Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO THE PRESIDENT OF CONGRESS. - The Writings of George Washington, vol. III (1775-1776)
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
TO THE PRESIDENT OF CONGRESS. - George Washington, The Writings of George Washington, vol. III (1775-1776) 
The Writings of George Washington, collected and edited by Worthington Chauncey Ford (New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1889). Vol. III (1775-1776).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
TO THE PRESIDENT OF CONGRESS.
Cambridge, 7 March, 1776.
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.1 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 defect 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 cannon-ball 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 Nook’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.
As mortars are essential, and indispensably necessary for carrying on our operations, and for the prosecution of our plans, I have applied to two furnaces to have some thirteen-inch ones cast with all expedition imaginable, and am encouraged to hope, from the accounts I have had, that they will be able to do it. When they are done, and a proper supply of powder obtained, I flatter myself, from the posts we have just taken and are about to take, that it will be in our power to force the ministerial troops to an attack, or to dispose of them in some way, that will be of advantage to us. I think from these posts they will be so galled and annoyed, that they must either give us battle or quit their present possessions. I am resolved that nothing on my part shall be wanting to effect the one or the other.
It having been the general opinion, that the enemy would attempt to dislodge our people from the hills, and force their works as soon as they were discovered, which probably might have brought on a general engagement, it was thought advisable, that the honorable Council1 should be applied to, to order in the militia from the neighboring and adjacent towns. I wrote them on the subject, which they most readily complied with; and, in justice to the militia, I cannot but inform you, that they came in at the appointed time, and manifested the greatest alertness, and determined resolution to have acted like men engaged in the cause of freedom.2
When the enemy first discovered our works in the morning, they seemed to be in great confusion, and, from their movements, to have intended an attack. It is much to be wished, that it had been made. The event, I think, must have been fortunate, and nothing less than success and victory on our side, as our officers and men appeared impatient for the appeal, and to possess the most animated sentiments and determined resolution. On Tuesday evening, a considerable number of their troops embarked on board of their transports, and fell down to the Castle, where part of them landed before dark. One or two of the vessels got aground, and were fired at by our people with a field-piece, but without any damage. What was the design of this embarkation and landing, I have not been able to learn. It would seem as if they meant an attack; for it is most probable, that, if they make one on our works at Dorchester at this time, they will first go to the Castle, and come from thence. If such was their design, a violent storm that night, and which lasted till eight o’clock the next day, rendered the execution of it impracticable. It carried one or two of their vessels ashore, which they have since got off.1
In case the ministerial troops had 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.
How far our views would have succeeded, had an opportunity offered for attempting the execution, it is impossible for me to say. Nothing less than experiment could determine with precision. The plan was thought to be well digested; and, as far as I could judge from the cheerfulness and alacrity, which distinguished the officers and men, who were to engage in the enterprise, I had reason to hope for a favorable and happy issue.
The militia, who were ordered in from the adjacent towns, brought with them three days’ provision. They were only called upon to act under the idea of an attack’s being immediately made, and were all discharged this afternoon.
I beg leave to remind Congress, that three major-generals are essential and necessary for this army; and that, by General Lee’s being called from hence to the command in Canada, the left division is without one. I hope they will fill up the vacancy by the appointment of another. General Thomas is the first brigadier, stands fair in point of reputation, and is esteemed a brave and good officer.1 If he is promoted, there will be a vacancy in the brigadier-generals, which it will be necessary to supply by the appointment of some other gentleman that shall be agreeable to Congress; but justice requires me to mention, that William Thompson, of the rifle regiment, is the first colonel in this department, and, as far as I have had an opportunity of judging, is a good officer and a man of courage. What I have said of these two gentlemen, I conceive to be my duty, at the same time acknowledging, whatever promotions are made will be satisfactory to me.
March 9th. Yesterday evening a Captain Irvine who escaped from Boston the night before with six of his crew, came to head quarters and gave the following intelligence:—
That our bombardment and cannonade caused a good deal of surprize and alarm in town, as many of the soldiery said they never heard or thought we had mortars or shells; 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 thro’ 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 5 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 the 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 officer’s 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.
The account given by Captain Irvine, as to the embarkation, and their being about to leave the town, I believe true. There are other circumstances corroborating; and it seems fully confirmed by a paper signed by four of the selectmen of the town (a copy of which I have the honor to enclose to you), which was brought on yesterday evening by a flag, and delivered to Colonel Learned, by Major Bassett, of the tenth regiment, who desired it might be delivered me as soon as possible. I advised with such of the general officers upon the occasion as I could immediately assemble; and we determined it right (as it was not addressed to me, nor to any one else, nor authenticated by the signature of General Howe, or any other act obliging him to a performance of the promise mentioned on his part), that I should give it no answer; at the same time, that a letter should be returned, as going from Colonel Learned, signifying his having laid it before me; with the reasons assigned for not answering it. A copy of this is sent.1
To-night I shall have a battery thrown up on Nook’s Hill (Dorchester Point), with a design of acting as circumstances may require; it being judged advisable to prosecute our plans of fortification, as we intended before this information from the selectmen came.
It being agreed on all hands, that there is no possibility of stopping them in case they determine to go, I shall order look-outs to be kept upon all the head-lands, to discover their movements and course, and moreover direct Commodore Manly and his little squadron to dog them, as well for the same purpose, as for picking up any of their vessels, that may chance to depart their convoy. From their loading with such precipitancy, it is presumable they ’ll not be in the best condition for sea.
If the ministerial troops evacuate the town and leave it standing, I have thoughts of taking measures for fortifying the entrance into the harbor, if it shall be thought proper, and the situation of affairs will admit of it. Notwithstanding the report from Boston, that Halifax is the place of their destination, I have no doubt but that they are going to the southward, and, I apprehend, to New York. Many reasons lead to this opinion. It is in some measure corroborated by their sending an express ship there, which, on Wednesday week, got on shore and bilged at Cape Cod. The despatches, if written, were destroyed when she was boarded. She had a parcel of coal, and about four thousand cannon-shot, six carriage-guns, a swivel or two, and three barrels of powder.
I shall hold the riflemen and other parts of our troops in readiness to march at a moment’s warning, and govern my movements by the events that happen, or such orders as I may receive from Congress, which I beg may be ample, and forwarded with all possible expedition.
On the 6th inst. a ship bound from London with stores for the ministerial army, consisting of coal, porter and krout, fell in with our armed vessels, four of them in company, and was carried into Portsmouth. She had had a long passage, and of course brought no papers of a late date. The only letters of importance or the least interesting that were found, I have enclosed.
I beg leave to mention to Congress that money is much wanted. The militia from these governments engaged till the first of April, are then to be paid, and if we march from hence, the expence will be very considerable, must be defrayed, and cannot be accomplished without it. The necessity of making the earliest remittance for these purposes is too obvious for me to add more.
When I wrote that part of this letter which is antecedent to this date, I fully expected it would have gone before now by Col. Bull, not deeming it of sufficient importance to send a special messenger, but he deferred his return from time to time, and never set off till to-day. These reasons I hope will excuse the delay and be received as a proper apology for not transmitting it sooner.1
[1 ]“On the 23 Augt. 1775, the work of fortifying Lamb’s Dam was begun, and upon the completion of that work, the line of fortification was advanced to a point a little south of the present Northampton Street. Lamb’s Dam extended from about the junction of Hampden and Albany Sts. to a point near the present Walnut place. It was originally built to keep the tide from overflowing the marshes, and followed very nearly the present line of Northampton Street, diverging slightly to the southward as it neared the highway. At the termination of the Dam, on the upland, a strong breastwork was constructed, and from that the intrenchments extended across the highway. The works were completed Sept. 10, 1775.”—Centen. Evacuation, 12.
[1 ]The Council of the Massachusetts legislature.
[2 ]“His Excellency the General, returns his thanks to the Militia of the surrounding districts, for their spirited and alert march to Roxbury, last Saturday and Sunday, and for the noble ardor they discovered in defence of the cause of Liberty and their country.”—Orderly Book, 8 March, 1776.
[1 ]“On the 2d inst. at night they began a cannonade upon the town; the same was repeated on the evening of the 3d and 4th. On the 5th in the morning it was discovered that the enemy had thrown up three very extensive works with strong abatties on the commanding hills on Dorchester Neck, which must have been the employment of at least 12,000 men. In a situation so critical I determined upon immediate attack; the ardour of the troops encouraged me in this hazardous enterprise, and regiments were expeditiously embarked on board transports to fall down the harbour; but the wind unfortunately coming contrary and blowing very hard the ships were not able to get to their destination. . . . The weather continuing boisterous the next day and night gave the enemy time to improve their works, to bring up their cannon, and to put themselves into such a state of defence that I could promise myself little success by attacking them under such disadvantages; wherefore I judged it most advisable to prepare for the evacuation of the town. . . . This operation was effected on the 7th, and all the rear guard embarked at 9 o’clock in the morning, without the least loss, irregularity or accident.”—General Howe to the Earl of Dartmouth, 21 March, 1776.
[1 ]Born in Marshfield, Mass., 1725, and died in Chamblee, 2 June, 1776. “By the way, I must do justice to Thomas; he is a good officer, and is esteemed. We have no trouble with his camp; it is always in good order, and things are conducted with dignity and spirit in the military style.”—James Warren to Samuel Adams, 21 June, 1775.
[1 ]The evacuation of Boston by the British troops, after having held possession of the town for eleven months, was a source of no less joy in America, than of astonishment in England. Intelligence of this event was published by the ministry on the 3d of May, in a short paragraph, which merely announced, that “his Majesty’s forces had embarked from Boston with the greatest order and regularity, and without the least interruption from the rebels,” and were destined for Halifax. Parliament being then in session, the subject was called up by the Duke of Manchester, on the 10th of May, who proposed a motion for an address to his Majesty, that he would be pleased to order the late despatches of General Howe and Admiral Shuldham to be laid before the House of Lords. A long and warm debate ensued, in which the ministers were severely censured for the recent occurrences in America.
“Boston, 8 March, 1776.
“As his Excellency General Howe is determined to leave the town with the troops under his command, a number of the respectable inhabitants, being very anxious for its preservation and safety, have applied to General Robertson for this purpose, who at their request has communicated the same to his Excellency General Howe, who has assured him, that he has no intention of destroying the town, unless the troops under his command are molested during their embarkation or at their departure, by the armed force without; which declaration he gave General Robertson leave to communicate to the inhabitants. If such an opposition should take place, we have the greatest reason to expect the town will be exposed to entire destruction. Our fears are quieted with regard to General Howe’s intentions. We beg we may have some assurance, that so dreadful a calamity may not be brought on by any measures without. As a testimony of the truth of the above, we have signed our names to this paper, carried out by Messrs. Thomas and Jonathan Amory and Peter Johonnot, who have at the earnest entreaties of the inhabitants, through the Lieutenant-Governor, solicited a flag of truce for this purpose.
“John Scollay, “Timothy Newell, “Thomas Marshall, “Samuel Austin.”This paper was taken to the lines at Roxbury, and given to Colonel Learned, who carried it to head-quarters. He returned, and handed to the messengers, who had been the bearers of it the following letter:—
“Roxbury, 9 March, 1776.
“Agreeably to a promise made to you at the lines yesterday, I waited upon his Excellency General Washington, and presented to him the paper handed to me by you, from the Selectmen of Boston. The answer I received from him was to this effect;—‘That, as it was an unauthenticated paper, without an address, and not obligatory upon General Howe, he would take no notice of it.’ I am, with esteem and respect, Gentlemen, your most obedient servant,
“Ebenezer Learned.”Notwithstanding this apparently uncompromising answer, yet, as the paper evidently conveyed the dispositions of General Howe, and as Washington could have no wish to destroy the town, but on the contrary the strongest motives for preserving it, no direct annoyance was afterwards offered to the British troops, and this mutual understanding doubtless saved much destruction of property and much bloodshed.
“To Messrs. Amory and Johonnot.”
[1 ]Read in Congress, March 15th.