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A VITAL QUESTION SETTLED.
I wish I could extend protection to all, but the numerous detachments necessary to remedy the evil would amount to a dissolution of the army, or make the most important operations of the campaign depend upon the piratical expeditions of two or three men-of-war and transports."
His refusal to grant the required detachments gave much dissatisfaction in some quarters, until sanctioned and enforced by the Continental Congress. All at length saw and acquiesced in the justice and wisdom of his decision. It was in fact a vital question, involving the whole character and fortune of the war; and it was acknowledged that he met it with a forecast and determination befitting a commander-in-chief.
Washington's Object in distressing Boston. - Scarcity and Sickness in the Town. A Startling Discovery. - Scarcity of Powder in the Camp. Its Perilous Situation. — Economy of Ammunition. - Correspondence between Lee and Burgoyne. Correspondence between Washington and Gage. The Dignity of the Patriot Army asserted.
HE great object of Washington at present, was to force the enemy to come out of Boston and try a decisive action. His lines had for some time cut off all communication of the town with the country, and he had caused the live stock within a considerable distance of the place to be driven back from the coast, out of reach of the men-of-war's boats. Fresh provisions and vegetables were consequently growing more and more scarce and extravagantly dear, and sickness began to prevail. "I have done and shall do everything in my power to distress them," writes he to his brother John Augustine. "The transports have all arrived, and their whole reinforcement is landed, so that I see no reason why they should not, if they ever attempt it, come boldly out and put the matter to issue at once."
"We are in the strangest state in the world," writes a lady from Boston, "surrounded on all
SCARCITY OF POWDER.
sides. The whole country is in arms and intrenched. We are deprived of fresh provisions, subject to continual alarms and cannonadings, the provincials being very audacious and advancing to our lines, since the arrival of generals Washington and Lee to command them."
At this critical juncture, when Washington was pressing the siege, and endeavoring to provoke a general action, a startling fact came to light; the whole amount of powder in the camp would not furnish more than nine cartridges to a man! 1
A gross error had been made by the committee of supplies when Washington, on taking command, had required a return of the ammunition. They had returned the whole amount of powder collected by the province, upwards of three hundred barrels; without stating what had been expended. The blunder was detected on an order being issued for a new supply of cartridges. It was found that there were but thirty-two barrels of powder in store.
This was an astounding discovery. Washington instantly dispatched letters and expresses to Rhode Island, the Jerseys, Ticonderoga and elsewhere, urging immediate supplies of powder and lead; no quantity, however small, to be considered beneath notice. In a letter to Governor Cooke of Rhode Island, he suggested that an armed vessel of that province might be sent to seize upon a magazine of gunpowder, said to be in a remote part of the island of Bermuda.
1 Letter to the President of Congress, Aug. 4.
am very sensible," writes he, "that at first view the project may appear hazardous, and its success must depend on the concurrence of many circumstances; but we are in a situation which requires us to run all risks. . . . . Enterprises which appear chimerical, often prove successful from that very circumstance. Common sense and prudence will suggest vigilance and care, where the danger is plain and obvious; but where little danger is apprehended, the more the enemy will be unprepared, and, consequently, there is the fairest prospect of success."
Day after day elapsed without the arrival of any supplies; for in these irregular times, the munitions of war were not readily procured. It seemed hardly possible that the matter could be kept concealed from the enemy. Their works on Bunker's Hill commanded a full view of those of the Americans on Winter and Prospect hills. Each camp could see what was passing in the other. The sentries were almost near enough to converse. There was furtive intercourse occasionally between the men. In this critical state, the American camp remained for a fortnight; the anxious commander incessantly apprehending an attack. At length a partial supply from the Jerseys put an end to this imminent risk. Washington's secretary, Reed, who had been the confidant of his troubles and anxieties, gives a vivid expression of his feelings on the arrival of this relief. "I can hardly look back without shuddering, at our situation before this increase of our stock. Stock did I say? it was next to nothing.
LEE AND BURGOYNE.
Almost the whole powder of the army was in the cartridge-boxes.'
It is thought that, considering the clandestine intercourse carried on between the two camps, intelligence of this deficiency of ammunition on the part of the besiegers must have been conveyed to the British commander; but that the bold face with which the Americans continued to maintain their position made him discredit it.
Notwithstanding the supply from the Jerseys, there was not more powder in camp than would serve the artillery for one day of general action. None, therefore, was allowed to be wasted; the troops were even obliged to bear in silence an occasional cannonading. "Our poverty in ammunition," writes Washington, "prevents our making a suitable return."
One of the painful circumstances attending the outbreak of a revolutionary war is, that gallant men, who have held allegiance to the same government, and fought side by side under the same flag, suddenly find themselves in deadly conflict with each other. Such was the case at present in the hostile camps. General Lee, it will be recollected, had once served under General Burgoyne, in Portugal, and had won his brightest laurels when detached by that commander to surprise the Spanish camp, near the Moorish castle of Villa Velha. A soldier's friendship had ever since existed between them, and when Lee had heard at Philadelphia, before he had engaged in the Amer
1 Reed to Thomas Bradford. Life and Correspondence, vol. i. p. 118.