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SURVEY FROM PROSPECT HILL.
Such were the three British commanders at Boston, who were considered especially formidable; and they had with them eleven thousand veteran troops, well appointed and well disci plined.
In visiting the different posts, Washington halted for a time at Prospect Hill, which, as its name denotes, commanded a wide view over Boston and the surrounding country. Here Putnam had taken his position after the battle of Bunker's Hill, fortifying himself with works which he deemed impregnable; and here the veteran was enabled to point out to the commander-in-chief, and to Lee, the main features of the belligerent region, which lay spread out like a map before them.
Bunker's Hill was but a mile distant to the east, the British standard floating as if in triumph on its summit. The main force under General Howe was intrenching itself strongly about half a mile beyond the place of the recent battle. Scarlet uniforms gleamed about the hill; tents and marquees whitened its sides. All up there was bright, brilliant, and triumphant. At the base of the hill lay Charlestown in ashes, "nothing to be seen of that fine town but chimneys and rubbish."
Howe's sentries extended a hundred and fifty yards beyond the neck or isthmus, over which the Americans retreated after the battle. Three floating batteries in Mystic River commanded this isthmus, and a twenty-gun ship was anchored between the peninsula and Boston,
General Gage, the commander-in-chief, still had his head-quarters in the town, but there were few troops there besides Burgoyne's light-horse. A large force, however, was intrenched south of the town on the neck leading to Roxbury, only entrance to Boston by land.
The American troops were irregularly distributed in a kind of semicircle eight or nine miles in extent; the left resting on Winter Hill, the most northern post; the right extending on the south to Roxbury and Dorchester Neck.
Washington reconnoitered the British posts from various points of view. Everything about them was in admirable order. The works appeared to be constructed with military science, the troops to be in a high state of discipline. The American camp, on the contrary, disappointed him. He had expected to find eighteen or twenty thousand men under arms; there were not much more than fourteen thousand. He had expected to find some degree of system and discipline; whereas all were raw militia. He had expected to find works scientifically constructed, and proofs of knowledge and skill in engineering: whereas, what he saw of the latter was very imperfect, and confined to the mere manual exercise of cannon. There was abundant evidence of aptness at trenching and throwing up rough defenses; and in that way General Thomas had fortified Roxbury Neck, and Putnam had strengthened Prospect Hill. But the semi-circular line which linked the extreme posts, was formed of rudely-constructed works, far too extensive for the troops which were at hand to man them.
THE AMERICAN ARMY.
Within this attenuated semicircle, the British forces lay concentrated and compact; and having command of the water, might suddenly bring their main strength to bear upon some weak point, force it, and sever the American camp.
In fact, when we consider the scanty, illconditioned, and irregular force which had thus stretched itself out to beleaguer a town and harbor defended by ships and floating batteries, and garrisoned by eleven thousand strongly posted veterans, we are at a loss whether to attribute its hazardous position to ignorance, or to that daring self-confidence, which at times, in our military history, has snatched success in defiance of scientific rules. It was revenge for the slaughter at Lexington, which, we are told, first prompted the investment of Boston. "The universal voice," says a contemporary, "is, starve them out. Drive them from the town, and let His Majesty's ships be their only place of refuge."
In riding throughout the camp, Washington ob. served that nine thousand of the troops belonged to Massachusetts; the rest were from other provinces. They were encamped in separate bodies, each with its own regulations, and officers of its own appointment. Some had tents, others were in barracks, and others sheltered themselves as best they might. Many were sadly in want of clothing, and all, said Washington, were strongly imbued with the spirit of insubordination, which they mistook for independence.
A chaplain of one of the regiments has left
1 The Rev. William Emerson.
on record a graphic sketch of this primitive army of the Revolution. "It is very diverting," writes he, "to walk among the camps. They are as different in their forms, as the owners are in their dress; and every tent is a portraiture of the temper and taste of the persons who encamp in it. Some are made of boards, and some are made of sail-cloth; some are partly of one, and partly of the other. Again others are made of stone and turf, brick and brush. Some are thrown up in a hurry, others curiously wrought with wreaths and withes."
One of the encampments, however, was in striking contrast with the rest, and might vie with those of the British for order and exactness. Here were tents and marquees pitched in the English style; soldiers well drilled and well equipped; everything had an air of discipline and subordination. It was a body of Rhode Island troops, which had been raised, drilled, and brought to the camp by Brigadier-general Greene, of that province, whose subsequent renown entitles him to an introduction to the reader.
Nathaniel Greene was born in Rhode Island, or the 26th of May, 1742. His father was a miller, an anchor-smith, and a Quaker preacher. The waters of the Potowhammet turned the wheels of the mill and raised the ponderous sledge-hammer of the forge. Greene, in his boy. hood, followed the plough, and occasionally worked at the forge of his father. His education was of an ordinary kind; but having an early thirst for knowledge, he applied himself sedulously to vari
ous studies, while subsisting by the labcr of his hands. Nature had endowed him with quick parts, and a sound judgment, and his assiduity was crowned with success. He became fluent and instructive in conversation, and his letters, still extant, show that he held an able pen.
In the late turn of public affairs, he had caught the belligerent spirit prevalent throughout the country. Plutarch and Cæsar's Commentaries became his delight. He applied himself to military studies, for which he was prepared by some knowledge of mathematics. His ambition was to organize and discipline a corps of militia to which he belonged. For this purpose, during a visit to Boston, he had taken note of everything about the discipline of the British troops. In the month of May, he had been elected commander of the Rhode Island contingent of the army of observation, and in June had conducted to the lines before Boston three regiments, whose encampment we have just described, and who were pronounced the best disciplined and appointed troops in the army.
Greene made a soldier-like address to Wash
ington, welcoming him to the camp. His appear
ance and manner were calculated to make a favorable impression. He was about thirty-nine years of age, nearly six feet high, well built and vigorous, with an open, animated, intelligent countenance, and a frank, manly demeanor. He may
be said to have stepped at once into the confidence of the commander-in-chief, which he never forfeited, but became one of his most attached,