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putable 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 defenseless 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 wharfs, 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
-a measure 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 anxious for Action-Exploit of Putnam-Its Dramatic ConsequencesThe Farce of the Blockade of Boston-An Alarming Interruption-Distresses of the Besieged-Washington's Irksome Predicament-His Bold Proposition-Demur of the Council of War -Arrival of Knox with Artillery-Dorchester Heights to be Seized and Fortified-Preparations for the Attempt
THE siege of Boston continued through the winter, without any striking incident to enliven its monotony. The British remained within their works, leaving the beleaguering army slowly to augment its forces. The country was dis satisfied 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 meantime, 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 milldam, 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 theater, 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 theater 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 theater 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. 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 anything 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 everything 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 VOL. XIII.-***3