Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

with their lives and fortunes, as the general of their army, in defence of the country. General Washing. Ton instantly prepared to enter upon the eventful du. ties of his command. The difficulties which he was to encounter, will clearly appear froin a slight view of the state of the country, and of the condition of the army.

As a means to repel the encroachments of the Bria tish Parliament, the American merchants had generally entered into resolutions, not to import articles of mer. chandise from Great Britain ; and at the commencement of the war, the country was, in a great degree, destitute of ammunition, and of every material necessa ry to clothe an army, and furnish the men with tents. There were no considerable magazines of provisions, and few tools suitable for the work of fortification The men who composed the army were raised by dif ferent States, on short enlistments, and on different establishments; and they carried into the camp, the feelings and habits formed by their respective pursuits in private life. They were animated by the love of liberty, and possessed the resolution and bravery of hạrdy yeomanry; but they could not easily be brought to submit to the rigid rules of military subordination and discipline. The authority of Congress and of different Colonies was blended in all the arrangements of the army. These causes occasioned numerous and coinplicated embarrassments to the Commander in Chief.

The appointment of General WASHINGTON was uni. versally approved. On his journey to head quarters, he met with the most respectful attention, and receive ed the fullest assurances of assistance and support. He was escorted by companies of volunteers; and, at Springfield, a hundred miles from Boston, a Committee of the Congress of Massachusetts met, and attended him to Cambridge.

On his arrival that body presented him an JULY 2, address, in which they expressed their entire 1775.

satisfaction with his appointinent, and pledged

the most effectual co-operation with his measures, in their power. His answer was well calculated to in. crease the attachinent to his person, and the confidence in his talents, which the publick already entertained.

Gentlemen, your kind congratulations on any appointment and arrival, demand my warmest acknowledgments, and will ever be retained in grateful remembrance. In exchanging the enjoyment of domestick life, for the duties of my present honourable, but arduous situation, I only emulate the virtue and publick spirit of the whole Province of Massachusetts, which, with a firmness and patriotism without an example, has sacrificed all the comforts of social and po. litical life, in support of the rights of mankind, and the welfare of our common country. My highest ambition is to be the happy instrument of vindicating these rights, and to see this devoted Province again restored lo peace, liberty, and safety."

The British army, at this time, commanded by General Gaye, was strongly posted in three divisions; on Bunker's Hill, a mile from the ferry of Charles's River, on Cop's Hill in Boston, and on Roxbury neck. These fortified posts secured the istlimus of Boston, and that of Charlestown, the only avenues by land into those towns. Floating batteries and armed ships, stationed in the waters which surround Boston, supported the positions of the British, and kept open the communication between them.

The American army was posted at Roxbury, Cam bridge, and on Winter and Prospect Hills, in front of Burker's Hill. These positions formed a crescent of twelve miles in extent After reconnoitring the situation of the enemy, and examining the state of his own army, the General attempted a better organization of the troops. He formed them into three divisions ; the division at Roxbury formed the right wing of the arnıy, and was commanded by General Ward ; thu division on Prospect and Winter Hills coniposed tho

left wing, and was commanded by General Lee; and the troops at Cambridge formed the centre, and wero commanded by General Washington in person. The forces were deemed incompetent to defend this extended camp, but the situation of the country did not fa vour a more compact arrangement; nor could the neighbouring country be otherwise defended from the depredations of the enemy.

These positions were secured by lines and forts ; and a few companies of men were posted in the towns around Boston Bay, most exposed to annoyance by British armed vessels.

General Washington found himself embarrassed by the total want of system in every department of the army. In the execution of the duties of his commission, it became necessary to open a correspondence, not only with the Continental Congress, and with most of the Governments of the Colonies, but also with the Committees of all those towns which furnished supplies for the army. In a letter to Congress on this subject, he observes,

“I should be extremely deficient of gratitude, as well as justice, if I did not take the first opportunity to acknowledge the readiness and attention which the Congress, and the different Committees have shown, to make every thing as convenient and agreeable as possible ; but there is a vital and inherent principle of delay, incompatible with military service, in transacting business through such various and different channels. I esteem ii my duty, therefore, to represent the inconvenience that must unavoidably ensue from a dependence on a number of persons for supplies, and submit it to the consideration of Congress, whether the publick service will not be the best promoted by appointing a Commissarv General for the purpose.”

An inquiry into the state of the magazine of powder was among the first cares of General Washington, and three hundred and three barrels in store was the

return made to him. Soon after he discovered, that :his return embraced the whole quantity brought into camp, without deducting what had been expended; and that there remained on hand only sufficient to furnish the army with nine cartridges a man. While the greatest caution was used to keep this alarming fact a secret, the utmost exertions were employed to obtain a supply of this article of absolute necessity in war. Application was made to all the Colonies, and measures were adopted, to import powder into the country. The immediate danger was soon removed by an arrival of a small quantity sent from Elizabethtown, in New-Jersey. Under the perplexities which arose from the defect of arins, the want of clothing and magazines, from the want of engineers, and from the confused state of the staff department, the mind of General Washington was, in some measure, cheered by a view of the men who composed his troops. “It requires,” says he, in a letter to the President of Congress,

no military skill to judge of the difficulty of introducing proper discipline and subordination into an army, while we have the enemy in view, and are daily in expectation of an attack ; but it is of so much iinportance, that every effort will be made that time and circumstances will admit. In the mean time, I have a sincere pleasure in observing that there are materials for a good army; a great number of able bodied men, active, zealous in the cause, and of unquestionable courage.” The details of the departments of the Pay. master, Quartermaster, and Commissary, fell upon General WASHINGTON, and he urged Congress to fill then. Being himself authorised to inake the appointments, he called to his assistance the general staff, which is necessary for the regular support and expeditious movements of an army; and assiduously prosecuted plans to organize and discipline his troops.

General Gage had, at his disposal, a force consist ins of cight th:usand men, and, by the aid of his

[ocr errors]

shipping, he was enabled to diract it to any point of the extended lines of the Americans, whose army did not amount to more than fourteen thousand and five hundred men.

General WASHINGTON was fully apprized of his danger, and early summoned the General officers to deliberate upon the expediency of attempting to support their prosent position, or of taking one in their rear more compact. The council with unanimity advised to remain in their present lines. The reasons in support of this opinion were, the immediate effect which a retrograde movement would have to animate the British, and to depress the American troops; the unfavourable impression that would be made upon thu publick mind; the devastation of the fertile country, that must be opened to the enemy, and the difficulty of finding a strong position in the rear. As a precautionary measure, it was determined that they would not take possession of the heights of Dorchester, nor oppose the attempt of General Gage to gain them.

In case of an attack and defeat, the heights in Cambridge,* and the rear of the lines in Roxbury, were appointed as places of rendezvous. The enemy was watched with vigilant attention ; and any movements which threatened a distant invasion, were communicated to Congress, and to the Execu. tives of the Provinces particularly exposed.

The enemy had been taugiit respect for the Ameri. can army by the battle of Bunker's Hill, and their plans, from that period through the year, were direct. ed to self defence. With little interruption, both ar. mies were employed in strengthening their respective lines and posts. The few skirnishes which took place between smali parties neither in their nature nor their consequences merit notice.

The mere defence of lines did not satisfy the enter: prizing and patriotick mind of General WASHINGTON.

* Judge Marshall denominates these heights, « Welch Mountains.” This name is not known in their vicinity.

« AnteriorContinuar »