Revolution, 1753-1783

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Author: George Washington  | Date: March, 1776

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The Siege and Capture of Boston: Washington’s Own Reports to the President of Congress

ON THE 26th ultimo 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 harass 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, Lechmere’s Point, and Lamb’s Dam. 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 ordnance brig. To what cause to attribute this misfortune, I know not; whether to any defects 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 cannonade, which was incessant the two last nights, we were fortunate enough to lose but two men; one, a lieutenant, by a cannonball 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 Hook’s Hill, and the points opposite to the south end of Boston. It was absolutely necessary, that they should be previously fortified, in order to cover and command them. As soon as the works on the former are finished, 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….

In case the ministerial troops have 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, agreeably to a settled and concerted plan, four thousand chosen men, who were held in readiness, were to have embarked at the mouth of Cambridge River, in two divisions, the first under the command of Brigadier-General Sullivan, the second under Brigadier-General 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 Beacon 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 gates and works at the neck, for letting in the Roxbury troops. Three floating batteries were to have preceded, and gone in front of the other boats, and kept up a heavy fire on that part of the town where our men were to land….

YESTERDAY evening a Captain Irvine who escaped from Boston the night before with six of his crew, came to headquarters and gave the following intelligence:

That our bombardment and cannonade caused a good deal of surprise and alarm in town, as many of the soldiery said they never heard or thought we had mortars or shell; that several of the officers acknowledged they were well and properly directed; that they made much distress and confusion; that the cannon shot for the greatest part went through the houses, and he was told that one took off the legs and arms of six 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 reported that others were also 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 Shuldham discovering the works our people were throwing up on Dorchester Heights, immediately sent an express to General Howe to inform him, and that it was necessary they should be attacked and dislodged from thence, or he would be under the necessity of withdrawing the ships from the harbor, which were under his command; that preparations were directly made for that purpose as it was said, and from twelve to two o’clock about 3000 men embarked on board the transport which fell down to the Castle with a design of landing on that part of Dorchester next to it, and attacking the works on the Heights at five o’clock next morning; that Lord Percy was appointed to command; 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 sergeants 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 the transports necessary for their embarkation were getting ready with the utmost expedition; that there had been great movements and confusion among the troops night and day preceding his coming out, in hurrying down their cannon, artillery and other stores to the wharves with the utmost precipitation, and were putting ’em on board the ships in such haste that no account or memorandum was taken of them; that most of the cannon were removed from their works and embarked or embarking; that he heard a woman say, which he took to be an officer’s wife, that she had seen men go under the ground at the 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 please, if they can get seamen to man the vessels, of which there was a great scarcity; that 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 it was generally thought their destination is Halifax….

IN my letter of the 7th and 9th instant, which I had the honor of addressing you, I mentioned the intelligence I had received respecting the embarkation of the troops from Boston; and fully expected, before this, that the town would have been entirely evacuated. Although I have been deceived, and was rather premature in the opinion I had then formed, I have little reason to doubt that the event will take place in a very short time, as other accounts, which have come to hand since, the sailing of a great number of transports from the harbor to Nantasket Road, and many circumstances corresponding therewith, seem to confirm and render it unquestionable. Whether the town will be destroyed is a matter of much uncertainty; but it would seem, from the destruction they are making of sundry pieces of furniture, of many their wagons and carts, which they cannot take wit them as it is said, that it will not; for, if they intended it, the whole might be involved in one general ruin….

IT IS with the greatest pleasure I inform you that on Sunday last, the instant, about nine o’clock in the forenoon, the ministerial army evacuated the town of Boston, and that the forces of the United Colonies are now in actual possession thereof. I beg leave to congratulate you, Sir, and the honorable Congress, on this happy event, and particularly as it was effected without endangering the lives and property of the remaining unhappy inhabitants.

I have great reason to imagine their flight was precipitated by the appearance of a work, which I had ordered to be thrown up last Saturday night on an eminence at Dorchester, which lies nearest to Boston Neck, called Nook’s Hill. The town, although it has suffered greatly, is not in so bad a state as I expected to find it; and I have a particular pleasure in being able to inform you, Sir, that your house has received no damage worth mentioning. Your furniture is in tolerable order, and the family pictures are all left entire and untouched. Captain Cazneau takes charge of the whole, until he shall receive further orders from you.

As soon as the ministerial troops had quitted the town, I ordered a thousand men (who had had the smallpox), under command of General Putnam, to take possession of the heights, which I shall endeavor to fortify in such a manner, as to prevent their return, should they attempt it. But, as they are still in the harbor, I thought it not prudent to march off with the main body of the army, until I should be fully satisfied they had quitted the coast. I have, therefore, only detached five regiments, besides the rifle battalion, to New York, and shall keep the remainder here till all suspicion of their return ceases.

The situation in which I found their works evidently discovered, that their retreat was made with the greatest precipitation. They have left their barracks and other works of wood at Bunker’s Hill all standing, and have destroyed but a small part of their lines. They have also left a number of fine pieces of cannon, which they first spiked up, also a very large iron mortar; and, (as I am informed,) they have thrown another over the end of your wharf. I have employed proper persons to drill the cannon, and doubt not I shall save the most of them. I am not yet able to procure an exact list of all the stores they have left. As soon as it can be done, I shall take care to transmit it to you. From an estimate of what the quartermaster-general has already discovered, the amount will be twenty-five or thirty thousand pounds.

Part of the powder mentioned in yours of the 6th instant has already arrived. The remainder I have ordered to be stopped on the road, as we shall have no occasion for it here. The letter to General Thomas, I immediately sent to him. He desired leave, for three or four days, to settle some of his private affairs; after which, he will set out for his command in Canada. I am happy that my conduct in intercepting Lord Drummond’s letter is approved of by Congress. I have the honor to be, &c.

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Chicago: George Washington, "The Siege and Capture of Boston: Washington’s Own Reports to the President of Congress," Revolution, 1753-1783 in America, Vol.3, Pp.158-165 Original Sources, accessed December 2, 2022, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=XDTR13X81MAGJTA.

MLA: Washington, George. "The Siege and Capture of Boston: Washington’s Own Reports to the President of Congress." Revolution, 1753-1783, in America, Vol.3, Pp.158-165, Original Sources. 2 Dec. 2022. http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=XDTR13X81MAGJTA.

Harvard: Washington, G, 'The Siege and Capture of Boston: Washington’s Own Reports to the President of Congress' in Revolution, 1753-1783. cited in , America, Vol.3, Pp.158-165. Original Sources, retrieved 2 December 2022, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=XDTR13X81MAGJTA.