March 2, 1776


Congress changes its mind.  After sending Charles Lee orders to go to Canada, he is ordered instead to take immediate command of the Continental forces in the south where a British attack is expected.  In Georgia, at Cockspur Island, a British force led by Major John Maitland, met and skirmished with local Rebel militia, and the militia is forced to withdraw.

In Boston, matters of tremendous import are occurring.  Henry Knox, the rotund Bostonian bookseller, had set off over five weeks earlier with the seemingly impossible task of taking the munitions from Fort Ticonderoga, including the large cannons, and marching them all the way to Boston.  Despite the improbability of this idea, especially given the icy and snowy route, Knox has arrived with numerous arms, and Washington feels now ready to prepare for a plan of battle.

During the past couple months, every time Washington has proposed an attack, the generals at his councils of war have vetoed them as impracticable.  His plan now is to get those large cannons up to Dorchester Heights, which has been unaccountably left unmanned by the British.   Then they will be able to fire at will at the British.  Washington begins the process by the order of firing upon the British, which he hopes will allow him, on the night of March 4, to get those weapons on the top of the heights.

The operation is complex.  Lieutenant Colonel Rufus Putnam suggested, after seeing an unfamiliar term in a text on artillery, Muller’s Field Engineer, a scheme whereby the fortifications would be created out of sight, and then with numerous men and oxen, hauled, along with the heavy cannon, to the Heights of Dorchester where they would be ready for action at daybreak.  As the work parties took on the job building chandeliers, great timber frames that could be filled with “screwed hay” (hay twisted into bales) or compact bundles of branches and bushwood called fascines, Washington ordered barrels filled with earth set in rows in front of the parapets, to add to the appearance of strength, and to be ready to be rolled down the steep slopes of an advancing enemy.  To create maximum strength, 2,000 Massachusetts militia have been called out, and work details begin rounding up wagons, carts, and oxen.  The Boston Gazette called for volunteer nurses.

Taking a break from all of the preparation, Washington writes to Phyllis Wheatley, who has written a poem about Washington – “Proceed, great chief, with virtue on they side/They every action let the goddess guide.”  Washington writes with a striking familiarity and respect, given that Wheatley is a black woman and ex-slave:  “Your favour of the 26th of October did not reach my hands ’till the middle of December. Time enough, you will say, to have given an answer ere this. Granted. But a variety of important occurrences, continually interposing to distract the mind and withdraw the attention, I hope will apologize for the delay, and plead my excuse for the seeming, but not real, neglect.  I thank you most sincerely for your polite notice of me, in the elegant Lines you enclosed; and however undeserving I may be of such encomium and panegyrick, the style and manner exhibit a striking proof of your great poetical Talents. In honour of which, and as a tribute justly due to you, I would have published the Poem, had I not been apprehensive, that, while I only meant to give the World this new instance of your genius, I might have incurred the imputation of Vanity. This, and nothing else, determined me not to give it place in the public Prints.  If you should ever come to Cambridge, or near Head Quarters, I shall be happy to see a person so favourd by the Muses, and to whom nature has been so liberal and beneficent in her dispensations. I am, with great Respect, Your obedt humble servant…”

Hearing the firing of guns from Cambridge, Abigail Adams writes to her “Dearest Friend” John:  “I have been kept in a continual state of anxiety and expectation ever since you left me. It has been said to morrow and to morrow for this month, but when the dreadfull to morrow will be I know not—but hark! the House this instant shakes with the roar of Cannon.—I have been to the door and find tis a cannonade from our Army, orders I find are come for all the remaining Militia to repair to the Lines a monday night by twelve o clock. No Sleep for me to Night; and if I cannot who have no guilt upon my Soul with regard to this Cause, how shall the misirible wretches who have been the procurers of this Dreadfull Scene and those who are to be the actors, lie down with the load of Guilt upon their Souls.”

The story of our revolution is more than history, but a story of self-comprehension.  Join us at Bow Tie Tours for Philadelphia’s best historical walking tours


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