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CHAP. III. after which, general Gage published a procla1775. mation, declaring martial law to be in force,
and offering pardon to those who would lay down their arms and submit to the king, with the exception of Samuel Adams and John
Hancock. " This proclamation, like every other measure
designed to intimidate or divide, served only to increase the activity of the Americans, by strengthening their conviction that arms, and arms alone, were to be relied upon for ultimate safety.
It having been conjectured, from intelligence received respecting the movements of the British army, that general Gage intended to penetrate into the country ; it was recommended by the provincial congress to the council of war, to take the necessary measures for the defence of Dorchester neck, and to occupy Bunker's hill, a very high and commanding piece of ground just within the peninsula on which Charlestown stands, and which had hitherto been neglected by both armies. * In observance of these instructions, a detachment of one thousand men, under the command of colonel Prescot, was ordered to take possession of this ground; but by some mistake, Breed's Hill, situated on the farther part of the penin- CHAP. III. sula, next to Boston, was marked out instead 1775. of Bunker's hill for the intrenchments proposed to be thrown up.
* Charlestown is separated from Boston only by a narrow sheet of water, over which a bridge has since been thrown.
The party sent on this service proceeded to Breed's hill, and worked with so much diligence and secrecy, that, by the dawn of day, they had thrown' up a small square redoubt, about forty yards on each side; without having given the least alarm to some ships of war which were stationed in the river at no great distance from them. As soon as light had discovered this new work to the enemy, a heavy cannonade was commenced upon it, which the provincials bore with firmness. They continued their labour until they had thrown up a small breast work stretching from the east side of the re.. doubt to the bottom of the hill, so as very con-' siderably to extend their line of defence.
As this eminence overlooked Boston, general Gage thought it necessary to drive the provincials from it. To effect this object, he detached major general Howe, and brigadier general Pigot, at the head of ten companies of grenadiers, and the same number of light infantry, with a proper proportion of field artillery. These troops landed at Moreton's point where they immediately formed; but, perceiving the Americans to wait for them with firmness, they remained on their ground until the success of the enterprise should be rendered secure by
CHAP. III. the arrival of a re-enforcement from Boston,
for which general Howe had applied. During this interval the Americans also were re-en. forced by a body of their countrymen led by generals Warren and Pommeroy; and they availed themselves of this delay, to increase their security by pulling up some adjoining post and rail fences, and arranging them in two parallel lines at a small distance from each other; the space between which they filled up with hay, so as to form a complete cover from the musketry of the enemy.
On being joined by their second detachment, the British troops, who were formed in two lines, advanced slowly under cover of a very heavy discharge of cannon and howitzers, frequently halting in order to allow their artillery time to demolish the works. While they were advancing, orders were given to set fire to Charlestown, a handsome village containing about five hundred houses, which flanked their line of march. The buildings were chiefly of wood, and the flames were quickly communicated so extensively, that almost the whole town was in one great blaze.*
* To justify this severe policy, it has been alleged that the houses afforded a cover to the Americans, who fired on the flank of the British columns advancing against Breed's hill; but the truth of this assertion is denied by all the provincial accounts, which allege, with great proIt is not easy to conceive a more grand and CHAP. III. a more awful spectacle than was now exhibited; 1775. nor a moment of more anxious expectation than that which was now presented. The scene of action was in full view of the heights of Boston and of its neighbourhood, which were covered with spectators taking deep and opposite interests in the events passing before them. The soldiers of the two hostile armies not on duty, the citizens of Boston, and the inhabitants of the adjacent country, all feeling emotions which set description at defiance, were witnesses of the majestic and tremendous scene.
The provincials permitted the enemy to ap- Battle of proach unmolested within less than one hundred yards of their works, when they poured in upon them so deadly a fire of small arms that the British line was totally broken, and fell back with precipitation towards the landing place. By the very great exertions of their officers they were rallied, and brought up to the charge; but were again driven back in confusion by the heavy and incessant fire from the works. General Howe is said to have been left at one time almost alone, and it is certain that very few officers about his person escaped unhurt.
The impression to be made by victory or defeat, in this early stage of the war, was
bability, that the troops were withdrawn from the town under an apprehension that the enemy, after passing it, might suddenly turn upon them and cut off their retreat.
CHAP. III. deemed of the utmost consequence; and, there1775.
fore, very extraordinary exertions were made once more to rally the English. With great difficulty, they were a third time led up to the works. The redoubt was now attacked on three sides at once, while some pieces of artillery, which had been brought to bear on the breast work, raked it from end to end. The cross fire too, from the ships and floating batteries, not only annoyed the works on Breed's hill, but deterred any considerable re-enforcements from passing into the peninsula, and coming to their assistance. The ammunition of the Americans was now so nearly exhausted, that they were no longer able to keep up the same incessant stream of fire, which had twice repulsed the enemy; and, on this third attempt, the redoubt, the walls of which the English mounted with case, was carried at the point of the bayonet. Yet the Americans, many of whom were without bayonets, are said to have maintained the contest with clubbed muskets, until the redoubt was half filled with the king's troops.
The redoubt being lost, the breast work, which had been defended with equal courage and obstinacy, was necessarily abandoned; and the very hazardous operation undertaken, of retreating, in the face of a victorious enemy, over Charlestown neck; where they were exposed to the same cross fire from the Glasgow man of war and two floating batteries, which