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TO JOHN AUGUSTINE WASHINGTON. - 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).
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TO JOHN AUGUSTINE WASHINGTON.
Cambridge, 31 March, 1776.
Your letter of the 24th ultimo was duly forwarded to this camp by Colonel Lee, and gave me the pleasure of hearing that you, my sister, and family were well. After your post is established to Fredericksburg, the intercourse by letter may become regular and certain; and whenever time, little of which I have for friendly correspondence, will permit, I shall be happy in writing to you. I cannot call to mind the date of my last to you, but this I recollect, that I have written more letters than I have received from you.
The want of arms and powder is not peculiar to Virginia.1 This country, of which doubtless you have heard large and flattering accounts, is more deficient in both than you can conceive. I have been here months together, with (what will scarcely be believed) not thirty rounds of musket cartridges to a man; and have been obliged to submit to all the insults of the enemy’s cannon for want of powder, keeping what little we had for pistol distance. Another thing has been done, which, added to the above, will put it in the power of this army to say, what perhaps no other with justice ever could say. We have maintained our ground against the enemy, under this want of powder, and we have disbanded one army, and recruited another, within musket-shot of two and twenty regiments, the flower of the British army, whilst our force has been but little if any superior to theirs; and, at last, have beaten them into a shameful and precipitate retreat out of a place the strongest by nature on this continent, and strengthened and fortified at an enormous expense.
As some account of the late manœuvres of both armies may not be unacceptable, I shall, hurried as I always am, devote a little time to it. Having received a small supply of powder, very inadequate to our wants, I resolved to take possession of Dorchester Point, lying east of Boston, looking directly into it, and commanding the enemy’s lines on Boston Neck. To do this, which I knew would force the enemy to an engagement, or subject them to be enfiladed by our cannon, it was necessary, in the first instance, to possess two heights (those mentioned in General Burgoyne’s letter to Lord Stanley, in his account of the battle of Bunker’s Hill), which had the entire command of the point. The ground at this point being frozen upwards of two feet deep, and as impenetrable as a rock, nothing could be attempted with earth. We were obliged, therefore, to provide an amazing quantity of chandeliers and fascines for the work; and, on the night of the 4th, after a previous severe cannonade and bombardment for three nights together, to divert the enemy’s attention from our real design, we removed every material to the spot, under cover of darkness, and took full possession of those heights, without the loss of a single man.
Upon their discovery of the works next morning, great preparations were made for attacking them; but not being ready before the afternoon, and the weather getting very tempestuous, much blood was saved, and a very important blow, to one side or the other, was prevented. That this most remarkable interposition of Providence is for some wise purpose, I have not a doubt. But, as the principal design of the manœuvre was to draw the enemy to an engagement under disadvantages to them, as a premeditated plan was laid for this purpose, and seemed to be succeeding to my utmost wish, and as no men seem better disposed to make the appeal than ours did upon that occasion, I can scarcely forbear lamenting the disappointment, unless the dispute is drawing to an accommodation, and the sword going to be sheathed. But, to return, the enemy thinking, as we have since learnt, that we had got too securely posted, before the second morning, to be much hurt by them, and apprehending great annoyance from our new works, resolved upon a retreat, and accordingly on the 17th embarked in as much hurry, precipitation, and confusion, as ever troops did, not taking time to fit their transports, but leaving the King’s property in Boston, to the amount, as is supposed, of thirty or forty thousand pounds in provisions and stores. Many pieces of cannon, some mortars, and a number of shot and shells are also left; and baggage-wagons and artillery-carts, which they have been eighteen months preparing to take the field with, were found destroyed, thrown into the docks, and drifted upon every shore. In short, Dunbar’s destruction of stores after General Braddock’s defeat, which made so much noise, affords but a faint idea of what was to be met with here.
The enemy lay from the 17th to the 27th in Nantasket and King’s Roads, about nine miles from Boston, to take in water from the islands thereabouts, and to prepare themselves for sea. Whither they are now bound, and where their tents will be next pitched, I know not; but, as New York and Hudson’s River are the most important objects they can have in view, as the latter secures the communication with Canada, at the same time that it separates the northern and southern colonies, and the former is thought to abound in disaffected persons, who only wait a favorable opportunity and support to declare themselves openly, it becomes equally important for us to prevent their gaining possession of these advantages; and, therefore, as soon as they embarked, I detached a brigade of six regiments to that government, and, when they sailed, another brigade composed of the same number; and to-morrow another brigade of five regiments will march. In a day or two more, I shall follow myself, and be in New York ready to receive all but the first.
The enemy left all their works standing in Boston and on Bunker’s Hill; and formidable they are. The town has shared a much better fate than was expected, the damage done to the houses being nothing equal to report. But the inhabitants have suffered a good deal, in being plundered by the soldiery at their departure. All those who took upon themselves the style and title of government-men in Boston, in short, all those who have acted an unfriendly part in the great contest, have shipped themselves off in the same hurry, but under still greater disadvantages than the King’s troops, being obliged to man their own vessels, as seamen enough could not be had for the King’s transports, and submit to every hardship that can be conceived. One or two have done, what a great number ought to have done long ago, committed suicide. By all accounts, there never existed a more miserable set of beings, than these wretched creatures now are. Taught to believe, that the power of Great Britain was superior to all opposition, and, if not, that foreign aid was at hand, they were even higher and more insulting in their opposition than the regulars. When the order issued, therefore, for embarking the troops in Boston, no electric shock, no sudden explosion of thunder, in a word, not the last trump could have struck them with greater consternation. They were at their wits’ end, and, conscious of their black ingratitude, they chose to commit themselves, in the manner I have above described, to the mercy of the waves at a tempestuous season, rather than meet their offended countrymen.
I believe I may with great truth affirm, that no man perhaps since the first institution of armies ever commanded one under more difficult circumstances, than I have done. To enumerate the particulars would fill a volume. Many of my difficulties and distresses were of so peculiar a cast, that, in order to conceal them from the enemy, I was obliged to conceal them from my friends, and indeed from my own army, thereby subjecting my conduct to interpretations unfavorable to my character, especially by those at a distance, who could not in the smallest degree be acquainted with the springs that governed it. I am happy, however, to find, and to hear from different quarters, that my reputation stands fair, that my conduct hitherto has given universal satisfaction. The addresses, which I have received, and which I suppose will be published, from the General Court of this colony, and from the selectmen of Boston upon the evacuation of the town, and my approaching departure from the colony, exhibit a pleasing testimony of their approbation of my conduct, and of their personal regard, which I have found in various other instances, and which, in retirement, will afford many comfortable reflections.
The share you have taken in the public disputes is commendable and praiseworthy. It is a duty we owe our country; a claim which posterity has upon us. It is not sufficient for a man to be a passive friend and well-wisher to the cause. This, and every other cause of such a nature, must inevitably perish under such an opposition. Every person should be active in some department or other, without paying too much attention to private interest. It is a great stake we are playing for, and sure we are of winning, if the cards are well managed. Inactivity in some, disaffection in others, and timidity in many, may hurt the cause. Nothing else can; for unanimity will carry us through triumphantly, in spite of every exertion of Great Britain, if we are linked together in one indissoluble bond. This the leaders know, and they are practising every stratagem to divide us, and unite their own people. Upon this principle it is, that the restraining bill is passed, and commissioners are coming over. The device, to be sure, is shallow, the covering thin, but they will hold out to their own people, that the acts complained of are repealed, and commissioners sent to each colony to treat with us, and that we will attend to neither of them. This, upon weak minds among us, will have its effect. They wish for reconciliation; or, in other words, they wish for peace without attending to the conditions.
General Lee, I suppose, is with you before this. He is the first officer, in military knowledge and experience, we have in the whole army. He is zealously attached to the cause, honest and well-meaning, but rather fickle and violent, I fear, in his temper. However, as he possesses an uncommon share of good sense and spirit, I congratulate my countrymen upon his appointment to that department.1 As I am now nearly at the end of my eighth page, I think it time to conclude; especially, as I set out with prefacing the little time I had for friendly correspondences. I shall only add, therefore, my affectionate regards to my sister and the children, and compliments to friends; and that I am, with every sentiment of true affection, your loving brother and faithful friend.
end of vol. iii.
[1 ]The people on the Chesapeake Bay, and the rivers emptying into it, had been alarmed during the winter by reports, that the enemy were about to ascend with their ships and water-craft, and lay waste the country. To escape the threatened danger, many of the inhabitants retired to the interior, taking with them such parts of their property as could be removed. General Washington’s residence on the banks of the Potomac was accessible to the approach of the largest ships, and it was rumored that the enemy intended paying it a visit. Mr. Lund Washington wrote to him from Mount Vernon: “Alexandria is much alarmed, and indeed the whole neighborhood. The women and children are leaving the town and stowing themselves in every hut they can find, out of the reach of the enemy’s cannon. Every wagon, cart, and pack-horse, that can be got, is employed. The militia are all up, but not in arms, for indeed they have none, or at least very few. I could wish, if we are to have our neighborhood invaded, that they would send a tender or two among us, that we might see how the people would behave on the occasion. They say they are determined to fight. I am about packing up your China and glass in barrels, and other things into chests, trunks, and bundles, and I shall be able at the shortest notice to remove them out of the way. I fear the destruction will be great, although the best care has been taken. Every body I see tells me, that if the people could have notice they would immediately come and defend your property, so long as they have life, from Loudoun, Prince William, Fauquier, and this county.”
[1 ]General Lee, who was now at Williamsburg, wrote to Washington a letter dated April 5th, complimenting him on the evacuation of Boston in the following language.