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CHAP. IV. The British army under general Howe, who, 1775. on the recall of general Gage in October, had
succeeded to the comntand of it, still remained inactive in Boston, and was still closely blocked up on the land side by the Americans. The
history of this winter campaign is a history of • continuing and successive struggles on the part · of the American general, under the vexations
and difficulties imposed by the want of arms, ammunition, and permanent troops, on a person in an uncommon degree solicitous to prove himself by some grand and useful achievement, worthy of the high station to which the voice
of his country had called him. 1776. The resolution relative to the attack on Bos*- ton, he considered as, in some degree, manifest
ing the wishes of congress on that subject, and he assured the president that an attempt would be made to put it in execution, the first mo. ment he should perceive a probability of success. If this should not be as soon as might be expected or wished, he prayed that his situation might be attended to, and that congress would do him the justice to believe that circumstances, not inclination on his part, occasioned the delay. “It is not,” says he, “in the pages of history to furnish a case like ours. To maintain a post within musket shot of the enemy for six months together without ammunition, and at the same time to disband one army, and recruit another, within that distance
of twenty odd British regiments, is more than, CHAP. IV. probably, ever was attempted. But if we suc. 1776. ceed as well in the latter as we have hitherto done in the former, I shall think it the most fortunate event of my whole life.” .
The want of ammunition was not the only alarming difficulty to be encountered. The condition of the troops in respect to arms, was almost equally critical. The soldiers composing the first army had generally brought with them into the field their own fire arms. Indifferent as those were, it was necessary to retain, at least, as many of them as were in any degree fit for use. To effect this, inspectors were appointed to examine them and fix their value, and notice was given that two months pay should be stopped from every, soldier who should leave the camp without this previous examination of his arms, and without giving up such as should be deemed fit for use. The arms were either so generally useless, or, notwithstanding these precautions, were so generally carried off, that only sixteen hundred and twenty muskets were retained; and thus, this source of supply, bad as it was, did not fulfil the hopes which had been formed of it.
The recruiting officers were directed to inlist only those men who had arms; but they reported that they must depart from these instructions or recruit no soldiers. The neighbouring governments, as well as that of Massachussetts,
CHAP. IV. were applied to without success; and persons 1776. sent with money to make purchases in the
country were not more fortunate. In the beginning of February, general Washington informed congress, that there were then in his army near two thousand men without fire arms of any sort, and at that time his whole effective rank and file, independent of militia, amounted only to eight thousand eight hundred and fifty three. His incessant representations and complaints on this all interesting point were unable to procure for a considerable time any supply.
Under all these disadvantages, the general still cherished the hope of being enabled in the course of the winter, to act offensively. So early as in the month of January, he had called a council, at which mr. John Adams, a member of congress, and mr. Warren, presi. , dent of the provincial congress of Massachussetts, assisted, in which it was resolved, “that a vigorous attempt ought to be made on the ministerial troops in Boston before they can be re-enforced in the spring, if the means can be provided, and a favourable opportunity should offer.” It was further advised “ that thirteen regiments of militia should be asked for from Massachussetts and the neighbouring colonies, in order to put them in a condition to make the attempt. The militia to assemble on the first of February, and to continue, if necessary, until the first of March.” In pursuance of this
advice, the requisitions for militia were made CHAP. IV. and readily complied with. The re-enforce. 1776. ments thus obtained, amounted to between four and five thousand men, but the mildness of the season had hitherto been such, that the waters about Boston continued open. “Con. gress in my last,” said the general on the 19th of January, “would discover my motives for strengthening these lines with militia. But whether, as the weather turns out exceedingly mild (insomuch as to promise nothing favour. able from ice) and there is no appearance of powder, I shall be able to attempt any thing decisive, time only can determine. No man upon earth wishes more ardently to destroy the nest in Boston than I do; no person would be willing to go greater lengths than I shall to accomplish it, if it shall be thought advisable; but if we have no powder to bombard with, nor ice to pass on, we shall be in no better situation than we have been in all the year, we shall be in a worse, as their works are stronger."
The fatal error of short inlistments, into which both the continental and colonial governments had fallen, (perhaps had been driven by the temper and habits of the people,) had long been a subject of very deep concern to the commander in chief. He at length determined to beg the serious attention of congress to it. His letter on this occasion pourtrays in part the mischief resulting from this unfortunate
CHAP. IV. measure. “The disadvantages,” he observed, 1776. “attending the limited inlistment of troops, are
too apparent to those who are eye witnesses of them, to render any animadversions necessary; but to gentlemen at a distance, whose attention is engrossed by a thousand important objects, the case may be otherwise.
“That this cause precipitated the fate of the brave and much to be lamented general Montgomery, and brought on the defeat which
followed thereupon, I have not the most distant - doubt; for had he not been apprehensive of
the troops leaving him at so important a crisis, but continued the blockade of Quebec, a capitulation, from the best accounts I have been able to collect, must inevitably have followed : and that we were not obliged, at one time, to dispute these lines under disadvantageous cir. cumstances (proceeding from the same cause, to wit, the troops disbanding of themselves before the militia could be got in) is, to me, a matter of wonder and astonishment; and proves that general Howe was either unacquainted with our situation, or restrained by his instructions from putting any thing to hazard until his re. enforcements should arrive..
“ The instance of general Montgomery (I mention it because it is a striking one, for a number of others might be adduced,) proves that, instead of having men to take advantage of circumstances, you are in a manner com