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MORE TROOPS ARRIVE AT BOSTON-GENERALS HOWE, BURGOYNE, AND OLINTON-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-inchief, 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.
1775.] NATURE OF THE AMERICAN ARMY.
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 commanderin-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 Ameri