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"if the cannon were removed from the batteries and wharves, but I ever considered their threats as a brutum fulmen, and even persuaded the town to be of the same way of thinking. We accordingly conveyed them to a place of safety in the middle of the day, and no cannonade ensued. Captain Parker publishes a pleasant reason for his passive conduct. He says that it was manifestly my intention, and that of the New England men under my command, to bring destruction on this town, so hated for their loyal principles, but that he was determined not to indulge us; so remained quiet out of spite. The people here laugh at his nonsense, and begin to despise the menaces which formerly used to throw them into convulsions." Washington appears to have shared the merriment. In his reply to Lee, he writes, "I could not avoid laughing at Captain Parker's reasons for not putting his repeated threats into execution,' a proof, by the way, under his own hand, that he could laugh occasionally; and even when surrounded by perplexities.
According to Lee's account, the New Yorkers showed a wonderful alacrity in removing the cannon. "Men and boys of all ages," writes he, "worked with the greatest zeal and pleasure. I really believe the generality are as well affected as any on the continent." Some of the well-affected, however, thought he was rather too self-willed and high-handed. "Though General Lee has many things to recommend him as a general," writes one of them, "yet I think he was out of luck when he ordered the removal of the guns from the battery; as it was without the approbation or knowledge of our Congress."-Lee seldom waited for the approbation of Congress in moments of exigency.
He now proceeded with his plan of defences. A strong redoubt, capable of holding three hundred men, was commenced at Horen's Hook, commanding the pass at Hell Gate, so as to block up from the enemy's ships, the passage between the mainland and Long Island. A regiment was stationed on the Island, making fascines, and preparing other materials for constructing the works for an intrenched camp, which Lee hoped would render it impossible for the enemy to get a footing there. "What to do with this city," writes he, "I own, puzzles me. It is so encircled with deep navigable water, that whoever commands the sea must command the town. To-morrow I shall begin to dismantle that part of the
1 Fred. Rhinelander to Peter Van Schaack.
fort next to the town, to prevent its being converted into a citadel. I shall barrier the principal streets, and, at least, if I cannot make it a continental garrison, it shall be a disputable field of battle." Batteries were to be erected on an eminence behind Trinity Church, to keep the enemy's ships at so great a distance as not to injure the town.
King's Bridge, at the upper end of Manhattan or New York Island, linking it with the mainland, was pronounced by Lee "a most important pass, without which the city could have no communication with Connecticut." It was, therefore, to be made as strong as possible.
Heavy cannon were to be sent up to the forts in the Highlands; which were to be enlarged and strengthened.
In the midst of his schemes, Lee received orders from Congress to the command in Canada, vacant by the death of Montgomery. He bewailed the defenceless condition of the city; the Continental Congress, as he said, not having, as yet, taken the least step for its security. "The instant I leave it," said he, "I conclude the Provincial Congress, and inhabitants in general, will relapse into their former hysterics. The men-of-war and Mr. Tryon will return to their old station at the wharves, and the first regiments who arrive from England will take quiet possession of the town and Long Island."
It must be observed that, in consequence of his military demonstrations in the city, the enemy's ships had drawn off and dropped down the bay; and he had taken vigorous measures, without consulting the committees, to put an end to the practice of supplying them with provisions.
"Governor Tryon and the Asia," writes he to Washington, "continue between Nutten and Bedlow's Islands. It has pleased his excellency, in violation of the compact he has made, to seize several vessels from Jersey laden with flour. It has, in return, pleased my excellency to stop all provisions from the city, and cut off all intercourse with him which has thrown the mayor, council, and tories into agonies. The propensity, or rather rage, for paying court to this great man, is inconceivable. They cannot be weaned from him. We must put wormwood on his paps, or they will cry to suck, as they are in their second childhood."
We would observe, in explanation of a sarcasm in the above quoted letter, that Lee professed a great contempt for the titles of respect which it was the custom to prefix to the names of men in office or command. He scoffed at them, as unworthy of a great, free, manly, equal commonwealth."
"For my own part," said he, "I would as lief they would put ratsbane in my mouth, as the excellency with which I am daily crammed. How much more true dignity was there in the simplicity of address among the Romans! Marcus Tullius Cicero, Decius Bruto Imperatori, or Caio Marcello Consuli, than to His Excellency Major-General Noodle,' or to the 'Honorable John Doodle.'
MONOTONOUS STATE OF AFFAIRS BEFORE BOSTON WASHINGTON
THE siege of Boston continued through the winter, without any striking incident to enliven its monotony. British remained within their works, leaving the beleaguering army slowly to augment its forces. The country was dissatisfied with the inaction of the latter. Even Congress was anxious for some successful blow that might revive popular enthusiasm. Washington shared this anxiety, and had repeatedly, in councils of war, suggested an attack upon the town, but had found a majority of his general officers opposed to it. He had hoped some favorable opportunity would present, when, the harbor being frozen, the troops might approach the town upon the ice. The winter, however, though severe at first, proved a mild one and the bay continued open. General Putnam, in the mean time, having completed the new works at Lechmere Point, and being desirous of keeping up the spirit of his men, resolved to treat them to an exploit. Accordingly, from his "impregnable fortress" of Cobble Hill, he detached a party of about two hundred, under his favorite officer, Major Knowlton, to surprise and capture a British guard stationed at Charlestown. It was a daring enterprise, and executed with spirit. As Charlestown Neck was completely protected, Knowlton led his men across the mill-dam, round the base of the hill, and immediately below the fort;
set fire to the guard-house and some buildings in its vicinity: made several prisoners, and retired without loss; although thundered upon by the cannon of the fort. The exploit was attended by a dramatic effect on which Putnam had not calculated. The British officers, early in the winter, had fitted up a theatre, which was well attended by the troops and tories. On the evening in question, an afterpiece was to be performed, entitled "The Blockade of Boston," intended as a burlesque on the patriot army which was beleaguering it. Washington is said to have been represented in it as an awkward lout, equipped with a huge wig, and a long rusty sword, attended by a country booby as orderly sergeant, in rustic garb, with an old firelock seven or eight feet long.
The theatre was crowded, especially by the military. The first piece was over, and the curtain was rising for the farce, when a sergeant made his appearance, and announced that "the alarm guns were firing at Charlestown, and the Yankees attacking Bunker's Hill." At first this was supposed to be a part of the entertainment, until General Howe gave the word, "Officers, to your alarm posts.”
Great confusion ensued; every one scrambled out of the theatre as fast as possible. There was, as usual, some shrieking and fainting of ladies; and the farce of "The Blockade of Boston" had a more serious than comic termination.
The London Chronicle, in a sneering comment on Boston affairs gave Burgoyne as the author of this burlesque afterpiece, though perhaps unjustly. "General Burgoyne has opened a theatrical campaign, of which himself is sole manager, being determined to act with the Provincials on the defensive only. Tom Thumb has been already represented; while, on the other hand, the Provincials are preparing to exhibit, early in the spring, Measure for Measure.'
The British officers, like all soldiers by profession, endeavored to while away the time by every amusement within their reach; but, in truth, the condition of the besieged town was daily becoming more and more distressing. The inhabitants were without flour, pulse, or vegetables; the troops were nearly as destitute. There was a lack of fuel, too, as well as food. The small-pox broke out, and it was necessary to inoculate the army. Men, women and children either left the city voluntarily, or were sent out of it; yet the distress increased. Several houses were broken open and plundered; others were demolished by the soldiery for fuel. General Howe resorted to the sternest measures to put a stop to these excesses. The provost was
ordered to go the rounds with the hangman, and hang up the first man he should detect in the fact, without waiting for further proof for trial. Offenders were punished with four hundred, six hundred, and even one thousand lashes. The wife of a private soldier, convicted of receiving stolen goods, was sentenced to one hundred lashes on her bare back, at the cart's tail, in different parts of the town, and an imprisonment of three months.
Meanwhile, Washington was incessantly goaded by the impatient murmurs of the public, as we may judge by his letters to Mr. Reed. "I know the integrity of my own heart," writes he, on the 10th of February; "but to declare it, unless to a friend, may be an argument of vanity. I know the unhappy predicament I stand in; I know that much is expected of me; I know that, without men, without arms, without ammunition, without any thing fit for the accommodation of a soldier, little is to be done, and, what is mortifying, I know that I cannot stand justified to the world without exposing my own weakness, and injuring the cause, by declaring my wants; which I am determined not to do, further than unavoidable necessity brings every man acquainted with them.
"My own situation is so irksome to me at times, that, if I did not consult the public good more than my own tranquillity, I should long ere this have put every thing on the cast of a die. So far from my having an army of twenty thousand men, well armed, I have been here with less than one half of that number, including sick, furloughed, and on command; and those neither armed nor clothed as they should be. In short, my situation has been such, that I have been obliged to use art, to conceal it from my own officers."
How precious are those letters! And how fortunate that the absence of Mr. Reed from camp should have procured for us such confidential outpourings of Washington's heart at this time of its great trial.
He still adhered to his opinion in favor of an attempt upon the town. He was aware that it would be attended with considerable loss, but believed it would be successful if the men should behave well. Within a few days after the date of this letter, the bay became sufficiently frozen for the transportation of troops. This," writes he to Reed, "I thought, knowing the ice would not last, a favorable opportunity to make an assault upon the troops in town. I proposed it in council; but behold, though we had been waiting all the year for this favorable event, the enterprise was thought too dangerous. Perhaps it was; per