Slike strani
PDF
ePub

REIGN OF TERROR ON THE COAST.

83

sase.

a

“The desolation and misery," writes he, “ which ministerial vengeance had planned, in contempt of every principle of humanity, and so lately brought on the town of Falmouth, I know not how sufficiently to commiserate, nor can my compassion for the general suffering be conceived beyond the true ineasure of my feelings.”

General Greene, too, in a letter to a friend, expresses himself with equal warmth. “O, could the Congress behold the distresses and wretched condition of the poor inhabitants driven from the seaport towns, it must, it would, kindle a blaze of indignation against the commissioned pirates and licensed robbers.

People begin heartily to wish a declaration of independence.” 1

General Sullivan was sent to Portsmouth, where there was a fortification of 'some strength, to give the inhabitants his advice and assistance in warding off the menaced blow. Newport, also, was put on the alert, and recommended to fortify itself.

“ I expect every hour," writes Washington, “to hear that Newport has shared the same fate of unhappy Falmouth.”2 Under the feeling roused by these reports, the General Court of Massachusetts, exercising a sovereign power, passed an act for encouraging the fitting out of armed vessels to defend the sea-coast of America, and for erecting a court to try and condemn all vessels that should be found infesting The same. This act, granting letters of marque and reprisal, anticipated any measure of the kind

1 Letter to the l’resident of Congress. 3 Am. Archives, iii. 1145.

on the part of the General Government, and was pronounced by John Adams, one of the most important documents in history.1

The British ministry have, in latter days, been exculpated from the charge of issuing such a desolating order as that said to have been reported by Lieutenant Mowat. The orders under which that officer acted, we are told, emanated from General Gage and Admiral Graves. The former intended merely the annoyance and destruction of rebel shipping, whether on the coast or in the harbors to the eastward of Boston ; the burning

1 ; of the town is surmised to have been an additional thought of Admiral Graves. Naval officers have a passion for bombardments.

Whatever part General Gage may have had in this most ill-advised and discreditable measure, it was the last of his military government, and he did not remain long enough in the country to see it carried into effect. He sailed for England on the 10th of October. The tidings of the battle of Bunker's Hill had withered his laurels as a commander. Still he was not absolutely superseded, but called home, " in order," as it was considerately said, " to give His Majesty exact infor. mation of everything, and suggest such matters as his knowledge and experience of the service might enable him to furnish.” During his absence, Major-general Howe would act as commander-inchief of the colonies on the Atlantic Ocean, and Major-general Carleton of the British forces in Canada and on the frontiers. Gage fully expected

1 Sec Life of Gerry, p. 109.

BOARD OF CONFERENCE.

85

[ocr errors]

to return and resume the command. In a letter written to the minister, Lord Dartmouth, the day before sailing, he urged the arrival, early in the spring, of reinforcements which had been ordered, anticipating great hazard at the opening of the campaign. In the inean time he trusted that two thousand troops, shortly expected from Ireland, would enable him “to distress the rebels by incursions along the coast,". and _“ he hoped Portsmouth in New Hampshire would feel the weight of His Majesty's arms."

“ Poor Gage,' writes Horace Walpole, “ is to be the scape-goat for what was a reason against employing him incapacity.” He never returned to America.

On the 15th of October a committee from Congiess arrived in camp, sent to hold a conference with Washington, and with delegates from the governments of Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire, on the subject of a new organization of the army. The committee consisted of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Lynch of Carolina, and Colonel Harrison of Virginia. It was just twenty years since Washington had met Franklin in Braddock's camp, aiding that unwary general by his sagacious counsels and prompt expedients. Franklin was regarded with especial deference in the camp at Cambridge. Greene who had never met with him before, listened to him as to an oracle.

Washington was president of the board of con. erence, and Mr. Joseph Reed secretary. The committee brought an intimation from Congress that an attack upon Bostor. was much desired, it practicable.

а

Washington called a council of war of his gen, erals on the subject; they were unanimously of the opinion that an attack would not be prudent at present. Another question now arose.

An attack upon the British forces in Boston, whenever it should take place, might require a bombardment; Washington inquired of the delegates how far it might be pushed to the destruction of houses and property. They considered it a question of too much importance to be decided by them, and said it must be referred to Congress. But though they declined taking upon themselves the responsibility, the majority of them were strongly in favor of it; and expressed themselves so, when the matter was discussed informally in camp.

Two of the committee, Lynch and Harrison, as well as Judge Wales, delegate from Connecticut, when the possible effects of a bombardment were suggested at a dinner table, declared that they would be willing to see Boston in flames. Lee, who was present, observed that it was impossible to burn it unless they sent in men with bundles of straw to do it. “ It could not be done with carcasses and red-hot shot. Isle Royal,” he added, “ in the river St. Lawrence, had been fired at for a long time in 1760, with a fine train of artillery, hots shot and carcasses, without effect.” 1

The board of conference was repeatedly iu session, for three or four days. The report of its deliberations rendered by the committee, produced a resolution of Congress, that a new army of

1 Life of Dr. Belknap, p. 96. The doctor was present al ? above-cited conversation.

REED RETURNS HOME.

87

twenty-two thousand two hundred and seventytwo men and officers, should be formed, to be re. cruited as much as possible from the troops actually in service. Unfortunately the term for which they were to be enlisted was to be but for one year. It formed a precedent which became a recurring cause of embarrassment throughout the

war.

Washington's secretary, Mr. Reed, had, after the close of the conference, signified to him his intention to return to Philadelphia, where his private concerns required his presence. His de parture was deeply regretted.

His fluent pen had been of great assistance to Washington in the dispatch of his multifarious correspondence, and his judicious counsels and cordial sympathies had been still more appreciated by the commanderin-chief, amid the multiplied difficulties of his situation. On the departure of Mr. Reed, his place as secretary was temporarily supplied by Mr. Robert Harrison of Maryland, and subsequently by Colonel Mifflin; neither, however, attained to the affectionate confidence reposed in their predecessor.

We shall have occasion to quote the correspondence kept up between Washington and Reed, during the absence of the latter. The letters of the former are peculiarly interesting, as giving views of what was passing, not merely around him, but in the recesses of his own heart. No greater proof need be given of the rectitude of that heart, than the clearness and fullness with which, in these truthful documents, every thought and feeling is laid open.

« PrejšnjaNaprej »