Washington, George, 1732-1799. The writings of George Washington from the original manuscript sources: Volume 4
Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library

| Table of Contents for this work |
| All on-line databases | Etext Center Homepage |

To THE PRESIDENT OF CONGRESS Cambridge, March 7, 1776.

    Sir: On the 26th Ulto, I had the Honor of addressing you, and then mentioned, that we were making preparations for taking possession of Dorchester Heights. I now beg leave to Inform you, that a Council of General Officers having determined a previous Bombardment and Cannonade expedient and proper, in order to harrass the Enemy and divert their attention from that Quarter, on Saturday, Sunday and Monday nights last, we carried them on from our posts at Cobble Hill, Leechmore's point and Lam's Dam. 17 Whether they did the Enemy any considerable and what Injury, I have not yet heard, but have the pleasure to acquaint you, that they greatly facilitated our schemes, and would have been attended with success equal to our most sanguine expectations, had it not been for the unlucky bursting of two thirteen and Three Ten Inch Mortars, among which was the Brass one, taken in the ordinance Brig. To what cause to attribute this Misfortune I

[Note:Ford quotes from Centennial Evacuation, p. 12: "On the 23 Augt. 1775, the work of fortifying Lamb's Dam was begun, and upon the completion of that work, the line of fortification was advanced to a point a little south of the present Northampton Street. Lamb's Dam extended from about the junction of Hampden and Albany Sts. to a point near the present Walnut place. It was originally built to keep the tide from overflowing the marshes, and followed very nearly the present line of Northampton Street, diverging slightly to the southward as it neared the highway. At the termination of the Dam, on the upland, a strong breastwork was constructed, and from that the intrenchments extended across the highway. The works were completed Sept. 10, 1775." ]

Page 371

know not, whether to any defect in them, or to the inexperience of the Bombardiers. But to return, on Monday Evening as soon as our firing commenced, a considerable detachment of our men, under the command of Brigadier General Thomas, crossed the Neck and took possession of the two Hills, without the least Interruption or annoyance from the Enemy, and by their great Activity and Industry before the morning advanced the Works so far, as to be secure against their Shot. They are now going on with such expedition that in a little time I hope they will be complete, and enable our Troops stationed there, to make a vigorous and obstinate stand. during the whole Canonade, which was incessant the two last Nights we were fortunate enough to lose but two Men, one a Lieutenant by a cannon Bali's taking off his Thigh, the other a private by the explosion of a Shell which also slightly wounded four or five more.

    Our taking possession of Dorchester Heights is only preparatory to taking post on Nuke Hill and the points opposite the south end of Boston. It was absolutely necessary that they should be previously fortifyed, in order to cover and command them. As soon as the works on the former are finished and complete, measures will be immediately adopted for securing the latter and making them as strong and defensible as we can. Their contiguity to the Enemy, will make them of much Importance and of great service to us.

    As mortars are essential and indespensibly necessary for carrying on our Operations and the prosecution of our plans, I have applied to two Furnaces to have some thirteen Inch ones cast with all expedition imaginable, and am encouraged to hope from the accounts I have had, that they will be able to do it; when they are done, and a proper supply of Powder obtained, I flatter myself from the posts we have just taken, and

Page 372

are about to take, that it will be in our power to force the Ministerial Troops to an attack, or to dispose of 'em in some way that will be of advantage to us. I think from these posts, they will be so galled and annoyed, that they must either give us battle, or quit their present possessions. I am resolved that nothing on my part stall be wanting to effect the one or the other.

    It having been the general Opinion, that the Enemy would attempt to dislodge our People from the Hills, and force their Works, as soon as they were discovered, which probably might have brought on a general Engagement, It was thought advisable that the Honorable Council 18 should be applied to, to order in the Militia from the neighbouring and adjacent Towns, I wrote them on the Subject, which they most readily complied with; and in justice to the Militia, I cannot but inform you, that they came in at the appointed time, and manifested the greatest alertness and determined resolution to have acted like men engaged in the cause of Freedom.

[Note:The council of the Massachusetts Legislature. ]

    When the Enemy first discovered our works in the morning, they seemed to be in great confusion, and from their movements to have intended an attack.

    It is much to be wished, that it had been made. The event I think must have been fortunate, and nothing less than success and victory on our side, as our Officers and men appeared Impatient for the appeal, and to have possessed the most animated Sentiments and determined Spirit.

    On Tuesday evening a considerable number of their Troops embarked on board their Transports and fell down to the Castle, where part of them landed before dark; one or two of the Vessels got a ground and were fired at by our People with a Field piece, but without any Damage. What was the design

Page 373

of this embarkation and landing, I have not been able to learn; It would seem as if they meant an attack, for it is most probable, that if they make one on our Works at Dorchester at this time, that they will first go to the Castle and come from thence. If such was their design, a violent storm that night and which lasted 'till Eight O'Clock the next day, rendered the execution of it impracticable. It carried one or two of their Vessels a shore, which have since got off. 19

[Note:Ford quotes Sir William Howe's account of the evacuation, in a letter to the Earl of Dartmouth (March 21): "On the 2d inst. at night they began a cannonade upon the town; the same was repeated on the evening of the 3d and 4th. On the 5th in the morning it was discovered that the enemy had thrown up three very extensive works with strong abatties on the commanding hills on Dorchester Neck, which must have been the employment of at least 12,000 men. In a situation so critical I determined upon immediate attack; the ardour of the troops encouraged me in this hazardous enterprise, and regiments were expeditiously embarked on board transports to fall down the harbour; but the wind unfortunately coming contrary and blowing very hard the ships were not able to get to their destination.…The weather continuing boisterous the next day and night gave the enemy time to improve their works, to bring up their cannon, and to put themselves into such a state of defense that I could promise myself little success by attacking them under such disadvantages; wherefore I judged it most advisable to prepare for the evacuation of the town.…This operation was effected on the 17th, and all the rear guard embarked at 9 o'clock in the morning, without the least loss, irregularity or accident." ]

    In case the Ministerial Troops had made an Attempt to dislodge our Men from Dorchester Hills, and the number detached upon the occasion, had been so great as to have afforded a probability of a successful attack's being made upon Boston, on a signal given from Roxbury for that purpose, agreeable to a settled and concerted plan; Four thousand chosen men who were held in readiness, were to ford have embarked at the mouth of Cambridge River in two divisions; The first under the command of Brig. Genl. Sullivan, the second under Brig. Genl. Greene, the whole to have been commanded by Major General Putnam. The first division was to land at the Powder House and gain possession of Bacon Hill and Mount Horam. The second at Barton's Point or a little South of it, and after securing that post, to join the other division and force the Enemy's Works and Gates for letting in the Roxbury Troops. Three

Page 374

floating batteries were to have proceeded and gone in Front of the other Boats, and kept up a heavy fire on that part of the Town where our men where to land. How far our views would have succeeded, had an Opportunity offered for attempting the Execution, is impossible for me to say. Nothing but experiment could determine with precision. The Plan was thought to be well digested and as far as I could judge from the cheerfulness and alacrity which distinguished the Officers and men who were to engage in the enterprize, I had reason to hope for a favourable and happy Issue.

    The Militia which were ordered in, from the Adjacent Towns, brought with them three days Provisions. They were only called upon to Act under the Idea of an Attack's being immediately made, and were all discharged this Afternoon.

    I beg leave to remind Congress that three Major Generals are essential and necessary for this Army, and that by General Lee's being called from hence to the command in Canada, the left Division is without one. I hope they will fill up the Vacancy by the Appointment of another. General Thomas is the first Brigadier, stands fair in point of Reputation and is esteemed a brave and good Officer. If he is promoted, there will be a vacancy in the Brigadier Generals, which it will be necessary to supply by the appointment of some other Gentleman, that shall be agreeable to Congress. But justice requires me to mention that William Thompson Esquire of the Rifle Regiment is the first Colonel of this department, and as far as I have had an Opportunity of Judging, is a good Officer and a man of Courage. What I have said of these two Gentlemen, I conceive to be my duty, at the same time acknowledging whatever promotions are made will be satisfactory to me.

    March 9th. Yesterday evening a Captain Irvine, who escaped from Boston the night before, with Six of his crew, came to

Page 375

Head Quarters and gave the following Intelligence "That our Bombardment and Cannonade caused much surprize in Town, as many of the Soldiery said they never heard or thought we had Mortars or Shells"

    "That several of the Officers acknowledged they were well and properly directed. That they occasioned much distress and confusion; that the Cannon Shot, for the greatest part went thro' the Houses and he was told, that one took of the Legs and Arms of 6 men lying in the Barracks on the Neck; That a Soldier who came from the Lines there on Tuesday Morning Informed him, that: 20 men had been wounded the night before; It was also reported that others had been hurt, and one of the Light Horse torn to pieces by the explosion of a Shell, this was afterwards contradicted; That early on Tuesday Morning -- Admiral Shuldam discovering the Works our People were throwing up on Dorchester Heights, immediately sent an Express to General Howe to inform him, that it was necessary that they should be attacked and dislodged from thence, or he would be under the necessity of withdrawing the Ships from the Harbour under his command; That preparations were directly made for that purpose as it was said, and from twelve to two OClock, about 3000 men embarked on board the Transports which fell down to the Castle, with a design of Landing on that part of Dorchester next to it, and attacking the Works at 5 O'Clock next morning; That Lord Piercy was appointed to command, and that it was generally believed the attempt would have been made, had it not been for the Violent Storm which happened that night, as I have mentioned before; That he heard several of the privates and one or two Serjeants say, as they were embarking that it would be another Bunker Hill affair. He further Informs that the Army is preparing to leave Boston, and that they will do it in a day or two; That

Page 376

Transports necessary for their embarkation were getting ready with the utmost expedition; That there had been great movements and confusion amongst the Troops the night and day preceeding his coming out, in hurrying down their Cannon, Artillery and other Stores to the Wharfs with the utmost precipitation, and were putting them on board the Ships in such haste that no account or memorandum was taken of them; That more of their cannon were removed from their works and embarked and embarking. That he heard a Woman say, which he took to be an Officer's wife, that she had seen Men go under ground at their Lines on the neck without returning; That the Ship he commanded was taken up, places fitted and fitting for Officers to lodge and several Shot, Shells and Cannon already on board. That the Tories were to have the Liberty of going where they pleased, If they could get Seamen to man the Vessels, of which there was great scarcity. On that account many Vessels could not be carried away, and would be burnt. That many of the Inhabitants apprehended the Town would be destroyed, and that their destination is Halifax.

    The Account given by Capt. Irvine as to the embarkation and their being about to leave the Town I believe true, there are other corroborating circumstances and it seems fully confirmed by a paper, -- signed by four of of the Select Men of the Town, (a Copy of which I have the honor to enclose you) which was brought out Yesterday evening by a Flag and delivered Colonel Learned by Major Bassett of the 10th Regiment, who desired it might be given me as soon as possible: I advised with such of the General Officers upon the Occasion as I could immediately Assemble and we determined it right, as it was not addressed to me, or any one else, nor authenticated by the signature of General Howe or any other Act Obliging him to a performance of the promise mentioned on his part, that I

Page 377

should give it no Answer, at the same time, that a Letter should be returned as going from Col. Learned signifying his having laid it before me with the reasons assigned for not answering it. -- A Copy of this is also sent you. 20

[Note:"Boston, 8 March, 1776.

   "As his Excellency General Howe is determined to leave the Town with the Troops Under his Command, a Number of the Respectable Inhabitants, being very Anxious for its preservation and safety, have applied to General Robertson for this purpose, who at their request has communicated the same to his Excellency Genl. Howe, who has assured him, that he has no intention of destroying the Town, unless the Troops under his command are molested during their Embarkation or at their departure, by the Armed force without, which declaration he gave Genl. Robertson leave to communicate to the Inhabitants; If such an Opposition should take place, we have the greatest reason to expect the Town will be exposed to Intire destruction. As our fears are quieted with regard to Genl. Howe's Intentions, we beg we may have some assurances that so dreadful a Calamity may not be brought on by any measures without. As a Testimony of the truth of the Above, we have signed our Names to this paper, carried out by Messrs. Thomas and Jonathan Amory and Peter Johonnot, who have at the earnest Intreaties of the Inhabitants, through the Lt. Governor, Sollicited a flag of Truce for this purpose,

   "John Scollay, Timothy Newell, Thomas Marshall, Samuel Austin."

   The original is in the Washington Papers. It was drawn up by Newell, taken to the lines at Roxbury, and given to Colonel Learned, who carried it to headquarters. He returned, and handed the bearers of it the following letter:

   "Roxbury, 9 March, 1776.

   "Sir: Agreeably to a promise made to you at the Lines yesterday, I waited upon His Excellency General Washington, and presented to Him the Paper (handed to me by you) from the Select Men of Boston. The Answer I received from Him was to this effect: 'That, as it was an unauthenticated Paper; without an Address, and not Obligatory Upon General Howe; He would take no Notice of it.' I am, with esteem and respect, Gentlemen, your most obedt. Servt, "Ebenezer Learned."

   "To Messrs. Amorys and Johonnot."

   A copy of this letter, in the writing of Horatio Gates, is in the Washington Papers.

   Washington had no wish to injure the town unnecessarily, and despite his uncompromising reply the British were permitted to withdraw without molestation. ]

    To night I shall have a Battery thrown up on Nuke Hill (Dorchester point) with a design of acting as circumstances may require. It being judged adviseable to prosecute our plans of Fortification, as we intended before this Information from the Select Men came.

    It being agreed on all hands that there is no probability of stopping them, if they determine to go, I shall order look outs to be kept upon all the Headlands, to discover their Movements and course, and moreover direct Commodore Manly

Page 378

and his little Squadron to dog them, as well for the same purpose, as for picking up any of their Vessels that may chance to depart their Convoy; from their loading with such precipitancy, It's presumable they'l not be in the best condition for Sea.

    If the Ministerial Troops evacuate the Town and leave it standing, I have thoughts of taking measures for fortifying the entrance into the harbour, If it shall be thought proper and the situation of Affairs will admit of it.

    Notwithstanding the report from Boston that Hallifax is the place of their Destination, I have no doubt but that they are going to the Southward of this, and I apprehend to New York. Many reasons lead me to this Opinion, 21 It is in some measure corroborated by their sending an express Ship there which on Wednesday Week got on shore and bilged at Cape Cod. The Dispatches if written were destroyed when she was boarded; she had a parcel of Coal and about 4000 Cannon Shot, six Carriage Guns, 1 or 2 Swevils and three Barrels of Powder. I shall hold the Riflemen and other parts of our Troops in readiness to march at a Moments warning and Govern my movements by the events that happen, or such Orders as I may receive from Congress, which I beg may be ample and forwarded with all possible expedition.

[Note:This was the first, but by no means the last, of the many occasions during the war when the British puzzled Washington by their illogical and unreasonable movements. ]

    On the 6th. Instant a Ship bound from London with Stores for the Ministerial Army, consisting of coal, porter and Krout, fell in with our Armed Vessels, four of them in Company and was carried into Portsmouth. She had a long passage and of course brought no papers of a late date. The only Letters of Importance or the least interesting that were found I have enclosed.

    I beg leave to mention to Congress that Money is much wanted. The Militia from these Governments engaged 'till the

Page 379

1st of April are then to be paid, and if we march from hence, the Expence will be considerable must be defrayed and cannot be accomplished without it. the necessity of making the earliest remittance for these purposes is too obvious for me to add more.

    When I wrote that part of this Letter which is anteceedent to this date, I fully expected It would have gone before now by Col. Bull; not deeming it of sufficient importance to send a special Messenger, but he deferred his return from time to time and never set off 'till to day.

    These reasons I hope will excuse the delay and be received as a proper apology for not transmitting it sooner. I have the honor etc. 22

[Note:In the writing of Robert Hanson Harrison. ]