BELLIGERENT SYMPTOMS—ISRAEL PUTNAM AND GENERAL CHARLES LEE, THEIR CHARACTERS AND STORIES—GENERAL ELECTION—SELF-CONSTITUTED CONGRESS—HANCOCK PRESIDENT— ADJOURNS TO CONCORD—REMONSTRANCE TO GAGE—HIS PERPLEXITIES—GENERALS ARTEMAS WARD AND SETH POMEROY—COMMITTEE OF SAFETY—COMMITTEE OF SUPPLIES—RESTLESSNESS THROUGHOUT THE LAND—INDEPENDENT COMPANIES IN VIRGINIA—MILITARY TONE AT MOUNT VERNON—WASHINGTON'S MILITARY GUESTS—MAJOR HORATIO GATES—ANECDOTES CONCERNING HIM—GENERAL CHARLES LEE—HIS PECULIARITIES AND DOGS—WASHINGTON AT THE RICHMOND CONVENTION— WAR SPEECH OF PATRICK HENRY—WASHINGTON'S MILITARY INTENTIONS.
The rumor of the cannonading of Boston, which had thrown such a gloom over the religious ceremonial at the opening of Congress, had been caused by measures of Governor Gage. The public mind, in Boston and its vicinity, had been rendered excessively jealous and sensitive by the landing and encamping of artillery upon the Common, and Welsh Fusiliers on Fort Hill, and by the planting of four large field-pieces on Boston Neck, the only entrance to the town by land. The country people were arming and disciplining themselves in every direction, and collecting and depositing arms and ammunition in places where they would be at hand in case of emergency. Gage, on the other hand, issued orders that the munitions of war in all the public magazines should be brought to Boston. One of these magazines was the arsenal in the north-west part of Charlestown, between Medford and Cambridge. Two companies of the king's troops passed silently in boats up Mystic River in the night; took possession of a large quantity of gunpowder deposited there, and conveyed it to Castle Williams. Intelligence of this sacking of the arsenal flew with lightning speed through the neighborhood. In the morning several thousands of patriots were assembled at Cambridge, weapon in hand, and were with difficulty prevented from marching upon Boston to compel a restitution of the powder. In the confusion and agitation, a rumor stole out into the country that Boston was to be attacked; followed by another that the ships were cannonading the town, and the soldiers shooting down the inhabitants. The whole country was forthwith in arms. Numerous bodies of the Connecticut people had made some marches before the report was contradicted. [Footnote: Holmes's Annals, ii., 191.—Letter of Gage to Lord Dartmouth.]
To guard against any irruption from the country, Gage encamped the 59th regiment on Boston Neck, and employed the soldiers in intrenching and fortifying it.
In the mean time the belligerent feelings of the inhabitants were encouraged, by learning how the rumor of their being cannonaded had been received in the General Congress, and by assurances from all parts that the cause of Boston would be made the common cause of America. "It is surprising," writes General Gage, "that so many of the other provinces interest themselves so much in this. They have some warm friends in New York, and I learn that the people of Charleston, South Carolina, are as mad as they are here." [Footnote: Gage to Dartmouth, Sept. 20.]
The commissions were arrived for those civil officers appointed by the crown under the new modifications of the charter: many, however, were afraid to accept of them. Those who did soon resigned, finding it impossible to withstand the odium of the people. The civil government throughout the province became obstructed in all its operations. It was enough for a man to be supposed of the governmental party to incur popular ill-will.
Among other portentous signs, war-hawks began to appear above the horizon. Mrs. Cushing, wife to a member of Congress, writes to her husband, "Two of the greatest military characters of the day are visiting this distressed town. General Charles Lee, who has served in Poland, and Colonel Israel Putnam, whose bravery and character need no description." As these two men will take a prominent part in coming events, we pause to give a word or two concerning them.
Israel Putnam was a soldier of native growth. One of the military productions of the French war; seasoned and proved in frontier campaigning. He had served at Louisburg, Fort Duquesne, and Crown Point; had signalized himself in Indian warfare; been captured by the savages, tied to a stake to be tortured and burnt, and had only been rescued by the interference, at the eleventh hour, of a French partisan of the Indians.
Since the peace, he had returned to agricultural life, and was now a farmer at Pomfret, in Connecticut, where the scars of his wounds and the tales of his exploits rendered him a hero in popular estimation. The war spirit yet burned within him. He was now chairman of a committee of vigilance, and had come to Boston in discharge of his political and semi-belligerent functions.
General Charles Lee was a military man of a different stamp; an Englishman by birth, and a highly cultivated production of European warfare. He was the son of a British officer, Lieutenant-colonel John Lee, of the dragoons, who married the daughter of Sir Henry Bunbury, Bart., and afterwards rose to be a general. Lee was born in 1731, and may almost be said to have been cradled in the army, for he received a commission by the time he was eleven years of age. He had an irregular education; part of the time in England, part on the continent, and must have scrambled his way into knowledge; yet by aptness, diligence and ambition, he had acquired a considerable portion, being a Greek and Latin scholar, and acquainted with modern languages. The art of war was his especial study from his boyhood, and he had early opportunities of practical experience. At the age of twenty-four, he commanded a company of grenadiers in the 44th regiment, and served in the French war in America, where he was brought into military companionship with Sir William Johnson's Mohawk warriors, whom he used to extol for their manly beauty, their dress, their graceful carriage and good breeding. In fact, he rendered himself so much of a favorite among them, that they admitted him to smoke in their councils, and adopted him into the tribe of the Bear, giving him an Indian name, signifying "Boiling Water."
At the battle of Ticonderoga, where Abercrombie was defeated, he was shot through the body, while leading his men against the French breastworks. In the next campaign, he was present at the siege of Fort Niagara, where General Prideaux fell, and where Sir William Johnson, with his British troops and Mohawk warriors, eventually won the fortress. Lee had, probably, an opportunity on this occasion of fighting side by side with some of his adopted brethren of the Bear tribe, as we are told he was much exposed during the engagement with the French and Indians, and that two balls grazed his hair. A military errand, afterwards, took him across Lake Erie, and down the northern branch of the Ohio to Fort Duquesne, and thence by a long march of seven hundred miles to Crown Point, where he joined General Amherst. In 1760, he was among the forces which followed that general from Lake Ontario down the St. Lawrence; and was present at the surrender of Montreal, which completed the conquest of Canada.
In 1762, he bore a colonel's commission, and served under Brigadier-general Burgoyne in Portugal, where he was intrusted with an enterprise against a Spanish post at the old Moorish castle of Villa Velha, on the banks of the Tagus. He forded the river in the night, pushed his way through mountain passes, and at 2 o'clock in the morning, rushed with his grenadiers into the enemy's camp before daylight, where every thing was carried at the point of the bayonet, assisted by a charge of dragoons. The war over, he returned to England, bearing testimonials of bravery and good conduct from his commander-in-chief, the Count de la Lippe, and from the king of Portugal. [Footnote: Life of Charles Lee, by Jared Sparks. Also, Memoirs of Charles Lee; published in London, 1792.]
Wielding the pen as well as the sword, Lee undertook to write on questions of colonial policy, relative to Pontiac's war, in which he took the opposition side. This lost him the favor of the ministry, and with it all hope of further promotion.
He now determined to offer his services to Poland, supposed to be on the verge of a war. Recommendations from his old commander, the Count de la Lippe, procured him access to some of the continental courts. He was well received by Frederick the Great, and had several conversations with him, chiefly on American affairs. At Warsaw, his military reputation secured him the favor of Poniatowsky, recently elected king of Poland, with the name of Stanislaus Augustus, who admitted him to his table, and made him one of his aides-de-camp. Lee was disappointed in his hope of active service. There was agitation in the country, but the power of the king was not adequate to raise forces sufficient for its suppression. He had few troops, and those not trustworthy; and the town was full of the disaffected. "We have frequent alarms," said Lee, "and the pleasure of sleeping every night with our pistols on our pillows."
By way of relieving his restlessness, Lee, at the suggestion of the king, set off to accompany the Polish ambassador to Constantinople. The latter travelled too slow for him; so he dashed ahead when on the frontiers of Turkey, with an escort of the grand seignior's treasure; came near perishing with cold and hunger among the Bulgarian mountains, and after his arrival at the Turkish capital, ran a risk of being buried under the ruins of his house in an earthquake.
Late in the same year (1766), he was again in England, an applicant for military appointment, bearing a letter from king Stanislaus to king George. His meddling pen is supposed again to have marred his fortunes, having indulged in sarcastic comments on the military character of General Townshend and Lord George Sackville. "I am not at all surprised," said a friend to him, "that you find the door shut against you by a person who has such unbounded credit, as you have ever too freely indulged in a liberty of declaiming, which many invidious persons have not failed to inform him of. The principle on which you thus freely speak your mind, is honest and patriotic, but not politic."
The disappointments which Lee met with during a residence of two years in England, and a protracted attendance on people in power, rankled in his bosom, and embittered his subsequent resentment against the king and his ministers.
In 1768, he was again on his way to Poland, with the design of performing a campaign in the Russian service. "I flatter myself," said he, "that a little more practice will make me a good soldier. If not, it will serve to talk over my kitchen fire in my old age, which will soon come upon us all."
He now looked forward to spirited service. "I am to have a command of Cossacks and Wallacks," writes he, "a kind of people I have a good opinion of. I am determined not to serve in the line. One might as well be a churchwarden."
The friendship of king Stanislaus continued. "He treats me more like a brother than a patron," said Lee. In 1769, the latter was raised to the rank of major-general in the Polish army, and left Warsaw to join the Russian force, which was crossing the Dniester and advancing into Moldavia. He arrived in time to take part in a severe action between the Russians and Turks, in which the Cossacks and hussars were terribly cut up by the Turkish cavalry, in a ravine near the city of Chotzim. It was a long and doubtful conflict, with various changes; but the rumored approach of the grand vizier, with a hundred and seventy thousand men, compelled the Russians to abandon the enterprise and recross the Dniester.
Lee never returned to Poland, though he ever retained a devoted attachment to Stanislaus. He for some time led a restless life about Europe—visiting Italy, Sicily, Malta, and the south of Spain; troubled with attacks of rheumatism, gout, and the effects of a "Hungarian fever." He had become more and more cynical and irascible, and had more than one "affair of honor," in one of which he killed his antagonist. His splenetic feelings, as well as his political sentiments, were occasionally vented in severe attacks upon the ministry, full of irony and sarcasm. They appeared in the public journals, and gained him such reputation, that even the papers of Junius were by some attributed to him.
In the questions which had risen between England and her colonies, he had strongly advocated the cause of the latter; and it was the feelings thus excited, and the recollections, perhaps, of his early campaigns, that had recently brought him to America. Here he had arrived in the latter part of 1773, had visited various parts of Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia, taking an active part in the political agitations of the country. His caustic attacks upon the ministry; his conversational powers and his poignant sallies, had gained him great reputation; but his military renown rendered him especially interesting at the present juncture. A general, who had served in the famous campaigns of Europe, commanded Cossacks, fought with Turks, talked with Frederick the Great, and been aide-de-camp to the king of Poland, was a prodigious acquisition to the patriot cause! On the other hand, his visit to Boston was looked upon with uneasiness by the British officers, who knew his adventurous character. It was surmised that he was exciting a spirit of revolt, with a view to putting himself at its head. These suspicions found their way into the London papers, and alarmed the British cabinet. "Have an attention to his conduct," writes Lord Dartmouth to Gage, "and take every legal method to prevent his effecting any of those dangerous purposes he is said to have in view."
Lee, when subsequently informed of these suspicions, scoffed at them in a letter to his friend, Edmund Burke, and declared that he had not the "temerity and vanity" to aspire to the aims imputed to him.
"To think myself qualified for the most important charge that ever was committed to mortal man," writes he, "is the last stage of presumption; nor do I think the Americans would, or ought to confide in a man, let his qualifications be ever so great, who has no property among them. It is true, I most devoutly wish them success in the glorious struggle; that I have expressed my wishes both in writing and viva voce, but my errand to Boston was mere curiosity to see a people in so singular circumstances; and I had likewise an ambition to be acquainted with some of their leading men; with them only I associated during my stay in Boston. Our ingenious gentlemen in the camp, therefore, very naturally concluded my design was to put myself at their head."
To resume the course of events at Boston. Gage on the 1st of September, before this popular agitation, had issued writs for an election of an assembly to meet at Salem in October; seeing, however, the irritated state of the public mind, he now countermanded the same by proclamation. The people, disregarding the countermand, carried the election, and ninety of the new members thus elected met at the appointed time. They waited a whole day for the governor to attend, administer the oaths, and open the session; but as he did not make his appearance, they voted themselves a provincial Congress, and chose for president of it John Hancock,—a man of great wealth, popular, and somewhat showy talents, and ardent patriotism; and eminent from his social position.
This self-constituted body adjourned to Concord, about twenty miles from Boston; quietly assumed supreme authority, and issued a remonstrance to the governor, virtually calling him to account for his military operations in fortifying Boston Neck, and collecting warlike stores about him, thereby alarming the fears of the whole province, and menacing the lives and property of the Bostonians.
General Gage, overlooking the irregularity of its organization, entered into explanations with the Assembly, but failed to give satisfaction. As winter approached, he found his situation more and more critical. Boston was the only place in Massachusetts that now contained British forces, and it had become the refuge of all the "tories" of the province; that is to say, of all those devoted to the British government. There was animosity between them and the principal inhabitants, among whom revolutionary principles prevailed. The town itself, almost insulated by nature, and surrounded by a hostile country, was like a place besieged.
The provincial Congress conducted its affairs with the order and system so formidable to General Gage. Having adopted a plan for organizing the militia, it had nominated general officers, two of whom, Artemas Ward and Seth Pomeroy, had accepted.
The executive powers were vested in a committee of safety. This was to determine when the services of the militia were necessary; was to call them forth,—to nominate their officers to the Congress,—to commission them, and direct the operations of the army. Another committee was appointed to furnish supplies to the forces when called out; hence, named the Committee of Supplies.
Under such auspices, the militia went on arming and disciplining itself in every direction. They associated themselves in large bodies, and engaged, verbally or by writing, to assemble in arms at the shortest notice for the common defence, subject to the orders of the committee of safety.
Arrangements had been made for keeping up an active correspondence between different parts of the country, and spreading an alarm in case of any threatening danger. Under the direction of the committees just mentioned, large quantities of military stores had been collected and deposited at Concord and Worcester.
This semi-belligerent state of affairs in Massachusetts produced a general restlessness throughout the land. The weakhearted apprehended coming troubles; the resolute prepared to brave them. Military measures, hitherto confined to New England, extended to the middle and southern provinces, and the roll of the drum resounded through the villages.
Virginia was among the first to buckle on its armor. It had long been a custom among its inhabitants to form themselves into independent companies, equipped at their own expense, having their own peculiar uniform, and electing their own officers, though holding themselves subject to militia law. They had hitherto been self-disciplined; but now they continually resorted to Washington for instruction and advice; considering him the highest authority on military affairs. He was frequently called from home, therefore, in the course of the winter and spring, to different parts of the country to review independent companies; all of which were anxious to put themselves under his command as field-officer.
Mount Vernon, therefore, again assumed a military tone as in former days, when he took his first lessons there in the art of war. He had his old campaigning associates with him occasionally, Dr. Craik and Captain Hugh Mercer, to talk of past scenes and discuss the possibility of future service. Mercer was already bestirring himself in disciplining the militia about Fredericksburg, where he resided.
Two occasional and important guests at Mount Vernon, in this momentous crisis, were General Charles Lee, of whom we have just spoken, and Major Horatio Gates. As the latter is destined to occupy an important page in this memoir, we will give a few particulars concerning him. He was an Englishman by birth, the son of a captain in the British army. Horace Walpole, whose Christian name he bore, speaks of him in one of his letters as his godson, though some have insinuated that he stood in filial relationship of a less sanctified character. He had received a liberal education, and, when but twenty-one years of age, had served as a volunteer under General Edward Cornwallis, Governor of Halifax. He was afterwards captain of a New York independent company, with which, it may be remembered, he marched in the campaign of Braddock, in which he was severely wounded. For two or three subsequent years he was with his company in the western part of the province of New York, receiving the appointment of brigade major. He accompanied General Monckton as aide-de-camp to the West Indies, and gained credit at the capture of Martinico. Being despatched to London with tidings of the victory, he was rewarded by the appointment of major to a regiment of foot; and afterwards, as a special mark of royal favor, a majority in the Royal Americans. His promotion did not equal his expectations and fancied deserts. He was married, and wanted something more lucrative; so he sold out on half-pay and became an applicant for some profitable post under government, which he hoped to obtain through the influence of General Monckton and some friends in the aristocracy. Thus several years were passed, partly with his family in retirement, partly in London, paying court to patrons and men in power, until, finding there was no likelihood of success, and having sold his commission and half-pay, he emigrated to Virginia in 1772, a disappointed man; purchased an estate in Berkeley County, beyond the Blue Ridge; espoused the popular cause, and renewed his old campaigning acquaintance with Washington.
He was now about forty-six years of age, of a florid complexion and goodly presence, though a little inclined to corpulency; social, insinuating, and somewhat specious in his manners, with a strong degree of self-approbation. A long course of solicitation; haunting public offices and antechambers, and "knocking about town," had taught him, it was said, how to wheedle and flatter, and accommodate himself to the humors of others, so as to be the boon companion of gentlemen, and "hail fellow well met" with the vulgar.
Lee, who was an old friend and former associate in arms, had recently been induced by him to purchase an estate in his neighborhood in Berkeley County, with a view to making it his abode, having a moderate competency, a claim to land on the Ohio, and the half-pay of a British colonel. Both of these officers, disappointed in the British service, looked forward probably to greater success in the patriot cause.
Lee had been at Philadelphia since his visit to Boston, and had made himself acquainted with the leading members of Congress during the session. He was evidently cultivating an intimacy with every one likely to have influence in the approaching struggle.
To Washington, the visits of these gentlemen were extremely welcome at this juncture, from their military knowledge and experience, especially as much of it had been acquired in America, in the same kind of warfare, if not the very same campaigns in which he himself had mingled. Both were interested in the popular cause. Lee was full of plans for the organization and disciplining of the militia, and occasionally accompanied Washington in his attendance on provincial reviews. He was subsequently very efficient at Annapolis in promoting and superintending the organization of the Maryland militia.
It is doubtful whether the visits of Lee were as interesting to Mrs. Washington as to the general. He was whimsical, eccentric, and at times almost rude; negligent also, and slovenly in person and attire; for though he had occasionally associated with kings and princes, he had also campaigned with Mohawks and Cossacks, and seems to have relished their "good breeding." What was still more annoying in a well regulated mansion, he was always followed by a legion of dogs, which shared his affections with his horses, and took their seats by him when at table. "I must have some object to embrace," said he misanthropically. "When I can be convinced that men are as worthy objects as dogs, I shall transfer my benevolence, and become as staunch a philanthropist as the canting Addison affected to be." [Footnote: Lee to Adams. Life and Works of Adams, ii., 414.]
In his passion for horses and dogs, Washington, to a certain degree, could sympathize with him, and had noble specimens of both in his stable and kennel, which Lee doubtless inspected with a learned eye. During the season in question, Washington, according to his diary, was occasionally in the saddle at an early hour following the fox-hounds. It was the last time for many a year that he was to gallop about his beloved hunting-grounds of Mount Vernon and Belvoir.
In the month of March the second Virginia convention was held at Richmond. Washington attended as delegate from Fairfax County. In this assembly, Patrick Henry, with his usual ardor and eloquence, advocated measures for embodying, arming and disciplining a militia force, and providing for the defence of the colony. "It is useless," said he, "to address further petitions to government, or to await the effect of those already addressed to the throne. The time for supplication is past; the time for action is at hand. We must fight, Mr. Speaker," exclaimed he emphatically; "I repeat it, sir, we must fight! An appeal to arms, and to the God of Hosts, is all that is left us!"
Washington joined him in the conviction, and was one of a committee that reported a plan for carrying those measures into effect. He was not an impulsive man to raise the battle cry, but the executive man to marshal the troops into the field, and carry on the war.
His brother, John Augustine, was raising and disciplining an independent company; Washington offered to accept the command of it, should occasion require it to be drawn out. He did the same with respect to an independent company at Richmond. "It is my full intention, if needful," writes he to his brother, "to devote my life and fortune to the cause." [Footnote: Letter to John Augustine. Sparks, ii., 405.]
INFATUATION IN BRITISH COUNCILS—COLONEL GRANT, THE BRAGGART—COERCIVE MEASURES—EXPEDITION AGAINST THE MILITARY MAGAZINE AT CONCORD—BATTLE OF LEXINGTON—THE CRY OF BLOOD THROUGH THE LAND—OLD SOLDIERS OF THE FRENCH WAR—JOHN STARK—ISRAEL PUTNAM—RISING OF THE YEOMANRY—MEASURES OF LORD DUNMORE IN VIRGINIA—INDIGNATION OF THE VIRGINIANS—HUGH MERCER AND THE FRIENDS OF LIBERTY—ARRIVAL OF THE NEWS OF LEXINGTON AT MOUNT VERNON— EFFECT ON BRYAN FAIRFAX, GATES, AND WASHINGTON.
While the spirit of revolt was daily gaining strength and determination in America, a strange infatuation reigned in the British councils. While the wisdom and eloquence of Chatham were exerted in vain in behalf of American rights, an empty braggadocio, elevated to a seat in Parliament, was able to captivate the attention of the members, and influence their votes by gross misrepresentations of the Americans and their cause. This was no other than Colonel Grant, the same shallow soldier who, exceeding his instructions, had been guilty of a foolhardy bravado before the walls of Fort Duquesne, which brought slaughter and defeat upon his troops. From misleading the army, he was now promoted to a station where he might mislead the councils of his country. We are told that he entertained Parliament, especially the ministerial side of the House, with ludicrous stories of the cowardice of Americans. He had served with them, he said, and knew them well, and would venture to say they would never dare to face an English army; that they were destitute of every requisite to make good soldiers, and that a very slight force would be sufficient for their complete reduction. With five regiments, he could march through all America!
How often has England been misled to her cost by such slanderous misrepresentations of the American character! Grant talked of having served with the Americans; had he already forgotten that in the field of Braddock's defeat, when the British regulars fled, it was alone the desperate stand of a handful of Virginians, which covered their disgraceful flight, and saved them from being overtaken and massacred by the savages?
This taunting and braggart speech of Grant was made in the face of the conciliatory bill of the venerable Chatham, devised with a view to redress the wrongs of America. The councils of the arrogant and scornful prevailed; and instead of the proposed bill, further measures of a stringent nature were adopted, coercive of some of the middle and southern colonies, but ruinous to the trade and fisheries of New England.
At length the bolt, so long suspended, fell! The troops at Boston had been augmented to about four thousand men. Goaded on by the instigations of the tories, and alarmed by the energetic measures of the whigs, General Gage now resolved to deal the latter a crippling blow. This was to surprise and destroy their magazine of military stores at Concord, about twenty miles from Boston. It was to be effected on the night of the 18th of April, by a force detached for the purpose.
Preparations were made with great secrecy. Boats for the transportation of the troops were launched, and moored under the sterns of the men-of-war. Grenadiers and light infantry were relieved from duty, and held in readiness. On the 18th, officers were stationed on the roads leading from Boston, to prevent any intelligence of the expedition getting into the country. At night orders were issued by General Gage that no person should leave the town. About ten o'clock, from eight to nine hundred men, grenadiers, light infantry, and marines, commanded by Lieutenant-colonel Smith, embarked in the boats at the foot of Boston Common, and crossed to Lechmere Point, in Cambridge, whence they were to march silently, and without beat of drum, to the place of destination.
The measures of General Gage had not been shrouded in all the secrecy he imagined. Mystery often defeats itself by the suspicions it awakens. Dr. Joseph Warren, one of the committee of safety, had observed the preparatory disposition of the boats and troops, and surmised some sinister intention. He sent notice of these movements to John Hancock and Samuel Adams, both members of the provincial Congress, but at that time privately sojourning with a friend at Lexington. A design on the magazine at Concord was suspected, and the committee of safety ordered that the cannon collected there should be secreted, and part of the stores removed.
On the night of the 18th, Dr. Warren sent off two messengers by different routes to give the alarm that the king's troops were actually sallying forth. The messengers got out of Boston just before the order of General Gage went into effect, to prevent any one from leaving the town. About the same time a lantern was hung out of an upper window of the north church, in the direction of Charlestown. This was a preconcerted signal to the patriots of that place, who instantly despatched swift messengers to rouse the country.
In the mean time, Colonel Smith set out on his nocturnal march from Lechmere Point by an unfrequented path across marshes, where at times the troops had to wade through water. He had proceeded but a few miles when alarm guns, booming through the night air, and the clang of village bells, showed that the news of his approach was travelling before him, and the people were rising. He now sent back to General Gage for a reinforcement, while Major Pitcairne was detached with six companies to press forward, and secure the bridges at Concord.
Pitcairn advanced rapidly, capturing every one that he met, or overtook. Within a mile and half of Lexington, however, a horseman was too quick on the spur for him, and galloping to the village, gave the alarm that the redcoats were coming. Drums were beaten; guns fired. By the time that Pitcairn entered the village, about seventy or eighty of the yeomanry, in military array, were mustered on the green near the church. It was a part of the "constitutional army," pledged to resist by force any open hostility of British troops. Besides these, there were a number of lookers on, armed and unarmed.
The sound of drum, and the array of men in arms, indicated a hostile determination. Pitcairn halted his men within a short distance of the church, and ordered them to prime and load. They then advanced at double quick time. The major, riding forward, waved his sword, and ordered the rebels, as he termed them, to disperse. Other of the officers echoed his words as they advanced: "Disperse, ye villains! Lay down your arms, ye rebels, and disperse!" The orders were disregarded. A scene of confusion ensued, with firing on both sides; which party commenced it, has been a matter of dispute. Pitcairn always maintained that, finding the militia would not disperse, he turned to order his men to draw out, and surround them, when he saw a flash in the pan from the gun of a countryman posted behind a wall, and almost instantly the report of two or three muskets. These he supposed to be from the Americans, as his horse was wounded, as was also a soldier close by him. His troops rushed on, and a promiscuous fire took place, though, as he declared, he made repeated signals with his sword for his men to forbear.
The firing of the Americans was irregular, and without much effect; that of the British was more fatal. Eight of the patriots were killed, and ten wounded, and the whole put to flight. The victors formed on the common, fired a volley, and gave three cheers for one of the most inglorious and disastrous triumphs ever achieved by British arms.
Colonel Smith soon arrived with the residue of the detachment, and they all marched on towards Concord, about six miles distant.
The alarm had reached that place in the dead hour of the preceding night. The church bell roused the inhabitants. They gathered together in anxious consultation. The militia and minute men seized their arms, and repaired to the parade ground, near the church. Here they were subsequently joined by armed yeomanry from Lincoln, and elsewhere. Exertions were now made to remove and conceal the military stores. A scout, who had been sent out for intelligence, brought word that the British had fired upon the people at Lexington, and were advancing upon Concord. There was great excitement and indignation. Part of the militia marched down the Lexington road to meet them, but returned, reporting their force to be three times that of the Americans. The whole of the militia now retired to an eminence about a mile from the centre of the town, and formed themselves into two battalions.
About seven o'clock, the British came in sight, advancing with quick step, their arms glittering in the morning sun. They entered in two divisions by different roads. Concord is traversed by a river of the same name, having two bridges, the north and the south. The grenadiers and light infantry took post in the centre of the town, while strong parties of light troops were detached to secure the bridges, and destroy the military stores. Two hours were expended in the work of destruction without much success, so much of the stores having been removed, or concealed. During all this time the yeomanry from the neighboring towns were hurrying in with such weapons as were at hand, and joining the militia on the height, until the little cloud of war gathering there numbered about four hundred and fifty.
About ten o'clock, a body of three hundred undertook to dislodge the British from the north bridge. As they approached, the latter fired upon them, killing two, and wounding a third. The patriots returned the fire with spirit and effect. The British retreated to the main body, the Americans pursuing them across the bridge.
By this time all the military stores which could be found had been destroyed; Colonel Smith, therefore, made preparations for a retreat. The scattered troops were collected, the dead were buried, and conveyances procured for the wounded. About noon he commenced his retrograde march for Boston. It was high time. His troops were jaded by the night march, and the morning's toils and skirmishings.
The country was thoroughly alarmed. The yeomanry were hurrying from every quarter to the scene of action. As the British began their retreat, the Americans began the work of sore and galling retaliation. Along the open road, the former were harassed incessantly by rustic marksmen, who took deliberate aim from behind trees, or over stone fences. Where the road passed through woods, the British found themselves between two fires, dealt by unseen foes, the minute men having posted themselves on each side among the bushes. It was in vain they threw out flankers, and endeavored to dislodge their assailants; each pause gave time for other pursuers to come within reach, and open attacks from different quarters. For several miles they urged their way along woody defiles, or roads skirted with fences and stone walls, the retreat growing more and more disastrous; some were shot down, some gave out through mere exhaustion; the rest hurried on, without stopping to aid the fatigued, or wounded. Before reaching Lexington, Colonel Smith received a severe wound in the leg, and the situation of the retreating troops was becoming extremely critical, when, about two o'clock, they were met by Lord Percy, with a brigade of one thousand men, and two field-pieces. His lordship had been detached from Boston about nine o'clock by General Gage, in compliance with Colonel Smith's urgent call for a reinforcement, and had marched gaily through Roxbury to the tune of "Yankee Doodle," in derision of the "rebels." He now found the latter a more formidable foe than he had anticipated. Opening his brigade to the right and left, he received the retreating troops into a hollow square; where, fainting and exhausted, they threw themselves on the ground to rest. His lordship showed no disposition to advance upon their assailants, but contented himself with keeping them at bay with his field-pieces, which opened a vigorous fire from an eminence.
Hitherto the Provincials, being hasty levies, without a leader, had acted from individual impulse, without much concert; but now General Heath was upon the ground. He was one of those authorized to take command when the minute men should be called out. That class of combatants promptly obeyed his orders, and he was efficacious in rallying them, and bringing them into military order, when checked and scattered by the fire of the field-pieces.
Dr. Warren, also, arrived on horseback, having spurred from Boston on receiving news of the skirmishing. In the subsequent part of the day, he was one of the most active and efficient men in the field. His presence, like that of General Heath, regulated the infuriated ardor of the militia, and brought it into system.
Lord Percy, having allowed the troops a short interval for repose and refreshment, continued the retreat toward Boston. As soon as he got under march, the galling assault by the pursuing yeomanry was recommenced in flank and rear. The British soldiery, irritated in turn, acted as if in an enemy's country. Houses and shops were burnt down in Lexington; private dwellings along the road were plundered, and their inhabitants maltreated. In one instance, an unoffending invalid was wantonly slain in his own house. All this increased the exasperation of the yeomanry. There was occasional sharp skirmishing, with bloodshed on both sides, but in general a dogged pursuit, where the retreating troops were galled at every step. Their march became more and more impeded by the number of their wounded. Lord Percy narrowly escaped death from a musket-ball, which struck off a button of his waistcoat. One of his officers remained behind wounded in West Cambridge. His ammunition was failing as he approached Charlestown. The provincials pressed upon him in rear, others were advancing from Roxbury, Dorchester, and Milton; Colonel Pickering, with the Essex militia, seven hundred strong, was at hand; there was danger of being intercepted in the retreat to Charlestown. The field-pieces were again brought into play, to check the ardor of the pursuit; but they were no longer objects of terror. The sharpest firing of the provincials was near Prospect Hill, as the harassed enemy hurried along the Charlestown road, eager to reach the Neck, and get under cover of their ships. The pursuit terminated a little after sunset, at Charlestown Common, where General Heath brought the minute men to a halt. Within half an hour more, a powerful body of men, from Marblehead and Salem, came up to join in the chase. "If the retreat," writes Washington, "had not been as precipitate as it was,—and God knows it could not well have been more so,—the ministerial troops must have surrendered, or been totally cut off."
The distant firing from the mainland had reached the British at Boston. The troops which, in the morning, had marched through Roxbury, to the tune of Yankee Doodle, might have been seen at sunset, hounded along the old Cambridge road to Charlestown Neck, by mere armed yeomanry. Gage was astounded at the catastrophe. It was but a short time previous that one of his officers, in writing to friends in England, scoffed at the idea of the Americans taking up arms. "Whenever it comes to blows," said he, "he that can run the fastest, will think himself well off, believe me. Any two regiments here ought to be decimated, if they did not beat in the field the whole force of the Massachusetts province." How frequently, throughout this Revolution, had the English to pay the penalty of thus undervaluing the spirit they were provoking!
In this memorable affair, the British loss was seventy-three killed, one hundred and seventy-four wounded, and twenty-six missing. Among the slain were eighteen officers. The loss of the Americans was forty-nine killed, thirty-nine wounded, and five missing. This was the first blood shed in the revolutionary struggle; a mere drop in amount, but a deluge in its effects,—rending the colonies for ever from the mother country.
The cry of blood from the field of Lexington, went through the land. None felt the appeal more than the old soldiers of the French war. It roused John Stark, of New Hampshire—a trapper and hunter in his youth, a veteran in Indian warfare, a campaigner under Abercrombie and Amherst, now the military oracle of a rustic neighborhood. Within ten minutes after receiving the alarm, he was spurring towards the sea-coast, and on the way stirring up the volunteers of the Massachusetts borders, to assemble forthwith at Bedford, in the vicinity of Boston.
Equally alert was his old comrade in frontier exploits, Colonel Israel Putnam. A man on horseback, with a drum, passed through his neighborhood in Connecticut, proclaiming British violence at Lexington. Putnam was in the field ploughing, assisted by his son. In an instant the team was unyoked; the plough left in the furrow; the lad sent home to give word of his father's departure; and Putnam, on horseback, in his working garb, urging with all speed to the camp. Such was the spirit aroused throughout the country. The sturdy yeomanry, from all parts, were hastening toward Boston with such weapons as were at hand; and happy was he who could command a rusty fowling-piece and a powder-horn.
The news reached Virginia at a critical moment. Lord Dunmore, obeying a general order issued by the ministry to all the provincial governors, had seized upon the military munitions of the province. Here was a similar measure to that of Gage. The cry went forth that the subjugation of the colonies was to be attempted. All Virginia was in combustion. The standard of liberty was reared in every county; there was a general cry to arms. Washington was looked to, from various quarters, to take command. His old comrade in arms, Hugh Mercer, was about marching down to Williamsburg at the head of a body of resolute men, seven hundred strong, entitled "The friends of constitutional liberty and America," whom he had organized and drilled in Fredericksburg, and nothing but a timely concession of Lord Dunmore, with respect to some powder which he had seized, prevented his being beset in his palace.
Before Hugh Mercer and the Friends of Liberty disbanded themselves, they exchanged a mutual pledge to reassemble at a moment's warning, whenever called on to defend the liberty and rights of this or any other sister colony.
Washington was at Mount Vernon, preparing to set out for Philadelphia as a delegate to the second Congress, when he received tidings of the affair at Lexington. Bryan Fairfax and Major Horatio Gates were his guests at the time. They all regarded the event as decisive in its consequences; but they regarded it with different feelings. The worthy and gentle-spirited Fairfax deplored it deeply. He foresaw that it must break up all his pleasant relations in life; arraying his dearest friends against the government to which, notwithstanding the errors of its policy, he was loyally attached and resolved to adhere.
Gates, on the contrary, viewed it with the eye of a soldier and a place-hunter—hitherto disappointed in both capacities. This event promised to open a new avenue to importance and command, and he determined to enter upon it.
Washington's feelings were of a mingled nature. They may be gathered from a letter to his friend and neighbor, George William Fairfax, then in England, in which he lays the blame of this "deplorable affair" on the ministry and their military agents; and concludes with the following words, in which the yearnings of the patriot give affecting solemnity to the implied resolve of the soldier: "Unhappy it is to reflect that a brother's sword has been sheathed in a brother's breast; and that the once happy and peaceful plains of America, are to be either drenched with blood or inhabited by slaves. Sad alternative! But can a virtuous man hesitate in his choice?"
ENLISTING OF TROOPS IN THE EAST—CAMP AT BOSTON—GENERAL ARTEMAS WARD— SCHEME TO SURPRISE TICONDEROGA—NEW HAMPSHIRE GRANTS—ETHAN ALLEN AND THE GREEN MOUNTAIN BOYS—BENEDICT ARNOLD—AFFAIR OF TICONDEROGA AND CROWN POINT—A DASH AT ST. JOHN'S.
At the eastward, the march of the Revolution went on with accelerated speed. Thirty thousand men had been deemed necessary for the defence of the country. The provincial Congress of Massachusetts resolved to raise thirteen thousand six hundred, as its quota. Circular letters, also, were issued by the committee of safety, urging the towns to enlist troops with all speed, and calling for military aid from the other New England provinces.
Their appeals were promptly answered. Bodies of militia, and parties of volunteers from New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Connecticut, hastened to join the minute men of Massachusetts in forming a camp in the neighborhood of Boston. With the troops of Connecticut, came Israel Putnam; having recently raised a regiment in that province, and received from its Assembly the commission of brigadier-general. Some of his old comrades in French and Indian warfare, had hastened to join his standard. Such were two of his captains, Durkee and Knowlton. The latter, who was his especial favorite, had fought by his side when a mere boy.
The command of the camp was given to General Artemas Ward, already mentioned. He was a native of Shrewsbury, in Massachusetts, and a veteran of the seven years' war—having served as lieutenant-colonel under Abercrombie. He had, likewise, been a member of the legislative bodies, and had recently been made, by the provincial Congress of Massachusetts, commander-in-chief of its forces.
As affairs were now drawing to a crisis, and war was considered inevitable, some bold spirits in Connecticut conceived a project for the outset. This was the surprisal of the old forts of Ticonderoga and Crown Point, already famous in the French war. Their situation on Lake Champlain gave them the command of the main route to Canada; so that the possession of them would be all-important in case of hostilities. They were feebly garrisoned and negligently guarded, and abundantly furnished with artillery and military stores, so much needed by the patriot army.
This scheme was set on foot in the purlieus, as it were, of the provincial Legislature of Connecticut, then in session. It was not openly sanctioned by that body, but secretly favored, and money lent from the treasury to those engaged in it. A committee was appointed, also, to accompany them to the frontier, aid them in raising troops, and exercise over them, a degree of superintendence and control.
Sixteen men were thus enlisted in Connecticut, a greater number in Massachusetts, but the greatest accession of force, was from what was called the "New Hampshire Grants." This was a region having the Connecticut River on one side, and Lake Champlain and the Hudson River on the other—being, in fact, the country forming the present State of Vermont. It had long been a disputed territory, claimed by New York and New Hampshire. George II. had decided in favor of New York; but the Governor of New Hampshire had made grants of between one and two hundred townships in it, whence it had acquired the name of the New Hampshire Grants. The settlers on those grants resisted the attempts of New York to eject them, and formed themselves into an association, called "The Green Mountain Boys." Resolute, strong-handed fellows they were, with Ethan Allen at their head, a native of Connecticut, but brought up among the Green Mountains. He and his lieutenants, Seth Warner and Remember Baker, were outlawed by the Legislature of New York, and rewards offered for their apprehension. They and their associates armed themselves, set New York at defiance, and swore they would be the death of any one who should attempt their arrest.
Thus Ethan Allen was becoming a kind of Robin Hood among the mountains, when the present crisis changed the relative position of things as if by magic. Boundary feuds were forgotten amid the great questions of colonial rights. Ethan Allen at once stepped forward, a patriot, and volunteered with his Green Mountain Boys to serve in the popular cause. He was well fitted for the enterprise in question, by his experience as a frontier champion, his robustness of mind and body, and his fearless spirit. He had a kind of rough eloquence, also, that was very effective with his followers. "His style," says one, who knew him personally, "was a singular compound of local barbarisms, scriptural phrases, and oriental wildness; and though unclassic, and sometimes ungrammatical, was highly animated and forcible." Washington, in one of his letters, says there was "an original something in him which commanded admiration."
Thus reinforced, the party, now two hundred and seventy strong, pushed forward to Castleton, a place within a few miles of the head of Lake Champlain. Here a council of war was held on the 2d of May. Ethan Allen was placed at the head of the expedition, with James Easton and Seth Warner as second and third in command. Detachments were sent off to Skenesborough (now Whitehall), and another place on the lake, with orders to seize all the boats they could find and bring them to Shoreham, opposite Ticonderoga, whither Allen prepared to proceed with the main body.
At this juncture, another adventurous spirit arrived at Castleton. This was BENEDICT ARNOLD, since so sadly renowned. He, too, had conceived the project of surprising Ticonderoga and Crown Point; or, perhaps, had caught the idea from its first agitators in Connecticut,—in the militia of which province he held a captain's commission. He had proposed the scheme to the Massachusetts committee of safety. It had met with their approbation. They had given him a colonel's commission, authorized him to raise a force in Western Massachusetts, not exceeding four hundred men, and furnished him with money and means. Arnold had enlisted but a few officers and men when he heard of the expedition from Connecticut being on the march. He instantly hurried on with one attendant to overtake it, leaving his few recruits to follow, as best they could: in this way he reached Castleton just after the council of war.
Producing the colonel's commission received from the Massachusetts committee of safety, he now aspired to the supreme command. His claims were disregarded by the Green Mountain Boys; they would follow no leader but Ethan Allen. As they formed the majority of the party, Arnold was fain to acquiesce, and serve as a volunteer, with the rank, but not the command of colonel.
The party arrived at Shoreham, opposite Ticonderoga, on the night of the 9th of May. The detachment sent in quest of boats had failed to arrive. There were a few boats at hand, with which the transportation was commenced. It was slow work; the night wore away; day was about to break, and but eighty-three men, with Allen and Arnold, had crossed. Should they wait for the residue, day would dawn, the garrison wake, and their enterprise might fail. Allen drew up his men, addressed them in his own emphatic style, and announced his intention to make a dash at the fort without waiting for more force. "It is a desperate attempt," said he, "and I ask no man to go against his will. I will take the lead, and be the first to advance. You that are willing to follow, poise your firelocks." Not a firelock but was poised.
They mounted the hill briskly, but in silence, guided by a boy from the neighborhood. The day dawned as Allen arrived at a sally port. A sentry pulled trigger on him, but his piece missed fire. He retreated through a covered way. Allen and his men followed. Another sentry thrust at Easton with his bayonet, but was struck down by Allen, and begged for quarter. It was granted on condition of his leading the way instantly to the quarters of the commandant, Captain Delaplace, who was yet in bed. Being arrived there, Allen thundered at the door, and demanded a surrender of the fort. By this time his followers had formed into two lines on the parade-ground, and given three hearty cheers. The commandant appeared at his door half-dressed, "the frightened face of his pretty wife peering over his shoulder." He gazed at Allen in bewildered astonishment. "By whose authority do you act?" exclaimed he. "In the name of the great Jehovah, and the Continental Congress!" replied Allen, with a flourish of his sword, and an oath which we do not care to subjoin.
There was no disputing the point. The garrison, like the commander, had been startled from sleep, and made prisoners as they rushed forth in their confusion. A surrender accordingly took place. The captain, and forty-eight men, which composed his garrison, were sent prisoners to Hartford, in Connecticut. A great supply of military and naval stores, so important in the present crisis, was found in the fortress.
Colonel Seth Warner, who had brought over the residue of the party from Shoreham, was now sent with a detachment against Crown Point, which surrendered on the 12th of May, without firing a gun; the whole garrison being a sergeant and twelve men. Here were taken upward of a hundred cannon.
Arnold now insisted vehemently on his right to command Ticonderoga; being, as he said, the only officer invested with legal authority. His claims had again to yield to the superior popularity of Ethan Allen, to whom the Connecticut committee, which had accompanied the enterprise, gave an instrument in writing, investing him with the command of the fortress, and its dependencies, until he should receive the orders of the Connecticut Assembly, or the Continental Congress. Arnold, while forced to acquiesce, sent a protest, and a statement of his grievances to the Massachusetts Legislature. In the mean time, his chagrin was appeased by a new project. The detachment originally sent to seize upon boats at Skenesborough, arrived with a schooner, and several bateaux. It was immediately concerted between Allen and Arnold to cruise in them down the lake, and surprise St. John's, on the Sorel River, the frontier post of Canada. The schooner was accordingly armed with cannon from the fort. Arnold, who had been a seaman in his youth, took the command of her, while Allen and his Green Mountain Boys embarked in the bateaux.
Arnold outsailed the other craft, and arriving at St. John's, surprised and made prisoners of a sergeant and twelve men; captured a king's sloop of seventy tons, with two brass six-pounders and seven men; took four bateaux, destroyed several others, and then, learning that troops were on the way from Montreal and Chamblee, spread all his sails to a favoring breeze, and swept up the lake with his prizes and prisoners, and some valuable stores, which he had secured.
He had not sailed far when he met Ethan Allen and the bateaux. Salutes were exchanged; cannon on one side, musketry on the other. Allen boarded the sloop; learnt from Arnold the particulars of his success, and determined to push on, take possession of St. John's, and garrison it with one hundred of his Green Mountain Boys. He was foiled in the attempt by the superior force which had arrived; so he returned to his station at Ticonderoga.
Thus a partisan band, unpractised in the art of war, had, by a series of daring exploits, and almost without the loss of a man, won for the patriots the command of Lakes George and Champlain, and thrown open the great highway to Canada.
SECOND SESSION OF CONGRESS—JOHN HANCOCK—PETITION TO THE KING—FEDERAL UNION—MILITARY MEASURES—DEBATES ABOUT THE ARMY—QUESTION AS TO COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF—APPOINTMENT OF WASHINGTON—OTHER APPOINTMENTS—LETTERS OF WASHINGTON TO HIS WIFE AND BROTHER—PREPARATIONS FOR DEPARTURE.
The second General Congress assembled at Philadelphia on the 10th of May. Peyton Randolph was again elected as president; but being obliged to return, and occupy his place as speaker of the Virginia Assembly, John Hancock, of Massachusetts, was elevated to the chair.
A lingering feeling of attachment to the mother country, struggling with the growing spirit of self-government, was manifested in the proceedings of this remarkable body. Many of those most active in vindicating colonial rights, and Washington among the number, still indulged the hope of an eventual reconciliation, while few entertained, or, at least, avowed the idea of complete independence.
A second "humble and dutiful" petition to the king was moved, but met with strong opposition. John Adams condemned it as an imbecile measure, calculated to embarrass the proceedings of Congress. He was for prompt and vigorous action. Other members concurred with him. Indeed, the measure itself seemed but a mere form, intended to reconcile the half-scrupulous; for subsequently, when it was carried, Congress, in face of it, went on to assume and exercise the powers of a sovereign authority. A federal union was formed, leaving to each colony the right of regulating its internal affairs according to its own individual constitution, but vesting in Congress the power of making peace or war; of entering into treaties and alliances; of regulating general commerce; in a word, of legislating on all such matters as regarded the security and welfare of the whole community.
The executive power was to be vested in a council of twelve, chosen by Congress from among its own members, and to hold office for a limited time. Such colonies as had not sent delegates to Congress, might yet become members of the confederacy by agreeing to its conditions. Georgia, which had hitherto hesitated, soon joined the league, which thus extended from Nova Scotia to Florida.
Congress lost no time in exercising their federated powers. In virtue of them, they ordered the enlistment of troops, the construction of forts in various parts of the colonies, the provision of arms, ammunition, and military stores; while to defray the expense of these, and other measures, avowedly of self-defence, they authorized the emission of notes to the amount of three millions of dollars, bearing the inscription of "The United Colonies;" the faith of the confederacy being pledged for their redemption.
A retaliating decree was passed, prohibiting all supplies of provisions to the British fisheries; and another, declaring the province of Massachusetts Bay absolved from its compact with the crown, by the violation of its charter; and recommending it to form an internal government for itself.
The public sense of Washington's military talents and experience, was evinced in his being chairman of all the committees appointed for military affairs. Most of the rules and regulations for the army, and the measures for defence, were devised by him.
The situation of the New England army, actually besieging Boston, became an early and absorbing consideration. It was without munitions of war, without arms, clothing, or pay; in fact, without legislative countenance or encouragement. Unless sanctioned and assisted by Congress, there was danger of its dissolution. If dissolved, how could another be collected? If dissolved, what would there be to prevent the British from sallying out of Boston, and spreading desolation throughout the country?
All this was the subject of much discussion out of doors. The disposition to uphold the army was general; but the difficult question was, who should be commander-in-chief? Adams, in his diary, gives us glimpses of the conflict of opinions and interests within doors. There was a southern party, he said, which could not brook the idea of a New England army, commanded by a New England general. "Whether this jealousy was sincere," writes he, "or whether it was mere pride, and a haughty ambition of furnishing a southern general to command the northern army, I cannot say; but the intention was very visible to me, that Colonel Washington was their object; and so many of our stanchest men were in the plan, that we could carry nothing without conceding to it. There was another embarrassment, which was never publicly known, and which was carefully concealed by those who knew it: the Massachusetts and other New England delegates were divided. Mr. Hancock and Mr. Cushing hung back; Mr. Paine did not come forward, and even Mr. Samuel Adams was irresolute. Mr. Hancock himself had an ambition to be appointed commander-in-chief. Whether he thought an election a compliment due to him, and intended to have the honor of declining it, or whether he would have accepted it, I know not. To the compliment, he had some pretensions; for, at that time, his exertions, sacrifices, and general merits in the cause of his country, had been incomparably greater than those of Colonel Washington. But the delicacy of his health, and his entire want of experience in actual service, though an excellent militia officer, were decisive objections to him in my mind."
General Charles Lee was at that time in Philadelphia. His former visit had made him well acquainted with the leading members of Congress. The active interest he had manifested in the cause was well known, and the public had an almost extravagant idea of his military qualifications. He was of foreign birth, however, and it was deemed improper to confide the supreme command to any but a native-born American. In fact, if he was sincere in what we have quoted from his letter to Burke, he did not aspire to such a signal mark of confidence.
The opinion evidently inclined in favor of Washington; yet it was promoted by no clique of partisans or admirers. More than one of the Virginia delegates, says Adams, were cool on the subject of this appointment; and particularly Mr. Pendleton, was clear and full against it. It is scarcely necessary to add, that Washington in this, as in every other situation in life, made no step in advance to clutch the impending honor.
Adams, in his diary, claims the credit of bringing the members of Congress to a decision. Rising in his place, one day, and stating briefly, but earnestly, the exigencies of the case, he moved that Congress should adopt the army at Cambridge, and appoint a general. Though this was not the time to nominate the person, "yet," adds he, "as I had reason to believe this was a point of some difficulty, I had no hesitation to declare, that I had but one gentleman in my mind for that important command, and that was a gentleman from Virginia, who was among us and very well known to all of us; 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. Mr. Washington, who happened to sit near the door, as soon as he heard me allude to him, from his usual modesty, darted into the library-room. Mr. Hancock, who was our president, which gave me an opportunity to observe his countenance, while I was speaking on the state of the colonies, the army at Cambridge, and the enemy, heard me with visible pleasure; but when I came to describe Washington for the commander, I never remarked a more sudden and striking change of countenance. Mortification and resentment were expressed as forcibly as his face could exhibit them."
"When the subject came under debate, several delegates opposed the appointment of Washington; not from personal objections, but because the army were all from New England, and had a general of their own, General Artemas Ward, with whom they appeared well satisfied; and under whose command they had proved themselves able to imprison the British army in Boston; which was all that was to be expected or desired."
The subject was postponed to a future day. In the interim, pains were taken out of doors to obtain a unanimity, and the voices were in general so clearly in favor of Washington, that the dissentient members were persuaded to withdraw their opposition.
On the 15th of June, the army was regularly adopted by Congress, and the pay of the Commander-in-chief fixed at five hundred dollars a month. Many still clung to the idea, that in all these proceedings they were merely opposing the measures of the ministry, and not the authority of the crown, and thus the army before Boston was designated as the Continental Army, in contradistinction to that under General Gage, which was called the Ministerial Army.
In this stage of the business Mr. Johnson, of Maryland, rose, and nominated Washington for the station of commander-in-chief. The election was by ballot, and was unanimous. It was formally announced to him by the president, on the following day, when he had taken his seat in Congress. Rising in his place, he briefly expressed his high and grateful sense of the honor conferred on him, and his sincere devotion to the cause. "But," added he, "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, 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 of it. I will keep an exact account of my expenses. Those, I doubt not, they will discharge, and that is all I desire."
"There is something charming to me in the conduct of Washington," writes Adams to a friend; "a gentleman of one of the first fortunes upon the continent, leaving his delicious retirement, his family and friends, sacrificing his ease, and hazarding all, in the cause of his country. His views are noble and disinterested. He declared, when he accepted the mighty trust, that he would lay before us an exact account of his expenses, and not accept a shilling of pay."
Four major-generals were to be appointed. Among those specified were General Charles Lee and General Ward. Mr. Mifflin, of Philadelphia, who was Lee's especial friend and admirer, urged that he should be second in command. "General Lee," said he, "would serve cheerfully under Washington; but considering his rank, character, and experience, could not be expected to serve under any other. He must be aut secundus, aut nullus."
Adams, on the other hand, as strenuously objected that it would be a great deal to expect that General Ward, who was actually in command of the army in Boston, should serve under any man; but under a stranger he ought not to serve. General Ward, accordingly, was elected the second in command, and Lee the third. The other two major-generals were, Philip Schuyler, of New York, and Israel Putnam, of Connecticut. Eight brigadier-generals were likewise appointed; Seth Pomeroy, Richard Montgomery, David Wooster, William Heath, Joseph Spencer, John Thomas, John Sullivan, and Nathaniel Greene.
Notwithstanding Mr. Mifflin's objection to having Lee ranked under Ward, as being beneath his dignity and merits, he himself made no scruple to acquiesce; though, judging from his supercilious character, and from circumstances in his subsequent conduct, he no doubt considered himself vastly superior to the provincial officers placed over him.
At Washington's express request, his old friend, Major Horatio Gates, then absent at his estate in Virginia, was appointed adjutant-general, with the rank of brigadier.
Adams, according to his own account, was extremely loth to admit either Lee or Gates into the American service, although he considered them officers of great experience and confessed abilities. He apprehended difficulties, he said, from the "natural prejudices and virtuous attachment of our countrymen to their own officers." "But," adds he, "considering the earnest desire of General Washington to have the assistance of those officers, the extreme attachment of many of our best friends in the southern colonies to them, the reputation they would give to our arms in Europe, and especially with the ministerial generals and army in Boston, as well as the real American merit of both, I could not withhold my vote from either."
The reader will possibly call these circumstances to mind when, on a future page, he finds how Lee and Grates requited the friendship to which chiefly they owed their appointments.
In this momentous change in his condition, which suddenly altered all his course of life, and called him immediately to the camp, Washington's thoughts recurred to Mount Vernon, and its rural delights, so dear to his heart, whence he was to be again exiled. His chief concern, however, was on account of the distress it might cause to his wife. His letter to her on the subject is written in a tone of manly tenderness. "You may believe me," writes he, "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 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. But as it has been a kind of destiny that has thrown me upon this service, I shall hope that my undertaking it is designed to answer some good purpose. ...
"I shall rely 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 danger of the campaign; my unhappiness will flow from the uneasiness I know you will feel from being left alone. I therefore beg that you will summon your whole fortitude, and pass your time as agreeably as possible. Nothing will give me so much sincere satisfaction as to hear this, and to hear it from your own pen."
And to his favorite brother, John Augustine, he writes: "I am now to bid adieu to you, and to every kind of domestic ease, for a while. I am embarked on a wide ocean, boundless in its prospect, and in which, perhaps, no safe harbor is to be found. I have been called upon by the unanimous voice of the colonies to take the command of the continental army; an honor I neither sought after, nor desired, as I am thoroughly convinced that it requires great abilities, and much more experience, than I am master of." And subsequently, referring to his wife: "I shall hope that my friends will visit, and endeavor to keep up the spirits of my wife as much as they can, for my departure will, I know, be a cutting stroke upon her; and on this account alone I have many disagreeable sensations."
On the 20th of June, he received his commission from the president of Congress. The following day was fixed upon for his departure for the army. He reviewed previously, at the request of their officers, several militia companies of horse and foot. Every one was anxious to see the new commander, and rarely has the public beau ideal of a commander been so fully answered. He was now in the vigor of his days, forty-three years of age, stately in person, noble in his demeanor, calm and dignified in his deportment; as he sat his horse, with manly grace, his military presence delighted every eye, and wherever he went the air rang with acclamations.
MORE TROOPS ARRIVE AT BOSTON—GENERALS HOWE, BURGOYNE, AND CLINTON— PROCLAMATION OF GAGE—NATURE OF THE AMERICAN ARMY—SCORNFUL CONDUCT OF THE BRITISH OFFICERS—PROJECT OF THE AMERICANS TO SEIZE UPON BREED'S HILL— PUTNAM'S OPINION OF IT—SANCTIONED BY PRESCOTT—NOCTURNAL MARCH OF THE DETACHMENT—FORTIFYING OF BUNKER'S HILL—BREAK OF DAY, AND ASTONISHMENT OF THE ENEMY.
While Congress had been deliberating on the adoption of the army, and the nomination of a commander-in-chief, events had been thickening and drawing to a crisis in the excited region about Boston. The provincial troops which blockaded the town prevented supplies by land, the neighboring country refused to furnish them by water; fresh provisions and vegetables were no longer to be procured, and Boston began to experience the privations of a besieged city.
On the 25th of May, arrived ships of war and transports from England, bringing large reinforcements, under Generals Howe, Burgoyne, and Henry Clinton, commanders of high reputation.
As the ships entered the harbor, and the "rebel camp" was pointed out, ten thousand yeomanry beleaguering a town garrisoned by five thousand regulars, Burgoyne could not restrain a burst of surprise and scorn. "What!" cried he, "ten thousand peasants keep five thousand king's troops shut up! Well, let us get in, and we'll soon find elbow-room."
Inspirited by these reinforcements, General Gage determined to take the field. Previously, however, in conformity to instructions from Lord Dartmouth, the head of the war department, he issued a proclamation (12th June), putting the province under martial law, threatening to treat as rebels and traitors all malcontents who should continue under arms, together with their aiders and abettors; but offering pardon to all who should lay down their arms, and return to their allegiance. From this proffered amnesty, however, John Hancock and Samuel Adams were especially excepted; their offences being pronounced "too flagitious not to meet with condign punishment."
This proclamation only served to put the patriots on the alert against such measures as might be expected to follow, and of which their friends in Boston stood ready to apprise them. The besieging force, in the mean time, was daily augmented by recruits and volunteers, and now amounted to about fifteen thousand men distributed at various points. Its character and organization were peculiar. As has well been observed, it could not be called a national army, for, as yet, there was no nation to own it; it was not under the authority of the Continental Congress, the act of that body recognizing it not having as yet been passed, and the authority of that body itself not having been acknowledged. It was, in fact, a fortuitous assemblage of four distinct bodies of troops, belonging to different provinces, and each having a leader of its own election. About ten thousand belonged to Massachusetts, and were under the command of General Artemas Ward, whose head-quarters were at Cambridge. Another body of troops, under Colonel John Stark, already mentioned, came from New Hampshire. Rhode Island furnished a third, under the command of General Nathaniel Greene. A fourth was from Connecticut, under the veteran Putnam.
These bodies of troops, being from different colonies, were independent of each other, and had their several commanders. Those from New Hampshire were instructed to obey General Ward as commander-in-chief; with the rest, it was a voluntary act, rendered in consideration of his being military chief of Massachusetts, the province which, as allies, they came to defend. There was, in fact, but little organization in the army. Nothing kept it together, and gave it unity of action, but a common feeling of exasperated patriotism.
The troops knew but little of military discipline. Almost all were familiar with the use of fire-arms in hunting and fowling; many had served in frontier campaigns against the French, and in "bush-fighting" with the Indians; but none were acquainted with regular service or the discipline of European armies. There was a regiment of artillery, partly organized by Colonel Gridley, a skilful engineer, and furnished with nine field-pieces; but the greater part of the troops were without military dress or accoutrements; most of them were hasty levies of yeomanry, some of whom had seized their rifles and fowling-pieces, and turned out in their working clothes and homespun country garbs. It was an army of volunteers, subordinate through inclination and respect to officers of their own choice, and depending for sustenance on supplies sent from, their several towns.
Such was the army spread over an extent of ten or twelve miles, and keeping watch upon the town of Boston, containing at that time a population of seventeen thousand souls, and garrisoned with more than ten thousand British troops, disciplined and experienced in the wars of Europe.
In the disposition of these forces, General Ward had stationed himself at Cambridge, with the main body of about nine thousand men and four companies of artillery. Lieutenant-general Thomas, second in command, was posted, with five thousand Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island troops, and three or four companies of artillery, at Roxbury and Dorchester, forming the right wing of the army; while the left, composed in a great measure of New Hampshire troops, stretched through Medford to the hills of Chelsea.
It was a great annoyance to the British officers and soldiers, to be thus hemmed in by what they termed a rustic rout with calico frocks and fowling-pieces. The same scornful and taunting spirit prevailed among them, that the cavaliers of yore indulged toward the Covenanters. Considering episcopacy as the only loyal and royal faith, they insulted and desecrated the "sectarian" places of worship. One was turned into a riding school for the cavalry, and the fire in the stove was kindled with books from the library of its pastor. The Provincials retaliated by turning the Episcopal church at Cambridge into a barrack, and melting down its organ-pipes into bullets.
Both parties panted for action; the British through impatience of their humiliating position, and an eagerness to chastise what they considered the presumption of their besiegers; the Provincials through enthusiasm in their cause, a thirst for enterprise and exploit, and, it must be added, an unconsciousness of their own military deficiencies.
We have already mentioned the peninsula of Charlestown (called from a village of the same name), which lies opposite to the north side of Boston. The heights, which swell up in rear of the village, overlook the town and shipping. The project was conceived in the besieging camp to seize and occupy those heights. A council of war was held upon the subject. The arguments in favor of the attempt were, that the army was anxious to be employed; that the country was dissatisfied with its inactivity, and that the enemy might thus be drawn out to ground where they might be fought to advantage. General Putnam was one of the most strenuous in favor of the measure.
Some of the more wary and judicious, among whom were General Ward and Dr. Warren, doubted the expediency of intrenching themselves on those heights, and the possibility of maintaining so exposed a post, scantily furnished, as they were, with ordnance and ammunition. Besides, it might bring on a general engagement, which it was not safe to risk.
Putnam made light of the danger. He was confident of the bravery of the militia if intrenched, having seen it tried in the old French war. "The Americans," said he, "are never afraid of their heads; they only think of their legs; shelter them, and they'll fight for ever." He was seconded by General Pomeroy, a leader of like stamp, and another veteran of the French war. He had been a hunter in his time; a dead shot with a rifle, and was ready to lead troops against the enemy, "with five cartridges to a man."
The daring councils of such men are always captivating to the inexperienced; but in the present instance, they were sanctioned by one whose opinion in such matters, and in this vicinity, possessed peculiar weight. This was Colonel William Prescott, of Pepperell, who commanded a regiment of minute men. He, too, had seen service in the French war, and acquired reputation as a lieutenant of infantry at the capture of Cape Breton. This was sufficient to constitute him an oracle in the present instance. He was now about fifty years of age, tall and commanding in his appearance, and retaining the port of a soldier. What was more, he had a military garb; being equipped with a three-cornered hat, a top wig, and a single-breasted blue coat, with facings and lapped up at the skirts. All this served to give him consequence among the rustic militia officers with whom he was in council.
His opinion, probably, settled the question; and it was determined to seize on and fortify Bunker's Hill and Dorchester Heights. In deference, however, to the suggestions of the more cautious, it was agreed to postpone the measure until they were sufficiently supplied with the munitions of war to be able to maintain the heights when seized.
Secret intelligence hurried forward the project. General Gage, it was said, intended to take possession of Dorchester Heights on the night of the 18th of June. These heights lay on the opposite side of Boston, and the committee were ignorant of their localities. Those on Charlestown Neck, being near at hand, had some time before been reconnoitered by Colonel Richard Gridley, and other of the engineers. It was determined to seize and fortify these heights on the night of Friday, the 16th of June, in anticipation of the movement of General Gage. Troops were draughted for the purpose from the Massachusetts regiments of Colonels Prescott, Frye and Bridges. There was also a fatigue party of about two hundred men from Putnam's Connecticut troops, led by his favorite officer, Captain Knowlton; together with a company of forty-nine artillery men, with two field-pieces, commanded by Captain Samuel Gridley.
A little before sunset the troops, about twelve hundred in all, assembled on the common, in front of General Ward's quarters. They came provided with packs, blankets and provisions for four-and-twenty hours, but ignorant of the object of the expedition. Being all paraded, prayers were offered up by the reverend President Langdon, of Harvard College; after which they all set forward on their silent march.
Colonel Prescott, from his experience in military matters, and his being an officer in the Massachusetts line, had been chosen by General Ward to conduct the enterprise. His written orders were to fortify Bunker's Hill, and defend the works until he should be relieved. Colonel Richard Gridley, the chief engineer, who had likewise served in the French war, was to accompany him and plan the fortifications. It was understood that reinforcements and refreshments would be sent to the fatigue party in the morning.
The detachment left Cambridge about 9 o'clock, Colonel Prescott taking the lead, preceded by two sergeants with dark lanterns. At Charlestown Neck they were joined by Major Brooks, of Bridges' regiment, and General Putnam; and here were the waggons laden with intrenching tools, which first gave the men an indication of the nature of the enterprise.
Charlestown Neck is a narrow isthmus, connecting the peninsula with the main land; having the Mystic River, about half a mile wide, on the north, and a large embayment of Charles River on the south or right side.
It was now necessary to proceed with the utmost caution, for they were coming on ground over which the British kept jealous watch. They had erected a battery at Boston on Copp's Hill, immediately opposite to Charlestown. Five of their vessels of war were stationed so as to bear upon the peninsula from different directions, and the guns of one of them swept the isthmus, or narrow neck just mentioned.
Across this isthmus, Colonel Prescott conducted the detachment undiscovered, and up the ascent of Bunker's Hill. This commences at the Neck, and slopes up for about three hundred yards to its summit, which is about one hundred and twelve feet high. It then declines toward the south, and is connected by a ridge with Breed's Hill, about sixty or seventy feet high. The crests of the two hills are about seven hundred yards apart.
On attaining the heights, a question rose which of the two they should proceed to fortify. Bunker's Hill was specified in the written orders given to Colonel Prescott by General Ward, but Breed's Hill was much nearer to Boston, and had a better command of the town and shipping. Bunker's Hill, also, being on the upper and narrower part of the peninsula, was itself commanded by the same ship which raked the Neck. Putnam was clear for commencing at Breed's Hill, and making the principal work there, while a minor work might be thrown up at Bunker's Hill, as a protection in the rear, and a rallying point, in case of being driven out of the main work. Others concurred with this opinion, yet there was a hesitation in deviating from the letter of their orders. At length Colonel Gridley became impatient; the night was waning; delay might prostrate the whole enterprise. Breed's Hill was then determined on. Gridley marked out the lines for the fortifications; the men stacked their guns; threw off their packs; seized their trenching tools, and set to work with great spirit; but so much time had been wasted in discussion, that it was midnight before they struck the first spade into the ground.