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The Affair of Dorchester Heights. American and English Letters respecting it. A Laborious Night. - Revelations al Daybreak. Howe in a Perplexity. - A Night Attack meditated. Stormy Weather. - The Town to be Evacuated. -Negotiations and Arrangements. Preparations to Embark. Excesses of the Troops. - Boston Evacuated. Speech of the Duke of Manchester on the Subject. Medal voted by Congress.
HE evening of Monday, the 4th of March, was fixed upon for the occupation of Dorchester Heights. The ground was frozen too hard to be easily intrenched; fascines, therefore, and gabions, and bundles of screwed hay, were collected during the two preceding nights, with which to form breast works and redoubts. During these two busy nights the enemy's batteries were cannonaded and bombarded from opposite points, to occupy their attention, and prevent their noticing these preparations. They replied with spirit, and the incessant roar of artillery thus kept up, covered completely the rumbling of wagons and ordnance.
How little the enemy were aware of what was impending, we may gather from the following extract of a letter from an officer of distinction in the British army in Boston to his friend in Lon lon, dated on the 3d of March:
"For these last six weeks or near two months we have been better amused than could possibly be expected in our situation. We had a theatre, we had balls, and there is actually a subscription on foot for a masquerade. England seems to have forgot us, and we have endeavored to forget ourselves. But we were roused to a sense of our situation last night, in a manner unpleasant enough. The rebels have been for some time past erecting a bomb battery, and last night began to play upon Two shells fell not far from me. One fell upon Colonel Monckton's house, but luckily did not burst until it had crossed the street. Many houses were damaged, but no lives lost. The rebel army," adds he, "is not brave, I believe, but it is agreed on all hands that their artillery officers are at least equal to ours." 1
The wife of John Adams, who resided in the vicinity of the American camp, and knew that a general action was meditated, expresses in a letter to her husband the feelings of a patriot woman during the suspense of these nights.
"I have been in a constant state of anxiety, since you left me," writes she on Saturday. "It has been said to-morrow, and to-morrow for this month, and when the dreadful to-morrow will be, I know not. But hark! The house this instant shakes with the roar of cannon. I have been to the door, and find it is a cannonade from our army. Orders, I find, are come, for all the remaining militia to repair to the lines Monday night, by twelve o'clock. No sleep for me to night." 1 Am. Archives, 4th Series, v. 425.
AFFAIR OF DORCHESTER HEIGHTS. 197
"I went to
On Sunday the letter is resumed. bed after twelve, but got no rest; the cannon continued firing, and my heart kept pace with them all night. We have had a pretty quiet day, but what to-morrow will bring forth, God only knows." On Monday, the appointed evening, she con tinues: "I have just returned from Penn's Hill, where I have been sitting to hear the amazing roar of cannon, and from whence I could see every shell which was thrown. The sound, I think, is one of the grandest in nature, and is of the true species of the sublime. 'Tis now an incessant roar; but O, the fatal ideas which are connected with the sound! How many of our dear countrymen must fall!
"I went to bed about twelve, and arose again a little after one. I could no more sleep than if I had been in the engagement; the rattling of the windows, the jar of the house, the continual roar of twenty-four pounders, and the bursting of shells, give us such ideas, and realize a scene to us of which we could scarcely form any conception. I hope to give you joy of Boston, even if it is in ruins, before I send this away."
On the Monday evening thus graphically described, as soon as the firing commenced, the detachment under General Thomas set out on its cautious and secret march from the lines of Roxbury and Dorchester. Everything was conducted as regularly and quietly as possible. A covering party of eight hundred men preceded the carts with the intrenching tools; then came General Thomas with the working party, twelve hundred
strong, followed by a train of three hundred wag-
party then divided; one half proceeded to the
their moorings at the turn of the midnight tide; the beleaguered city occupied with a powerful army, and a considerable non-combatant population, startled into unnatural vigilance by the incessant and destructive cannonade, yet unobservant of the great operations in progress so near them; the surrounding country, dotted with a hundred rural settlements, roused from the deep sleep of a New England village, by the unwonted glare and tumult.” 1
The same plastic fancy suggests the crowd of visions, phantoms of the past, which may have passed through Washington's mind, on this night of feverish excitement. "His early training in the wilderness; his escape from drowning, and the deadly rifle of the savage in the perilous mission to Venango; the shower of iron hail through which he rode unharmed on Braddock's field; the early stages of the great conflict now brought to its crisis, and still more solemnly, the possibilities of the future for himself and for America the ruin of the patriot cause if he failed at the outset; the triumphant consolidation of the Revolu tion if he prevailed."
The labors of the night were carried on by the Americans with their usual activity and address. When a relief party arrived at four o'clock in the morning, two forts were in sufficient forwardness to furnish protection against small-arms and grapeshot; and such use was made of the fascines and bundles of screwed
1 Oration of the Hon. Edward Everett at Dorchester, July th, 1855.