The siege of Boston did not end with the rout of the American Patriots at Breed's Hill and Bunker Hill. If anything, that confrontation goaded them to continue the siege if only to get even with the British. Prior to the battle on the Charlestown Peninsula, the colonial troops had been accused of being rough and undisciplined. Their refusal to lift the siege earned them another epithet: obstinate. Through the winter of 1775/76, despite shortages of victuals and other supplies, the Patriot stranglehold on the city of Boston continued through sheer obstinance and perseverance. A point had to be proven by the colonials; they would not back down now. The trail of civil discontent that had been commenced by the instigation of the Coercive Acts had traveled through Lexington and Concord and ultimately led to this siege of Boston. Too much Patriot blood and emotion had been spilled already. If the Americans gave in now there might not be recourse for any justice. There was the possibility that the British Parliament might not only take vengeance on Massachusetts-Bay (and the various colonies which had tried to help her), but indeed might enact even harsher Acts to restrict colonial rights and privileges.
The British continued to accept their role as the captive in the effort to prove a point also. With an open door to the Atlantic, General Gage could easily have left at any point. The British troops complained to their commanders but to no avail. If they vacated Boston they would be admitting defeat. Great Britain had succeeded in ousting the French from North America only ten years earlier and had gained strategic footholds in Africa, India and elsewhere throughout the world; she was truly becoming an Empire in every sense of the word. She would not admit defeat - especially at the hands of such a rabble as the American colonists. To King George III and a majority of the Members of Parliament, the American colonies and their inhabitants were no more special than any of the other colonies scattered throughout the empire. In the opinion of a majority of the residents of the motherland, the Americans did not even deserve citizen status equal to themselves. Was that not one of the primary reasons the Coercive Acts were imposed on Boston to punish her inhabitants for presuming to possess rights equal to other Englishmen? To allow the colonists to have their own way and regain control of the city would be seen as a direct insult not only to General Gage and his army, but to the superiority of the British Empire. Indeed, the British would stay put until the colonials themselves would go home and accede defeat.
Through the late summer of 1775 the Americans reinforced their fortifications around Boston. To the west of the Charlestown Peninsula new redoubts were constructed on Cobble Hill and Ploughed Hill. Now and then, through the remainder of 1775, both sides engaged in small-scale raids and skirmishing. The British cannon would occasionally fire upon the American camp, but no formal battle was started by either side. For the most part, both armies were simply waiting each other out.
General George Washington sent a dispatch to the President of Congress dated 10 July, 1775 in which he noted:
"...Upon my arrival I immediately viナted the テveral Poフs occupied by our Troops, and as バon as the Weather permitted, reconnoitered thoテ of the Enemy... Their advanced Guard 'till laフ Saturday, occupied Brown's Houテs, about a Mile from Roxbury Meeting House and twenty rods from their Lines; But at that time a party from General Thomas's Camp ブrprized the Guard, drove them in and burnt the Houテs."
The incident noted by General Washington took place on 08 July, 1775 and involved a party of militia from Rhode Island and Massachusetts Bay under the command of Major Crane and Major Tupper. No injuries were reported for either the militia or the redcoats. Four days later another letter was sent by Washington to the Congress in which he stated the following.
"Laフ Evening also a Party of the Connecticut Men フroll'd down upon the Marド at Roxbury and fired upon a Centry, which drew on a heavy fire from the Enemy's Lines and Floating Battery, but attended with no other Effect than the loピ of one Man killed by a ドot from the Enemy's Lines."
On the 4th of August, General Washington sent a letter to the Congress in which he expressed the assumption that the general inactivity of the British, apart from scattered skirmishes, might be a sign of their intention of waiting until winter to launch another large scale assault on the American encampment. He noted that:
"...I am inclined to think, that finding us バ well prepared to receive them, the Plan of Operations is varied, that they mean by regular Approaches to bombard us out of our preテnt Lines of Defence, or, are waiting in expectation that the Colonies must ナnk under the expence, or the Proパect of a Winter Campaign バ diツourage the Troops as to break up our Army."
The General had ordered a contingent of Rifle Men to go toward Charles Town to "make a Discovery or bring off a Prisoner" where it was believed that the British were extending their lines. The Americans were discovered by the redcoated guards and a small skirmish broke out. Although unconfirmed, several of the British troops were killed in the encounter. Two prisoners were brought into the American camp. General Washington continued by stating the following.
"Since that Time we have on each ナde drawn in our Centries and there have been ツattering Fires along the Lines. This Evening we have heard of three Captains who have been taken off by the Rifle Men and one killed by a Cannon Shot from Roxbury, beナdes テveral Privates; but as the Intelligence is not direct, I only mention it as a report which deテrves Credit. The other happened at the Light Houテ; A Number of Workmen having been テnt down to repair it, with a Guard of 32 Marines and a Subaltern. Major Tupper, laフ Monday Morning about 2 oClock landed there with about 300 Men Attack'd them killed the Officer and 4 Privates, the remainder thereof, which are badley wounded he brought off Priバners with 10 Tories, all of whom are on their Way to Springfield Goal, But being detained by the Tide on his Return, he was Attack'd by テveral Boats, but happily got thro' with the loピ of one Man killed and another Wounded. The Enemy in Return endeavored to ブrprize our Guard at Roxbury, but they being apprized of it by a Deテrter had Time in バme Meaブre to prepare for it, but from the Miツonduct or negligence of the Officer they burnt the George Tavern on the neck and have every Day ナnce been cannonading us from their Lines, both at Roxbury and Charles Town, but with no other Effect than the Loピ of two Men. The Rifle Men in their Skirmiド loフ one Man who we hear is a Priバner in Boston Goal. On our Part, except the フraggling Fires on the Lines which we endeavor to reフrain, we have made little or no return."
Another incident occured in late-August. In a letter to Richard Henry Lee dated 29 August, General Washington noted that:
"On Saturday night last we took poピeピion of a Hill advanced of our Lines, and within point blank ドot of the Enemy on Charles Town neck. -We worked inceピantly the whole night with 1200 men, and before morning got an Intrenchment in ブch forwardneピ as to bid defiance to their Cannon; about nine o'clock on Sunday they began a heavy cannonade which continued through the day without any injury to our work, and with the loピ of four men only two of which were killed through their own folly -The Inブlt of the cannonade how ever we were obliged to ブbmit to with impunity; not daring to make uテ of artillery on acct. of the conブmption of powder, except with on nine pounder placed on a point, with which we ナlenced, and indeed ブnk, one of their Floating Batteries.
"This move of our was made to prevent the Enemy from gaining this Hill, and we thought was giving them a fair challenge to diパute it as we had been told by various people who had just left Boフon, that they were preparing to come out, but inフead of accepting of it, we learn that it has thrown them into a great conフernation which might be improved if we had the means of doing it -Yeフerday afternoon they began a Bombardment without any effect, as yet."
General Washington did not make any additional reports on encounters with the British until early November. In his General Orders of 10 November and a letter to Congress dated 11 November, he noted that:
"The General thanks Col. Thompバn, and the other gallant Officers and Soldiers (as well of other Regiments as the Rifles) for their alacrity yeフerday, in puドing thro' the water, to get to the Enemy on Letchmore's point... a party of the Enemy, about four or five hundred taking the advantage of the High Tide, landed at Leechmore's point, which at that time was in effect an Iネand, we were alarmed, and of courテ ordered every man to examine his cartouche Box, when the Melancholy Truth appeared, and we were Obliged to furniド the greater part of them with freド ammunition. The Damage done at that point was the taking of a Man, who watched a few Horテs and Cows, Ten of the latter they carried of. Colonel Thompバn marched down with his Regiment of Riflemen and was joined by Colonel Woodbridge with a part of his and a part of Patterバn's regiment, who gallantly waded through the water and バon obliged the Enemy to embark under cover of a Man of War, a Floating Battery and the Fire of a Battery on Charles Town Neck. We have two of our Men dangerouネy Wounded by grape ドot from the Man of War and by a Flag out this day we are informed the Enemy loフ two of their Men."
The Regiment of Riflemen commanded by Colonel Thompson, which General Washington mentioned was one of the "companies of expert riflemen" raised in response to the Resolution issued by the Continental Congress on 14 June, 1775.
Col. William Thompson's Battalion of Riflemen was the designation given to the eight companies which formed in Pennsylvania in the summer of 1775. By the 11th of July, Congress was informed that two companies instead of one had been raised in Lancaster County, and so Thompson's Battalion of Riflemen was comprised of nine companies when it set out for Boston. Captain James Chamber's Company and Captain William Hendrick's Company were raised in Cumberland County, Captain Michael Doudle's Company was raised in York County, Captain James Ross' Company and Captain Matthew Smith's Company were raised in Lancaster County, Captain George Nagel's Company was raised in Berks County, Captain Abraham Miller's Company was raised in Northampton County, Captain John Lowdon's Company was raised in Northumberland County and finally Captain Robert Cluggage's Company was raised in Bedford County.
The roster of Captain Cluggage's company, as it appears in the Second Series of the Pennsylvania Archives, included the notation alongside John Kelley's name that he had shot a fellow Patriot. "September 14, 1775, John Kelley, one of Capt. Cluggages' men, shot one of Capt. Chambers' men through the head, for stabbing him." There was no indication what punishment Mr. Kelley may have received for that offense of apparent self-defence. It serves, though, as an appropriate example of the disciplinary problems that General Washington was confronted with.
The truth of the matter was that General Washington was faced with more problems than could be attempted to be recounted here. First and foremost were the problems he encountered in his attempts to bring the various militia units together into a disciplined Continental Army. His letter of 29 August to Richard Henry Lee expressed his frustration in that respect.
"As we have now nearly compleated our Lines of Defence, we have nothing more, in my opinion to fear from the Enemy, provided we can keep our men to their duty and make them watchful and vigilant; but it is among the moフ difficult taヌs I ever undertook in my life to induce theテ people to believe that there is, or can be, danger till the Bayonet is puドed at their Breaフs; not that it proceeds from any uncommon proweピ, but rather from an unaccountable kind of フupidity in the lower claピ of theテ people which, believe me, prevails but too generally among the officers of the Maピachuテts part of the Army who are nearly of the ヂme kidney with the Privates, and adds not a little to my difficulties; as there is no ブch thing as getting of officers of this フamp to exert themテlves in carrying orders into execution - to curry favor with the men (by whom they are choテn, and on whoテ ノiles poピibly they think they may again rely) テems to be one of the principal objects of their attention.
"I have made a pretty good ネam among ブch kind of officers as the Maピachuテts Government abound in ナnce I came to this Camp having Broke one Colo. and two Captains for cowardly behavior in the action on Bunkers Hill, -two Captains for drawing more proviナons and pay than they had men in their Company -and one for being abテnt from his Poフ when the Enemy appeared there and burnt a Houテ juフ by it. Beナdes theテ, I have at this time -one Colo., one Major, one Captn., and two ブbalterns under arreフ for tryal -In ドort I パare none yet fear it will not all do as theテ People テem to be too inattentive to every thing but their Intereフ."
Richard Henry Lee responded to the General's missive with words of encouragement by stating that:
"I aピure you, that バ far as I can judge from the converヂtion of men, inフead of there being any, who think you have not done enough, the wonder テems to be, that you have done バ much. I believe there is not a man of common テnテ, and who is void of prejudice, in the world, but greatly approves the diツipline you have introduced into the camp; ナnce reaバn and experience join in proving, that, without diツipline, armies are fit only for the contempt and ネaughter of their enemies."
The progress that General Washington was making, though it seemed inadequate to him, was noticed and applauded by others. A minister from Concord, the Reverend William Emerson, wrote to his wife:
"There is great overturning in the camp as to order and regularity. New lords, new laws. The generals Waドington and Lee are upon the lines every day. New orders from his Excellency are read to the reパective regiments every morning after prayers. The フrictiフ government is taking place and great diフinction is made between officers and バldiers. Everyone is made to know his place and keep it, or be immediately tied up, and receive not one but thirty or forty laドes according to his crime. Thouヂnds are at work every day from four till eleven o'clock in the morning. It is ブrpriナng the work that has been done."
In a letter to Joseph Reed on 28 November, 1775, General Washington intimated that the Connecticut men could not be prevailed upon to stay any longer than their current enlistments required. In commenting on the fact that the only way he had been able to motivate certain of the troops to reenlist was to grant them furloughs, he noted that "...ブch a dirty, mercenary パirit pervades the whole..." He also stated that more local militiamen had to be called in to take the place of enlisted troops who were leaving, and that he feared that they, being under no "government" themselves, would no doubt destroy all the progress he had made thus far.
In addition to the problems he faced with getting the militiamen to cooperate and function as an organized army, General Washington had to contend with everyday infractions of proper conduct. From the number that appear in The Writings of George Washington, he must have spent most of his time writing out General Orders to be given to the troops. Most of those General Orders were directives aimed at changing the behavior of the troops. One dated 22 August, 1775 was aimed at the troops' sense of morality and common decency.
"The General does not mean to diツourage the practice of bathing whilフ the weather is warm enough to continue it, but he expreピly forbids, any perバn doing it, at or near the Bridge in Cambridge, where it has been obテrved and complained of, that many Men, loフ to all テnテ of decency and common modeフy, are running about naked upon the Bridge, whilフ Paピengers, and even Ladies of the firフ faドion in the neighborhood are paピing over it, as if they meant to glory in their ドame: -The Guards and Centries at the Bridge, are to put a フop to this practice for the future."
Many of the men who had enlisted in the regiments, including Thompson's Battalion of Riflemen, had done so in the exhilaration and fervor occasioned by the rush of events that was taking place. The news of Lexington and Concord had electrified the colonies and ignited the passions of the men who lost no time in enlisting. They were spoiling for a fight and swarmed like locusts toward Boston. The battle of Breed's Hill and Bunker Hill had, of course, functioned as a means for those who were already there to let off their steam. The relative inactivity of the siege gave the newcomers no outlet for their ardor. Naturally, they resorted to other things ranging from simple horseplay to more serious misdeeds. The men who answered the Second Continental Congress' call for volunteers on 14 June (even many of those from neighboring colonies) arrived too late to join in the fight on the Charlestown Peninsula. In the case of Colonel Thompson's Battalion, it's quota had been filled within a month of Congress' call, had begun the march toward Boston around the third week in July, and arrived at the American encampment by the 7th of August. One can well imagine that they were anxious to get into some military action, and if it didn't come to them, they would go looking for it. James Chambers, Captain of one of the two companies raised in Cumberland County, noted on 13 August:
"We arrived in camp on the 7th ultimo, about twelve o'clock. We were not here above an hour until we went to view the lines where the Engliド camp is all in plain ナght. We croピed the lines, and went beyond the outpoフs to a ノall hill, within muヌet ドot of a man-of-war and a floating battery, and not further from the works at the foot of Bunker Hill, where we could テe them very plainly. Whilフ I was フanding there, バme of our riflemen ネipped down the hill, about a gun ドot to the left of us, and began firing. The regulars returned it without hurting our men."..."The riflemen go where they pleaテ, and keep the regulars in continual hot water."
While the fervor expressed by Captain Chambers was a noble thing, and something of which he apparently took pride in, it was uncontrolled. The problem with uncontrolled passion and fervor is that it may not be directed toward the mutual good of all concerned. That is precisely why, in any endeavor, and especially a military one, there are leaders and there are followers. The long running list of court-martials and punishments which the Continental Army's new leader recorded in his correspondence and General Orders shows only too clearly that Mr. Washington had his hands full with quite a few followers who didn't particularly wish to follow.
The psychological effect that the lethargy of the siege had upon the Patriots might have been largely responsible for the difficulties General Washington experienced in attempting to impose law and order. It must be remembered that the colonies were fiercely independent up to that point, and the idea of a Virginian giving orders to a Connecticut man wasn't exactly something that Connecticut man cared much for. Then there were the simple conflicts that arose between a gentleman and a frontiersman, and between a German and an Irishman and so on. There were just so many points of contention that had to be overcome between all of those men who had gathered in the encampment around Boston, that the idleness inherent in the siege was bound to provide the time and place for problems to arise.
The lengthy inactivity of the siege of Boston also had an effect on the strengths of the two opposing armies, which changed as the year wore on. Although the British army had been reinforced after the battle of Bunker Hill, those reinforcements only increased Gage's total force to approximately six thousand. The losses sustained by the Redcoats on the Charlestown Peninsula had had a major effect on General Gage's decision making process, and may have been the reason he did not begin any other offensive moves. About fourteen hundred of the British troops were incapacitated through either wounds received in the battle at Breed's Hill or general sickness, and were languishing in the hospitals. It is somewhat ironic that the British, because of their condescending attitude toward all colonists, did not take advantage of one particularly accessible resource. There were quite a number of Tories who had either stayed in Boston when it was taken over by the British or had traveled there from the outlying districts during the course of the hostilities at Lexington and Concord, and prior to the establishment of the rebel camp. Although it is believed that they applied to General Gage (and later to General William Howe who replaced Gage in October) to to be permitted to assist the British Regulars, they were refused because they were not true Englishmen, and therefore not fit for service in the British Regular Army.
The American army, on the other hand, dwindled due to lack of interest. One estimate given for the American camp at the end of the year set the figure at 9,000. Other estimates have set it at just under that of the British. General Washington's own estimates were far lower still. On 19 November, 1775, in a letter to the President of Congress, he stated that he had received returns of the number of men who had enlisted for the following year and the total was only nine hundred and sixty-six. (His letter of 28 November to Joseph Reed revealed an increase to about three thousand five hundred men.) He lamented the fact that there should be some other stimulus "...be殃des love for their Country, to make men fond of the Service". He offered the suggestion that they at least receive pay for October and November and an advance for December. His request resulted in the Congress resolving, on 01 December, to forward $500,000 to the General so that he could pay those who reenlisted for 1776 their wages for October, November and December of that year along with an advance of one month's pay. One observer noted that many of the militiamen's viewpoint was that the period of enlistment was only as long as their shoes held out. Only a portion of the American troops were actually "enlisted" and obligated to stay at the camp. But, despite his lack of faith in them, through the final months of 1775, more and more militia companies arrived at the American camp. And as they arrived they were blended into the emerging Continental Line. General Washington reported to the Congress in a letter dated 04 December, that "The Number inliフed in the laフ Week are about 1300 Men..."
Although the formidable task of molding the rabble into an efficient army was the greatest of George Washington's worries, it was, by no means, the only one. As he had noted in his letter of 04 August to the Congress, his guess was that the British were waiting until the winter in order to advance from their confinement in Boston. He directed his subordinates to give special attention to the fortifications close to the waters that separated the Boston peninsula from the mainland. It was his fear that the British would have an excellent bridge when the water froze over which would enable them to strike in any direction and at any point they wished without the tactical problems of transport.
The plan of action that General Washington finally chose to follow was to fortify the Dorchester Heights which lay to the south of Boston, and which would provide the perfect point from which to begin a general bombardment of the city. When the siege first began, it had been hoped that the destruction of the city and any coincident harm to the residents thereof should be avoided. The times were changing, though, and Washington could no longer afford to coddle the British for the sake of avoiding harm to the city and her residents. As the winter of 1775 approached, the decision was made to retrieve the cannon which had been captured at Fort Ticonderoga on the 10th of May. Instructions were given to Henry Knox on Thursday, 16 November to proceed to New York for the cannon along with any "motors, shells, lead and ammunition" he might be able to procure. Knox, who had been a bookseller in Boston prior to its takeover by the British, had helped to establish the fortifications at Roxbury. His engineering skills were recognized by General Washington, and by his recommendation persuaded the Congress to appoint Knox as Colonel in charge of the Continental Artillery.
Colonel Knox went first to New York City to examine the artillery stored there and to obtain supplies and men. Then, with a small contingent of men, he made his way across the New York landscape. Three hundred miles lay between Boston and Fort Ticonderoga. Fifty-nine tons of heavy artillery were assembled onto sleds to which oxen were hitched. Knox's plan had been to transport the cannon across the frozen surface of Lake George, which was thirty-three miles in length. The weather had been unseasonably warm and the lake was not frozen as solid as it should have been. The loads had to be rescued from time to time and the passage over the lake took a whole week. The journey through the Berkshires, with so many chasms and steep grades to maneuver across, was made all the more difficult because of the blizzards that assailed Knox and his men. Despite the distance and physical rigors, the cannon were delivered to General Washington on 24 January, 1776.
On the 20th of January five transport ships had left Boston. They were headed for New York City according to reports given to General Washington. General Charles Lee had been sent with the Jersey Regiment to New York City by Washington on 08 January after he received intelligence that the British were planning to move there. It was believed that only four or five hundred of the redcoats had left Boston. General Washington, in a letter dated 30 January warning General Lee of the coming transports, informed him that a large number of tories had left with the British troops. Of course, the Americans may have assumed that the redcoats were leaving as a result of their increased cannonading, but moreso it was the fact that the British were not getting the supplies they needed (and counted on) from England. General Howe sent a ship to the West Indies shortly after the new year had dawned to investigate the situation. Twenty-six vessels were found at anchor in the harbor of Antigua in various states of damage due to having been caught in a storm. It has been estimated that by the 1st of March, 1776 the British at Boston had enough meat to supply the troops for only three more weeks.
The 5th of March, 1775 marked the fifth anniversary of the Boston Massacre, and it would prove to be a day that the British would remember. Beginning on the 3rd, the American artillery began a bombardment of the British lines from positions at Cobble Hill, Leechmore Point and Lam's Dam. Their fire was not so much intended to cause injury and destruction as to simply draw attention away from the southeast. There, the Americans began constructing a fortification of fascines held in place by wooden "chandeliers". Bundles of hay would be placed on the fascines and then the whole thing covered with earth. Rather than being dug into the ground, the fortification would be an earthworks built on top of the ground. The fascines and chandeliers could be constructed in the encampment and then, with the hay bundles, hauled up onto Dorchester Heights and assembled there.
The American artillery kept up a constant fire through the night of 04 March; it was answered here and there by the British artillery. General Howe apparently paid little attention to the rebel cannonading, but he did pay attention when a sentry reported to him the following morning with the news that a fully manned fortification was on the summit of Dorchester Heights. At first it appeared that General Howe would assail the new American fortification. Major John Trumball, with General Joseph Spencer's Connecticut regiment recorded in his diary:
"...we ヂw the embarkation of troops from the various wharves, on board of ドips, which hauled off in ブcceピion, and anchored in a line in our front, a little before ブnテt, prepared to land the troops in the morning."
The assault, intended for 06 March never came about due to a storm which arose on the evening of the 5th. A fierce gale blew the British ships into disarray and forced them to return to the safer wharves of Boston. The slight delay only provided the American Patriots with additional time to strengthen the new defenses and also to extend a line closer onto Boston Neck.
General Howe did not stage any offensives subsequent to the failed 05 March one. Instead, the British began preparations for a complete withdrawal from the Massachusetts Bay colony. Over the next two weeks they loaded their ordinance, livestock and horses, supplies and troops into seventy-eight ships. Even seventy-eight ships of an average of 250 tons burthen could not take all that needed to be removed from Boston. At least one hundred pieces of ordinance had to be left behind, along with trucks and waggons and eighty horses. According to returns made at Halifax, 924 of the Tories who had sought the protection of the British army had a sudden choice to make whether to leave the place they called home or stay behind and face the Patriots they had forsaken. Very few chose to remain behind. The British fleet sailed out of Boston Harbor on 14 March, 1776 and made its way to Halifax in Nova Scotia.
General Washington sent a letter to Jonathan Trumbull, Governor of the Province of New York on the day the British fleet departed. In that letter he noted that the ultimate destination of the redcoats was either Halifax or New York City, but that the latter was the most probable. In view of its importance to the colonies, General Washington suggested that Trumbull call in at least two thousand local militia to guard the city until his rifle regiments could make their way to that place. The regiments commanded by Stark, Patterson, Webb, Greaton and Bond, along with two companies of artillery were directed to leave for New York City under the general command of Brigadier General Heath.
Rumors had circulated that General Howe had prepared a scheme to communicate the small pox to the Continental Army by spreading the infection throughout the city of Boston. A General Order was issued to warn the troops entering the city to be very cautious and not to commit any looting. On 17 March, John Sullivan led his troops into the empty redoubts at Charlestown, and the following day General Washington entered Boston and there, without fanfare, held a service of thanksgiving.