The War of American Independence

The manner in which this battle was fought was a type of the whole contest in New England, from the time when the tea was destroyed till Boston was evacuated. It is the most striking, perhaps the only complete, instance which all history affords, of the whole population of a country, selfmoved, and self-governed, acting together with great unanimity and vigor, yet acting patiently, prudently, and with even a punctilious regard for the laws, while their excitement was intense, and while they were bravely defying a powerful empire, and setting at nought an authority, which, when exercised within the bounds of justice, they and their fathers had always implicitly, and even lovingly, recognized. The first action of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, after the battle of Lexington, was characteristic of the men and the times. They appointed a committee to take the depositions of those who were present, in order to prove that the British fired first. If they had been conducting a lawsuit about the title to a farm, they could not have been more anxious to collect testimony, and show that the law' was on their side. Most of the resolutions which they passed at this period, were accompanied by formidable preambles, in which the justice and legality of the measure proposed were demonstrated at length, though often with more earnestness than logic. The time for action had now arrived, and it soon appeared that the spirit which the people had shown at Lexington was no transient feeling. Within a few days, an army of about 16,000 men had come together, and the siege of Boston was begun. This, again, was a spontaneous and unconcerted movement they assembled before preparations were made for them, before a commander in-chief had been appointed, or any plan of action formed. Rhode Island and Connecticut retained the control of their own troops, and the care of providing them with arms and sustenance, merely instructing them to cooperate with the Massachusetts army. But for the excellent spirit of the men, the army would have been merely an armed mob. But the ranks were filled with steady farmers and mechanics, who were brought thither by their attachment to the cause, and who needed little discipline to keep them in order.

Ammunition and artillery were yet wanting, though great exertions had been made to obtain military stores. But this want was partially supplied by an enterprise of the Green Mountain Boys,' as the inhabitants of the country which is now the State of Vermont were then called. It was known that the fortresses of Ticonderoga and Crown Point had but slender garrisons and were imperfectly guarded. Ethan Allen and Seth Warner, who commanded some armed volunteers in that region, undertook upon their own responsibility to take these forts by surprise, and they succeeded, May, 1775. Two hundred pieces of artillery and a considerable supply of powder were thus obtained for the camp near Boston. The British army at that place had been reinforced, and now amounted to 10,000 men, under Generals Howe, Clinton, and Burgoyne. To straiten their quarters, Col. Prescott was sent, with about a thousand men from the American army, to throw up an entrenchment on Bunker's Hill in Charlestown. A small redoubt was constructed there in the night time, on which, as soon as it was discovered in the morning, the English ships in the harbor opened their fire, June 17. This produced but little effect; and the rein forcements sent to Prescott during the forenoon enabled him to throw up an imperfect breast-work, and other slight fortifications outside of the redoubt. Generals Putnam, Pomeroy, and Warren joined him at this time, but did not take the command out of his hands. Three thousand men were sent over at noon from Boston, led by Howe and Pigot, to take the hill by assault. They advanced bravely, but the fire of the Americans was so close and well-sustained, that the British wavered, and fell back in great disorder. Gage then ordered the village of Charlestown, which was near the foot of the hill, to be set on fire, and while the flames were raging, the troops again moved forward. Again, as they approached the redoubt, the murderous fire of the Americans, many of whom were practiced marksmen, burst forth, and again the assailants were driven back to the landing place. They formed and advanced a third time, and as the ammunition of the Americans was now nearly spent, they succeeded in getting possession of the hill. But their opponents retired in a body, and were not pursued, though they suffered much from the fire of the shipping in their retreat. The victory of Howe might well be considered a defeat, for he lost over a thousand men in killed and wounded, while the American loss was not half as great. But Gen. Warren was among the slain. The battle was as characteristic as that of Lexington; a Colonel commanded, and three Generals either served under him, or acted independently in directing the troops. The result was very encouraging to the Americans, as it proved that their raw levies were capable of waging a desperate conflict with regular troops.