« ZurückWeiter »
December, when the first term of service expired, only nine thousand six hundred and fixty inen had enlisted for the new army, and many of these were of necessity permitted to be absent on furlough. It was found impossible to retain the old troops a single day after their times expired. General WASHINGTON called upon the Governments of the neighbouring Provinces for de tachments of militia to man his lines, and he was high ly gratified by the prompt compliance with his demand In a letter to Congress he writes, “ The militia that are come in, both from this Province and New Hampshire, are very fine looking men, and go through their duty with great alacrity. The despatch made, both by the people in marching, and by the Legislative powers in complying with iny requisition, has given me infinite satisfaction.”
In the space of time, between that of dishanding the old army, and of an effective force from the now recruits, the lines were often in a defenceless state ; the enemy must have known the fact; and no adequato reason can be assigned, wliy an attack was not made.
“It is not," says General Washington, in JAN;4, his communications to Congress, “ in the 1776.
pages of history to furnish a case like ours. To maintain a post, within musket shot of the enemy, for six months together, without ammunition, and, at the same time, to disband one army and recruit another, within that distance of twenty odd British regiments, is more, probably, than ever was attempted. But if we succeed as well in the last, as we have heretofore in the first, I shall think it the most fortunate event of my whole life.”
To defend the American lines with an incompetent number of troops, with defective arms, and without an adequate supply of amn. unition ; to disband one army and recruit another in the face of eight thousand Bri. tish soldiers, will be viewed as a hazardous measure, and will be supposed, with the organization and disci. pline of the men, to have employed every active power of the General; yet this did not satisfy his mind. He knew, that Congress, with anxious solicitude contemplated more decisive measures, and that the country looked for events of greater magnitude. The publick was ignorant of his actual situation, and conceived his means for offensive operations to be much greater, than in reality they were; and from him expected the capture or expulsion of the British army in Boston. He felt the importance of securing the confidence of his countrymen by some brilliant action, and was fully sensible that his own reputation was liable to suffer, if he confined himself solely to measures of defence. To publish to his anxious country, in his vindication, the state of his army, would be to acquaint the enemy with his weakness, and to involve his destruction.
The firmness and patriotism of General WASHINGton, were displayed in making the good of his country an object of higher consideration, than the applause of those, who were incapable of forming a correct opinion of the propriety of his measures. On this, and on many other occasions during the war, he withstood the voice of the populace, rejected the entreaties of the sanguine, and refused to adopt the plans of the rash, that he might ultimately secure the great object of contention.
While he resolutely rejected every measure, that in nis calm and deliberate judgment, he did not approve, he daily pondered upon the practicability of a successful attack upon Boston. As a preparatory step, he took possession of Plowed Hill, Cobble Hill, und Lechmere's Prirt, and upon them erected fortifications. These posts brought him within half a mile of the enemy's works on Bunker's Hill; and, by his artillery, he drove the British floating batteries fr: m their stations in Charles's River. Heerected floating batteries, to watch the movements of his enemy, and to aid in any offensive operations, that circumstances might warrant. Me tvok the opinion of his General Officers a second time respecting the meditated attack; they again unanimously gave their opinion in opposition to the measure, and this opinion was immediately communicated to Congress. Congress appeared still to favour the attempt, and, that an apprehension of dan. ger to the town of Boston, might not have an vnduo influence upon the operations of the army, resolved,
“That if General WASHINGTON and his Dec. 1775. Council of war should be of opinion, that
a successful attack might be made on the troops in Boston, he should inake it in any manner he might think expedient, notwithstanding the town, and property therein, might thereby be destroyed.”
General Howe had, in October, succeeded General Gage in the command of the British army, and through the winter confined himself to measures of defence.
The inability of the American General to accomplish the great object of the campaign, repeatedly pointed out by Congress, was a source of extreme mortification; but he indulged the hope of success in some military operations during the winter, that would correspond with the high expectations of his country, and procure him honour in his exalted station of Com mander in Chief of the American armies. In his re
ply to the President of Congress, on the re JAN,6, ception of the resolution, authorizing an at1776.
tack on the fortified posts in Boston, he observed, “ The resolution i elative to the troops in Bos. ton, I beg the favour of you, Sir, to assure Congress, shall be attempted to be put in execution the first moment I see a probability of success, and in such a way as a Council of officers shall think cost likely to produce it; but if this should not happen as soon as you may expect, or my wishes prompt to, I request that Congress will be pleased to revert to my situation, and do me the justice to believe that circumstances, and not want of inclination, are the cause of delay.”
Early in January, he accordingly summoned a Council of war, at which Mr. John Adams, then a Member of Congress, and Mr. James Warren, President of the Provincial Congress of Massachusetts, were present; in which it was resolved, “ That a vigorous attempt ought to be made on the ministerial troops in Boston, before they can be reinforced in the Spring, if the means can be provided, and a favourable opportunity shall offer.” It was also advised, “ That thirteen regiments of militia should be asked for, from Massachusetts and the neighbouring Colonies, in or. der to put them in a condition to make the attempt. The militia to assemble the first of February, and to continue, if necessary, until the first of March.” The reinforcements thus obtained, amounted to between four and five thousand men; but thus far the winter proved unusually mild, and the waters about Boston were not frozen. The General, in his official communication to the National Legislature, says, “ Congress in my last, would discover my motives for strengthening these lines with the militia but whether, as the weather turns out exceeding mild, insomuch as to promise nothing favourable from ice, and there is no appearance of powder, I shall be able to attempt any thing decisive, time only can determine. No person on earth wishes more earnestly to destroy the nest in Boston than I do; no person would be willing to go greater lengths than I shall to accomplish it, if it shall be thought adviseable ; but if we have neither powder to bornbard with, nor ice to pass on, we shall be in no better situation than we have been in all the year : we shall be worse, because their works aro stronger."
While anxiously waiting to embrace any favourable opportunity that might present to annoy the enemy, General WASHINGTON seriously meditated upon the importance of establishing a permanent army. His experience enabled him to anticipate the evils that must ensue at the expiration of the period for which
the present troops were engaged, and he bent tho whole force of his mind to induce Congress seasonably to adopt measures to prevent them. In a letter to the President of Congress, dated February 9, he entered thus fully into the subject.
“ The disadvantages attending the limited enlist. ment of troops, are too apparent to those who are eye witnesses of them, to render any animadversions necessa-y; but to gentlemen at a distance, whose attention is engrossed by a thousand important objects, the case may be otherwise.
“That this cause precipitated the fate of the brave, and much to be lamented General Montgomery, and brought on the defeat which followed thereupon, I have not the most distant doubt : for, had he not been apprehensive of the troops leaving him at so important a crisis, but continued the blockade of Quebeck, a capitulation, (from the best accounts I have been able to collect) must inevitably have followed. And, that we were not at one time obliged to dispute these lines, under disadvantageous circumstances, (proceeding from the same cause, to wit, the troops disbanding themselves before the militia could be got in) is to me a matter of wonder and astonishment ; and proves that General Howe was either unacquainted with our situation, or restrained by his instructions from putting any thing to a hazard till his reinforcements should arrive.
" The instance of General Montgomery, (I mention it because it is a striking one; for a number of others might be adduced) proves, that instead of having men to take advantage of circumstances, you are in a manner compelled, right or wrong, to make circumstances yield to a secondary consideration. Since the first of December, I have been devising every means in my prwer to secure these oncampments; and though I am sensible that we never have, since that period, been able to act upon the offensive, and at times not in a