The Battle of Long Island

On the morning of August 22, 1776, the British frigates Phoenix, Rose, and Greyhound with their sails spread open in the hot sun weighed anchor off Staten Island in New York harbor and fell down The Narrows accompanied by two bomb ketches, the Carcass and the Thunder. British Generals Henry Clinton and Charles Cornwallis with an advance corps of 4,000 of the King’s elite troops pushed off in flatboats and proceeded across the three miles of water to the long beach at Gravesend Bay on the southwest tip of Long Island.

The warships pointed their cannon at the beach. By eight in the morning, the whole coast swarmed with boats. Then, a signal gun fired from British Admiral Richard Howe’s flagship, Phoenix.

The English and Scottish artillerists disembarked first. A battalion of Hessian grenadiers with muskets in hand disembarked in order of battle ranks. The Scottish dressed in kilts and wielding muskets, pistols, bayonets, and broadswords arrived. More troops followed, including women and children whose husbands and fathers were with the army. By noon, a fully equipped army of 15,000 men and forty pieces of artillery had landed and assembled in formation.

At Kennedy House in Manhattan, General George Washington initially received erroneous information about the number of the enemy force. He was told there were 6,000. In response, on August 25, he sent General Israel Putnam across the East River with six brigades to the American fortifications on Brooklyn Heights. Putnam was to assume command from General John Sullivan and reassign him to the center at Flatbush Road with 1,000 troops. General Alexander Stirling was responsible for the Gowanus Road on the right with the elite First Maryland Regiment, a Pennsylvania battalion, and Delaware regiments. Colonel Samuel Miles was to provide protection for the left  flank of the Continental Army at Bedford Road with 800 men.

They had failed to cover a fourth pass known as the Jamaica Pass, that lay three miles north of the American left flank on the Bedford Road. It was a blind spot in the American defenses patrolled by only five young militiamen.

The Continental Army had no cavalry and no spies, and the troops were unfamiliar of the lay of the land on Long Island. A force of fewer than 3,000 inexperienced American soldiers was expected to hold a ridge four miles long, while the rest, another 6,000 remained within the Brooklyn Heights forts: Greene, Putnam, Box, and Cobble Hill.

Battle_of_Long_Island_Map

The white tents of the British army, spread across the Flatlands, could be seen from the heights near Gowanus Road. The sight was alarming enough to cause some of the Americans to desert.

From his headquarters in the British encampment, General William Howe laid out plans to distract the rebels and keep them stationary while the main body of the British forces executed a sweeping flanking maneuver through Jamaica Pass. Howe assigned General James Grant two brigades which would cause a diversion close to The Narrows on the enemy’s right on the coast of the Upper Bay. Hessian General Leopold von Heister’s 4,000 Hessians would occupy the Americans’ center. General Charles Cornwallis was to back up Grant on the enemy’s right with grenadiers and the Scottish. General Henry Clinton was to command the advanced guard while Howe followed with the rest of the main force of 10,000 men.

On August 26 at 9:00 p.m, the British generals moved out to their assigned positions. No one except the commanders knew of the plan.

General James Grant led 5,000 redcoats toward the Red Lyon Inn on the coast of the Upper Bay near Gowanus Road where Pennsylvania riflemen were patrolling. The riflemen were relieved around two o’clock in the morning by green militiamen. Grant sent 300 men to attack the terrified men, who fled.

General Israel Putnam was alerted to this British movement. Alarm guns sounded and drums rolled as the men in the forts fell out in response to the alarm. Putnam believed it was the frontal assault and rushed to alert General Alexander Stirling whose troops were at Gowanus Road.

The men under Stirling’s overall command marched toward the enemy. A little before day light, they saw Grant’s regiments advancing along Gowanus Road with colors flying and field artillery out front. Before they could form lines, Grant’s artillery fired on Stirling’s vanguard in a thunderous profusion of smoke and shot.

Stirling shouted for his men to deploy. “Stretch out and form a V so we may have a chance to face these rascals in their own formations!”

The rebels volleyed and then fired on the British with two cannons. Grant pulled his troops back and switched to a steady artillery barrage.

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Mordecai Gist

Major Mordecai Gist, who was in command of the Marylanders, moved them to the right flank on top of a hill.  The Marylanders successfully withstood the British cannonade which was what Grant hoped. His diversion was working.

The Marylanders, believing that they were engaged with the enemy’s main assault, valiantly stood their ground without realizing that Grant sent a detachment eastward to link up with the Hessians and General von Heister in the center to surround them.

Colonel John Chester, of Connecticut, was entrenched with the Continentals at Bedford Pass with his adjutant Lieutenant Benjamin Tallmadge. Chester’s men could not maintain their ground at the pass and were forced to retreat to Brooklyn Heights.

William Howe and Henry Clinton’s flanking maneuver was unfolding as planned. They moved their 10,000 troops from the camp at Flatbush and advanced toward Jamaica Pass along the Jamaica Road. At 9:00 a.m., Howe fired two cannons, announcing his arrival in the village of Bedford north of Jamaica Pass.

General von Heister and three Hessian brigades, that formed a line nearly a mile long, approached the center of the American lines where General John Sullivan’s troops were positioned. Sullivan’s troops panicked when they saw the Hessians with colors flying and drums beating. Without firing a shot, the Hessians pressed forward until they could employ their bayonets. They broke through Sullivan’s line on the right and ruthlessly butchered the rebels.

Sullivan struggled to keep his men from panicking. He called for a retreat and led them from the center at Flatbush Pass in the direction of the Brooklyn Heights fortifications. The Hessians kept up their bayonet assault. Hundreds of rebel troops raced through the woods and fields to reach the forts. A detachment of British General Charles Cornwallis’ grenadiers chased them right up to the walls. Sullivan and some of his troops were taken prisoner.

Less than a mile west of Sullivan’s position and with the enemy converging on all sides, Gist and five companies of Marylanders pushed through their original bivouac area. Flanking fire pelted them from both sides until they came to a marsh and a stone farmhouse where Cornwallis’ forces were positioned at the Vechte farm.

To buy time for his troops to escape, Stirling took the Marylanders on a suicidal preemptive strike against Cornwallis’ position in and around the farmhouse and the orchards.

Cornwallis’ men aimed their muskets and light cannon on the advancing Marylanders. The fusillade dropped many of the men in their tracks, severing limbs and heads, killing several instantly. The Marylanders formed into lines and charged into the hail of fire coming from the British soldiers in the Vechte house.

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Then, the Hessians attacked the Marylanders. They linked up with Cornwallis’s Scottish Highlanders and assaulted the Marylanders from the rear, while Grant’s forces pushed in the front.

Major Mordecai Gist noticed a fateful pause. The Marylanders realized to their horror that they were flanked. They heard fire on their left, and in a short time discovered part of the enemy in their rear. Surrounded on all sides by at least 10,000 men, the Americans were driven with precipitation and confusion. Maryland’s finest lay dead and dying all around.

General Alexander Stirling found himself surrounded with no hope for escape. He surrendered his sword to the Hessian general von Heister.

The Hessians and Highlanders gave no quarter and dispatched the rebels with their bayonets, pinning some to trees, after they had surrounded them. The Maryland officers were the first to be killed or captured. Sixty men were taken prisoner. The rebels were cut off from the retreat by Cornwallis, and Gowanus Creek remained the only avenue of escape for any not crushed between the British and Hessian forces.

The waters of the bay were at high tide, making Gowanus Creek and the adjoining marshes nearly impassable. The men had to wade and swim through waist-and often neck-deep water, while trying to evade the British fire. Many suffocated in the mud or drown.

The Delaware regiment scattered. They were unable to defend themselves against the ruthless men pursing them. They fled through the woods carrying their torn regimental colors.

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Samuel Parsons

General Samuel Parsons’ men, who had been holding the hill on Stirling’s left flank before he retreated, turned to see that the line they were defending was gone. With Grant pressing them, they too tried to escape but found Cornwallis blocking the road. Unable to get to the creek, Parsons’ men dispersed into the woods under pursuit and most were killed.

All night, after the guns grew silent, the Americans inside the Brooklyn defenses, expecting the British to attack, waited tensely hour after hour as nothing happened.  Stragglers who had escaped capture kept coming into the lines, bedraggled single soldiers, many badly wounded. The morning after, Mordecai Gist and nine others Marylanders returned to the fortifications. They were the only ones of the valiant Marylanders to have made it back.

General William Howe’s army had crushed Washington’s forward defense, but Howe ordered his men to halt instead of storming the American fortifications on Brooklyn Heights.

George Washington and his staff left Kennedy House in Manhattan for Brooklyn Heights after receiving a message that General John Sullivan and General Alexander Stirling were taken prisoner. General Thomas Mifflin’s brigade of Pennsylvanians, and two regiments of mariners from Marblehead, Salem, and Danvers, Massachusetts under the command of Colonels John Glover and Israel Hutchinson arrived.

Then, a storm blew in from the northeast, preventing the British ships from sailing into the East River from the harbor.

On the evening of August 28, General Howe’s engineers began digging a system of trenches called approach by advances that would shield the army as it approached and besieged the American position. They worked all night with picks and shovels, and by the morning of August 29, the British had dug a 300-yard trench parallel to the American lines and a mere 600 yards away. At the rate they were digging, the British would have been within musket shot of the rebels in less than twenty-four hours, and it would have been nearly impossible to dislodge them from their advancing trench.

Joseph Reed and Thomas Mifflin convinced Washington to make a full scale retreat from Long Island. Mifflin requisitioned every boat fit for transporting troops. With the mariners manning the boats and under cover of fog, the Americans evacuated 9,500 soldiers in a single night with all of their baggage, tents, equipment, and horses.

Resources:

O’Donnell, Patrick K. Washington’s Immortals New York: Grove Press, 2016. Print.

Schecter, Barnet. The Battle For New York New York: Walker & Company, 2002. Print.

McCullough, David. 1776 New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005. Print.

My award-winning historical fantasy novel Angels & Patriots Book One is available on Amazon in paperback or Kindle eBook. Angels & Patriots Book One

Happy 277th Birthday, Dr. Joseph Warren

“Our country is in danger, but not to be despaired of. Our enemies are numerous and powerful; but we have many friends, determining to be free, and heaven and earth will aid the resolution. On you depend the fortunes of America. You are to decide the important question, on which rest the happiness and liberty of millions yet unborn. Act worthy of yourselves.”

~~ Dr. Joseph Warren (from his 1775 Boston Massacre Oration)

President Ronald Reagan quoted these words in his 1981 presidential inaugural address. Like the patriots of colonial America, Reagan was inspired by Dr. Joseph Warren’s determination, fortitude, and passion. Without Joseph’s influence and actions, this nation may not have been born.

Joseph Warren was a Boston physician who cared for rich and poor, American and English, free and slave. He was deeply involved with his fellow patriots, Sons of Liberty, and masonic lodge brothers: John Adams, John Hancock, Samuel Adams, and Paul Revere—to name a few.

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Dr. Joseph Warren

In April 1775, Joseph was elected president of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress and the Committee of Safety, to replace the absent John Hancock. With little money or resources, he was faced with the challenges of a rapidly evolving revolutionary political and military climate. He was a tireless devoted leader who responded to each new challenge with intelligence and courage.

He held the American rebellion together during the critical months (April – June 1775) that spanned the Battle of Lexington and Concord, and the Battle of Bunker Hill. Those collective months were his swan song.

If he had lived, he may have outshined all the Founding Fathers. Loyalist Peter Oliver surmised in 1782 that if Warren had lived, George Washington would have been “an obscurity.” But, the imminent grief of Joseph’s death eased, and his dazzling light dimmed.

Joseph Warren was born on June 11, 1741. The eldest of four boys–Samuel, Ebenezer, and John–Joseph grew up outside of Boston on the Warren family farm in Roxbury, Massachusetts. The Warren farm produced a distinctive kind of apple called Warren or Roxbury Russet. The senior Joseph Warren turning his eye upon his eldest son Joseph said, “I would rather a son of mine were dead, than a coward.” It would prove to be a prophetic statement.

By age fourteen, Joseph was attending Harvard. In October 1755, while working in the orchard, his father died after a fall from a ladder. Suddenly, Joseph was the head of the household, and it was a responsibility he took to heart.

Due to the generosity of the community, he was able to continue his studies at Harvard, where he became interested in medicine. Joseph learned the prevailing humeral approach to disease. Ancient Greek and Roman medicine ascribed diseases to imbalances in the humors; the four distinctive attributes of living organisms: blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile. As a physician, Joseph would have prescribed and prepared herbal medications to return the bodily humors to balance, and thus, cure the patient’s affliction.

Upon graduation, as repayment for the community’s sponsorship at Harvard, Joseph taught public grammar school at the Roxbury Latin school. After that year long stint, he was free to pursue his profession as a doctor.

During a time when a layman could practice medicine, Joseph was a passionate proponent of disciplined medical education. When a colleague, Dr. Thomas Young, prescribed a treatment for tuberculosis that resulted in the patient’s death, Joseph’s quill flew. With sardonic humor and under the pen name, Philo Physic, he carried on a ruthless debate with Dr. Young in the newspapers.

In early 1764, a smallpox epidemic swept Boston and the surrounding areas. Joseph went to work for the physicians’ initiative for community wide inoculation at Castle William, a fort and smallpox hospital just south of Boston. The doctors administered inoculations, and worked on case reporting and quarantine measures. It is here where Joseph met John Adams who had come to be inoculated.

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The following year, Joseph wrote articles calling for the establishment of an organization of Massachusetts physicians (the Massachusetts Medical Society would be established in 1782 by Joseph’s youngest brother John).

As a woman, I find descriptions of Joseph’s beauty and mannerisms alluring. His elegance was also apparent to men.

Richard Frothingham, in his 1865 text on the Life and Times of Joseph Warren, amply describes Warren, whose sandy blonde hair and gentle complexion was considered, especially by the ladies, as being quite handsome.

“He had a graceful figure, was scrupulously neat in his person, of thorough culture, and had an elegant address; and these traits rendered him a welcome visitor in polite circles, while a frank and genial manner made him a general favorite.  He had a great love for his fellow man; and being a stranger to the passion of avarice, and even neglectful to a fault in pecuniary matters, he had an ear ever open to the claims of want, and a hand ever extended to afford relief.” [1]

John Adams wrote in a letter dated July 29, 1775, shortly after Joseph’s death:  “Warren was a young man whom nature had adorned with grace and manly beauty, and a courage that would have been rash absurdity, had it not been tempered by self-control.” [2]

Joseph’s religious roots were Puritan, and his writings reveal his passionate use of religious allegories coupled with erotic metaphors. His 1772 and 1775 Boston Massacre Orations are filled with such references. How did his religious beliefs influence his associations with women?

Joseph married seventeen-year-old orphaned heiress, Elizabeth Hooton, in September 1764. She was probably pregnant when the couple married. Their first child, Elizabeth “Betsey”, was born sometime in March 1765. The marriage appeared to have been, at least in the beginning, little more than a union of convenience. The couple went on to have three more children: Joseph, Richard, and Mary.

No authentic records of Elizabeth’s thoughts, beliefs, or life with Joseph exists. Her portrait lacks adornments–jewelry, hairdressing, a book, a favorite pet–to suggest her personal tastes. Elizabeth died on April 26, 1773. (Paul Revere’s wife, Sarah, died a few weeks later.)

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Elizabeth Hooton Warren

The only accounts of Joseph’s thoughts on his wife were written following her death. On her passing, Joseph wrote:

Aetherial Spirits see the S[y]stem’s right, But mortal Minds demand a clearer Sight, In Spight of Reason’s philosophic Art, A tear must fall to indicate the Heart.[4] 

After Elizabeth’s death, Mercy Scollay cared for his children and became a member of the Warren household. Mercy was said to be Joseph’s intellectual equal. She was certainly articulate in her writings. Lore suggests she was Joseph’s fiancee at the time of his death. There is no documented evidence of that engagement.

After Joseph’s death, his youngest brother, Dr. John Warren, eventually got custody of the children. Their welfare remained in dire straits until 1778 when General Benedict Arnold (who had befriended Joseph at Cambridge) gave $500 for their education and petitioned Congress for the amount of a major general’s half pay for their welfare until the youngest reached majority.

Joseph’s biographer, Dr. Samuel Forman wrote that Joseph was “dismissive of women”. [3] Yet, history tells the tale of a handsome young doctor whose female patients feigned continuing illnesses as a ploy for Dr. Warren’s lingering attentions.

Apart from Mercy Scollay, lore links Joseph to many women, outside of the years he was married. Mary Wheatley, Margaret Gage, and Sally Edwards are among the women who may or may not have had a romantic relationship with him.

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Margaret Gage

Joseph was too occupied with establishing his medical practice, a smallpox epidemic, attempts to organize a province medical society, and his new life as a husband and soon-to-be father to notice the growing colonial despair over the acts of the British parliament. Then, parliament passed the Stamp Act on March 22, 1765. The new tax was imposed on all American colonists and required them to pay a tax on every piece of printed paper they used. Joseph went from a young independent physician to a committed radical Whig and Son of Liberty insider.

Enter Joseph’s political mentor, the much older, Samuel Adams. Their budding interaction was to mature into one of the most significant of their lives and of the patriot movement.

Joseph’s first successful strategic battle was an initiative to resolve a Boston dispute between his masonic lodge, St. Andrew’s Lodge of the Ancients, and the exclusionary and privileged English St. John’s Grand Lodge of the Moderns. The members of St. John’s refused to allow the inclusion of St. Andrew’s “common folk” into their masonic celebrations and rituals. One can imagine Joseph leaning in close to his fellow St. Andrew’s lodge members, Paul Revere and John Hancock, and with a smile, saying, “Screw this. We will procure our own Grand Lodge charter.”

A committee headed by Joseph, by-passed England and applied to Scotland for St. Andrew’s chartering as a Grand Lodge. The application was granted, and the commission establishing a new Grand Lodge of the Ancients with Joseph as its Grand Master was dated May 30, 1769. Now, St. John’s and St. Andrew’s Masonic lodges were on even ground.

I adjourn our visit with Joseph Warren’s life until June 17, when we will follow him to Bunker Hill.

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Battle of Bunker Hill

Resources:

Frothingham, Richard.  Life and Times of Joseph Warren.  1865:  Little Brown & Company, New York, NY.

Forman, Samuel A.  Dr. Joseph Warren, The Boston Tea Party, Bunker Hill, and the Birth of  American Liberty.  2012:  Pelican Publishing Company, Gretna, Louisiana.

Philbrick, Nathaniel. Bunker Hill A City, A Siege, A Revolution. 2013: Penguin Books, New York, NY.

http://www.revolutionarywarjournal.com/warren/#more-519; Revolutionary War Journal 2017

Warren, M.D., Edward. The Life of John Warren, M.D. Surgeon-General During The War Of The Revolution; First Professor Of Anatomy And Surgery In Harvard College; President of the Massachusetts Medical Society, Etc. 1874: Noyles, Holmes, and Company, Boston

Painting of Joseph Warren by John Singleton Copley, 1765. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA

Painting of Elizabeth Hooton Warren by John Singleton Copley, 1772. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA

Painting of Margaret Gage in the Turquerie style, circa 1771, by John Singleton Copley. Timken Museum of Art in San Diego, California.

Image of the Battle of Bunker Hill by Winthrop Chandler, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA

[1] (Frothingham, pg 19)

[2] http://www.revolutionarywarjournal.com/warren/#more-519

[3] (Forman, pg 191)

[4] (Forman, pg 183)

Dr. Joseph Warren is an important character in my award-winning historical fantasy novel Angels & Patriots Book One. Available on Amazon in paperback or Kindle eBook. Angels & Patriots Book One

The Battle of Chelsea Creek

On May 24, three days after British General Thomas Gage sent four sloops to tiny Grape Island near the town of Weymouth to pick up some recently harvested hay from the loyalist Elijah Leavitt, the Massachusetts Committee of Safety ordered all livestock and hay removed from nearby Noddles and Hog Island. The two contiguous islands lay east of Charlestown and formed a peninsula that reached from the town of Chelsea toward Boston to the southeast with the town of Winnisimmet on the opposite shore directly north.

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Those who sold their goods to the British faced the wrath of rebels, just as Elijah Leavitt had, and those who sold to the rebels faced the wrath of the British. One resident of Hog Island had been warned that if he sold anything to the British, the rebels would take all the cattle from the island and … handle him very roughly.

On the evening of May 26, American General Artemas Ward sent Colonel John Nixon of Sudbury and Colonel John Stark and his New Hampshire regiment to implement the committee’s directive. On the morning of May 27, approximately 500 rebels waded across the Chelsea-Hog Island channel, which at low tide became an easily fordable, knee-high creek with wide mudflat banks. A detachment of 30 men continued on to Noddle’s Island to corral livestock and burn hay. About 40 British marines occupied buildings on the island to warehouse stores and stockpile hay there for its horses in Boston.

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Admiral Samuel Graves

As the rebels rounded up sheep and cattle, British Admiral Samuel Graves was celebrating his promotion to vice admiral of the white squadron. His nephew, Lieutenant Thomas Graves, commander of the schooner Diana, sailed into Boston Harbor and joined the festivities.

Amid the pomp of his promotion ceremony, Admiral Graves was aware of an urgent message from General Gage dated two days before, reporting that “the Rebels intend this Night to destroy, and carry off all the Stock & on Noddles Island for no reason but because the owners having sold them for the Kings use.” This piece of intelligence may have come from Dr. Benjamin Church, but Church wasn’t Gage’s only spy and at that time, Church was on the road to Philadelphia to deliver missives from the Massachusetts Provincial Congress to the Continental Congress.

Around 2:00 p.m., the admiral was notified that smoke could be seen rising from Noddle’s Island. Stark and Nixon and their men had set fire to a barn full of hay and had killed some of the livestock drawing the attention of the marines stationed on the island. Admiral Graves responded by ordering his nephew to sail Diana up the narrow waterway that lay between the islands and the mainland while 170 marines were sent to pursue the rebels on foot on Noddle’s Island. Armed with four six-pounders and a dozen smaller swivel guns, Diana fired on the rebels on Noddle’s Island while the larger force of marines splashed ashore from longboats. The Noddle’s Island rebel forces slaughtered some of the livestock they had corralled and retreated across Crooked Creek.

Half the rebels continued on with the livestock while the other half jumped into a ditch and commenced a rear guard action to keep the schooner and the marines at bay. By 5:00 p.m. Diana was in the shallows between Hog Island and the mainland. Diana exchanged heavy fire with the rebels on Hog Island and the rebels on the Chelsea mainland. Under heavy rebel fire and with an outgoing tide threatening to ground his schooner, the commanding officer, Lieutenant Graves, sought the aid of a dozen longboats to tow him back down the creek in the dying breeze. In hopes of ambushing Diana before she reached the safety of the harbor, the rebels rushed down the north shore of Chelsea Creek toward Winnisimmet.

By 9:00 p.m., the sun was setting. Colonel Israel Putnam and Dr. Joseph Warren arrived at Newgate Landing with two field pieces and more men. Putnam directed his cannon fire at Diana that was now slowly drifting south along the shore.

 

 

The Royal Navy marines had transported several cannons to a hill on Noddle’s Island. Out of the darkness, cannonballs whistled down at the rebels as they waded into the creek and fired at the longboats towing Diana past the Winnisimmet shore. The rebel cannons returned fire with such effectiveness that the British longboat crews were forced to abandon Diana. The schooner soon drifted toward shore and grounded on the wooden rails extending from the ferry dock.

Lieutenant Graves and his men attempted to use their anchor to drag the schooner to deeper water, but as the tide ebbed, the schooner began to roll onto her side. They had no choice but to abandon her for the sloop Britannia anchored in deeper waters. Later that night, the rebels plundered Diana of her guns, rigging, and equipment, and then set her on fire. Around 3:00 a.m., the fire reached the vessel’s powder magazine and the schooner exploded.

That night, Israel Putnam and Joseph Warren returned to Cambridge to report to General Ward.

“I wish we could have something of this kind to do every day,” Putnam crowed.

General Ward was concerned that the engagement might provoke the British to launch a sortie from Boston.

The skirmish at Chelsea Creek was a humiliating defeat for Admiral Graves and his nephew. It was a clear rebel victory, but it had also consumed a large amount of rebel gunpowder.  Joseph Warren had been in favor of an attack on Boston. He now had a more realistic view of his army’s preparedness.

Rather than agree with Putnam, Warren said, “I admire your spirit and respect General Ward’s prudence. Both will be necessary for us, and one must temper the other.”

Resources:

Philbrick, Nathaniel. Bunker Hill A City, A Siege, A Revolution New York: Penguin Books, 2013. Print.

Borneman, Walter R. American Spring: Lexington, Concord, and the Road to Revolution New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2014. Print.

Battle of Chelsea Creek I

 

Dr. Joseph Warren is an important character in my award-winning novel Angels & Patriots Book One. Available on Amazon in paperback or Kindle eBook. Angels & Patriots Book One

Dr. Joseph Warren’s Funeral and Second Burial, April 8, 1776

“On the 17th of June, my father was again called from Salem by the sound of the firing of cannon, and by the flames of Charlestown. I well recollect the pathetic and glowing description he gave me…of his lonely march on that night.” ~~ Dr. Edward Warren writing about his father, Dr. John Warren’s journey after the Battle of Bunker Hill.

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Dr. John Warren

Twenty-two-year-old John Warren tried to pass the British sentries guarding the Charlestown peninsula to search for his missing oldest brother, Dr. Joseph Warren, who held a major general commission at the time of the battle. John’s pleas were answered with a bayonet to the chest. He bore the physical scar of grief for the rest of his life.

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Dr. Joseph Warren: Major General and Grand Master of Masons for the Continent of America

From John’s own account of his overwhelming anxiety:

“Accordingly, in the morning about two o’clock, I prepared myself, and went off on horseback, and when I arrived at Medford, received the melancholy and distressing tidings that my brother was missing. Upon this dreadful intelligence I went immediately to Cambridge, and inquired of almost ever person I saw whether they could give me any information of him [Joseph]. Some told me he was undoubtedly alive and well, others, that he was wounded; and others, that he fell on the field.

 “This perplexed me almost to distraction. I went on inquiring, with a solicitude which was such a mixture of hope and fear, as none but one who has felt it can form any conception of. In this manner I passed several days, every days’ information diminishing the probability of his safety.”

At that time, it was impossible to reconcile what happened during the fierce and confused melee of the battle. Who was involved and the circumstances where not clear. That the British obtained possession of the ground was all that could be known.

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Battle of Bunker Hill

But the extreme distress and susceptibility of John Warren’s state of mind was evident in the young doctor’s journal entries. His indignation was directed at the British ministries and not the king himself. He writes of Joseph’s death as if it were murder, and of Joseph’s four young orphaned children.

“Unfeeling wretches! reflect a moment, if you have still one feature of humanity which is obliterated from your minds, and view the helpless orphan bereft of its fond and only parent, stript of every comfort of life, driven into an inhospitable wild, and exposed to all the misery which is the result of your brutal violence.”

The siege of Boston came to an end nine months later, on March 17, 1776. In late March, John and his older brother, Eben, walked the theater where the scene of the bloody battle had been acted on Breed’s Hill. Perhaps, Paul Revere, Joseph’s close friend, was with the Warren brothers as they searched the hillocks under which the remains of dead heroes laid. It is said that an Englishman claimed to have witnessed Joseph’s hasty burial in the shallow grave he shared with a farmer.

What is certain is that Paul fashioned a false tooth for Joseph. It was not until some eighty years later that this piece of forensic clue was mentioned in identifying the badly decomposed remains. There were also rumors of disrespect to his body after he was slain: mutilated by British bayonets, stripped of his beautiful wedding suit, and decapitated.

Joseph’s remains lay in state at the Massachusetts Provincial State House in Boston for three days. The outbreak of the Revolutionary War dispersed the Masons, many of whom belonged to the British army; but on the discovery of Joseph’s remains, they returned to give their late Grand Master of the “Ancient Lodge” (St. Andrew’s) the burial he was due. On April 8, 1776, a large and respectable number of the masonic brethren, with their late grand officers, assembled to attend his obsequies, and followed in procession from the State House to the Stone Chapel (King’s Chapel).

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John Rowe

One prominent mason was unable to attend the service. The merchant, John Rowe, had questionable patriotic political leanings and was the Grand Master of the “Grand Lodge” (St John’s). He wrote in his journal “I went by invitation…to attend the funeral of the remains of Dr. Warren.” When Rowe came to walk in procession with the lodges under his jurisdiction with their proper jewels and clothing, he was to his great mortification “very much insulted by some furious and hot persons without the least provocation.” One of his fellow masons thought it most prudent that he retire. That evening, Rowe was plagued by “some uneasy reflections in my mind as I am not conscious to myself of doing anything prejudicial to the cause of America either by will or deed.”

The names of all those who attended Joseph’s funeral in King’s Chapel are unclear. Members of the St. Andrew’s Masonic Lodge and deputy Grand Master Joseph Webb, Paul Revere, Rev Dr. Samuel Cooper, and probably Dr. John Warren were in attendence. Whether Joseph’s mother, Mary, or his children, or his supposed fiancee at the time of his death, Mercy Scollay, attended are not known. Boston was in an uproar at the time because the British had just evacuated, therefore, a good account of the attendees was not recorded.

Joseph’s eulogy was delivered by young lawyer, Perez Morton. Morton met Joseph as a minor official on the Massachusetts Provincial Committee of Safety during the early months of the Siege of Boston. Morton’s eulogy of Warren, delivered under Masonic auspices, was well received at the time. It was a notable example of oratorical eloquence and public advocacy in favor of Independence from Great Britain. The eulogy was reprinted well into the 19th century along with collections of the Boston Massacre orations.

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Perez Morton

Morton’s conclusion of Joseph’s eulogy:

“We will assert the Blood of our murdered Hero against thy hostile Oppressions, O shameless Britain! and when “thy Cloud-cap’d Towers, thy gorgeous Palaces” shall by the Teeth of Pride and Folly be levell’d with the Dust—and when thy Glory shall have faded like the Western Sunbeam—the Name and the Virtues of WARREN shall remain immortal.”

Joseph’s casket was taken in funeral procession for interment at the Granary Cemetery. The Minot family offered their family’s plot since the Warren family did not have one in Boston. His remains would lie in the tomb, lost to posterity for fifty years until his nephew, John C. Warren, after much research, identified the body’s whereabouts. Joseph was reburied two more times.

*St. Paul’s Church in Boston in 1825

*Forest Hills Cemetery in Roxbury, MA (Jamaica Plains) August 8, 1856

The Tory Peter Oliver’s January 1776 newspaper address to rebelling colonists cited Joseph Warren’s grisly end as just desserts for a scheming social climber and recklessly ambitious rebel against the king’s authority. In 1782, Oliver was quoted as saying, “Had Warren lived George Washington would have been ‘an obscurity.’ “

Notes:

*The blog post painting is by John Trumbull, The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker’s Hill, 17 June, 1775(Museum of Fine Arts, Boston). Joseph Warren is the man in white lying on the ground in the forefront of the painting. A man is protecting him as he dies, but Joseph was shot in the face during the waning moments of the battle, therefore, his death would have been instantaneous. 

*The pictures of Joseph’s grave site on Mount Warren at Forest Hills Cemetery are from my camera.

*Read Perez Morton’s entire eulogy here:

http://www.drjosephwarren.com/2016/07/addressing-both-understanding-and-passions-from-the-one-he-forced-conviction-from-the-other-he-stole-assent/

Resources:

Warren, M.D., Edward. The Life of John Warren, M.D. Surgeon-General During The War Of The Revolution; First Professor Of Anatomy And Surgery In Harvard College; President of the Massachusetts Medical Society, Etc. 1874: Noyles, Holmes, and Company, Boston

Forman, Samuel A.  Dr. Joseph Warren, The Boston Tea Party, Bunker Hill, and the Birth of American Liberty. 2012:  Pelican Publishing Company, Gretna, Louisiana.

Philbrick, Nathaniel. Bunker Hill A City, A Siege, A Revolution. 2013Penguin Books, New York, NY.

http://www.drjosephwarren.com/

https://www.masshist.org/revolution/image-viewer.php?item_id=1763&img_step=1&tpc=&pid=2&mode=large&tpc=&pid=2#page1 – John Rowe diary 13, 8 April 1776, pages 2136-2138

Dr. Joseph Warren is an important character in my award-winning historical fantasy novel Angels & Patriots Book One. Available on Amazon in paperback or Kindle eBook. Angels & Patriots Book One

Evacuation Day: The End of the Siege of Boston

On March 5, 1776, as the sun rose over Boston, the British were shocked to see two American redoubts atop the hills of Dorchester—one facing east toward Castle Island and the other facing north toward Boston, with two smaller works on their flanks and heavy artillery staring down on the town.

Siege_of_Boston_1776

British General William Howe was said to have exclaimed, “My God, these fellows have done more work in one night than I could make my army do in three months!”

Howe had been confident that the rebels would never make a move on Boston, and had promised to sally forth if they did so. As a matter of pride, he would have to attack as he vowed. His council of war believed an attack would be a terrible mistake. Despite their objections, Howe ordered 3000 troops to embark down the harbor to Castle Island from where an assault on the Heights would be launched at nightfall.

Among General Howe’s council, Captain Archibald Robertson, Captain John Montresor, and Lord Hugh Percy contended that they “ought to immediately embark” Boston all together.  By nightfall, a storm that some judged to be a hurricane, raged. Howe was glad to accept this interruption as an excuse for not undertaking an attack that would have cost the lives of many of his regulars. The following morning, he called back the detachment and informed his war council of his intentions of evacuating Boston and going to Halifax, Nova Scotia.

WilliamHowe1777ColorMezzotint_(crop)
General William Howe

After Howe made his announcement ordering the army and fleet to prepare to evacuate, Boston became a scene of utmost frenzy. Howe had received no orders or word of any kind from the British Secretary of State for the Colonies, Lord Germain, since October. He had no long-standing plan for a withdrawal of such magnitude, or any comparable past experience to draw upon.

It was not just the thousands of troops and military stores to transport. Howe intended to take every loyalist who chose to go. The necessary care of women and children, and the sick and wounded required every assistance that could be given. There were a sufficient number of ships at hand, but these all needed sailors and had to be supplied with provisions and water; which were scarce.

High winds continued to blow and churn the waters of Boston Harbor. The rebel guns (Henry Knox captured from Fort Ticonderoga) remained silent while they strengthened their position on Dorchester Heights.

On March 8, American selectman Deacon Timothy Newell and other intermediaries crossed through the lines at Boston Neck carrying a white flag, and delivered a message informing Washington that the city would not be burned to the ground if the British were allowed to leave unmolested.

The alarm and anxiety among the loyalists was extreme. “The Tories…carried death in their faces…some run distracted.” They had no idea where they were heading, nor did they know if there was room for all who wanted to go. Most of them had never lived anywhere else. They were disillusioned and disoriented. They saw themselves as the true American patriots; loyal to their King and to the rule of law. Britain had failed to protect them from what, in their opinion, had become mob rule.

These fourth and fifth generation Americans began boarding ships on March 10. Accommodations on the overcrowded ships were wretched. There were no berths in which to sleep. Families, some as large as seventeen members, were forced to sleep on the crowded floor like “pigs“. There was little food and water. All wondered, what miseries lay at sea?

In the next days, the ships began falling down the harbor with the tide as far as the Nantasket Roads, below Castle Island, to anchor out of range of the rebel cannon and to provide space for other vessels to tie up at the wharves. There the exiles sat on the rocking waves, day after day. Not until Sunday, March 17, St. Patrick’s Day, did the wind turn fair and favorable.

British Captain Archibald Robertson exuberated in his journal: “It was the finest day in the world.”

Image from the collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society.
General Artemas Ward

Led by General Artemas Ward, on horseback, the Americans entered the town with drums beating and flags flying. By all rights, it should have been Washington leading the troops, but in a gracious gesture he gave the honor to Ward, his predecessor as commander of the Provincial Army.

American General William Heath wrote in his memoirs:

“In the morning [of the 17th] the British evacuated Boston; their rear guard with some marks of precipitation. A number of cannon were left spiked, and two large marine mortars, which they in vain attempted to burst. The garrison at Bunker’s Hill practised some deception to cover their retreat. They fixed some images, representing men, in the places of their centinels, with muskets placed on their shoulders, &c. Their immovable position led to the discovery of the deception, and a detachment of the Americans marched in and took possession.

The troops on the Roxbury side, moved over the Neck and took possession of Boston; as did others from Cambridge, in boats. On the Americans entering the town, the inhabitants discovered joy inexpressible. The town had been much injured in its buildings, and some individuals had been plundered. Some British stores were left. The British army went on board their transports below the Castle. A number of American adherents to them, and the British cause, went away with the army.”

More than twenty-five British brigs, schooners, sloops, and ships had been abandoned, some loaded with stores and all of them scuttled. The dragoons had left horses in the stables along with tons of hay. Broken carriages and chaises littered Long Wharf.

After entering Boston, Dr. John Warren, General Joseph Warren’s youngest brother noted:

“The houses, I found to be considerably abused inside, where they had been inhabited by the common soldiery but the external parts of the houses made a tolerable appearance. the streets were clean. . .The inhabitants, in general, appeared to rejoice at our success, but a considerable number of Tories have tarried in the town to throw themselves on the mercy of the people.”

But William Howe had no intention of leaving Boston without a parting demonstration. His fleet came to anchor at King’s Road, and with the arrival of his flagship, Chatham, every warship fired a roaring 21-gun salute. The full guns of Chatham answered in kind—a reminder of King George III’s royal might.

On March 19, the last of the British might in Boston Harbor blew up Castle William and burnt some of the barracks. There was a lazy attempt to cannonade Dorchester Neck. Then, on March 27, they headed for open sea.

1789_CastleWilliam_BostonHarbor_MassachusettsMagazine

George Washington was convinced that their destination was New York. Howe’s fleet disappeared over the horizon, bound not for New York, but Halifax, Nova Scotia.

The siege, which had begun on April 19, 1775, had been a success, and George Washington’s performance had been exceptional. He had indeed bested Howe and his regulars, despite the Continental Army’s insufficient arms, ammunition, shelter, illness, inexperience, lack of discipline, clothing and funds.

By purging itself of loyalists, Boston had reaffirmed its origins and was, once again, its own “city on a hill.”

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Lithograph: Boston From Dorchester Heights

Resources:

Flexner, James Thomas. Washington The Indispensable Man. 1974: Back Bay Books/Little, Brown and Company, New York, NY.

Memoirs of Major-General Heath. Containing Anecdotes, Details of Skirmishes, Battles, and other Military Events, During The American War. Written Br Himself. publithtrt accorying to 3ft of Congrefa. Printed at Boston, Bt I. THOMAS and E. T. ANDREWS, Faust’s Statue, No. 45, Newburt-Street. Sold by them; by I. Thomas, Worcefter; by Thomas, Andrew! Is” Pen- himam, Albany j by Thomas, Andrews (9* Butler, Baltimore; and by the Bookfellers throughout the Continent. MUG. I798.

McCullough, David. 1776. 2005: Simon & Schuster, New York, NY.

Philbrick, Nathaniel. Bunker Hill A City, A Siege, A Revolution. 2013Penguin Books, New York, NY.

Warren, M.D., Edward. The Life of John Warren, M.D. Surgeon-General During The War Of The Revolution; First Professor Of Anatomy And Surgery In Harvard College; President of the Massachusetts Medical Society, Etc. 1874: Noyles, Holmes, and Company, Boston

Lithograph. Title: Boston from Dorchester Heights Creator/Contributor: Coke, E. T. (Edward Thomas), 1807-1888 (artist) Date created: 1830 – 1839 (approximate) Provenance: Statement of responsibility: Drawn on stone by Punser from a sketch by E. T. Coke Location: Boston Public Library, Print Department

My award-winning historical fantasy novel Angels & Patriots Book One is available on Amazon in paperback or Kindle eBook. Angels & Patriots Book One

Dr. Joseph Warren’s 1775 Boston Massacre Oration

“Our country is in danger but not to be despaired of. Our enemies are numerous and powerful – but we have many friends. Determine to be free and Heaven and earth will aid the resolution. On you depend the fortunes of America. You are to decide the important question on which rest the happiness and liberty of millions yet unborn. Act worthy of yourselves.”  ~~ Dr. Joseph Warren

March 5, the fifth anniversary of the Boston Massacre fell on a Sunday. Therefore, the patriots observed the annual commemoration of the tragic clash that took place between British soldiers and town’s residents on Monday, March 6.

Unlike previous occasions of the event, British troops were abundant in Boston (most had been removed to Castle William after the massacre). Almost everyone, including British General Thomas Gage, expected trouble. The regulars were going to resent an oration whose purpose was, in the words of Samuel Adams, “to commemorate a massacre perpetuated by soldiers and to show the danger of standing armies.” Now, months of hostility on both sides propagated rumors that the British would arrest or assassinate the orator.

Joseph Warren had delivered the oration in 1772. He was asked to speak again. If there was trouble, Samuel Adams wanted someone of Joseph’s experience and resolve in the pulpit. This could well be the last time Gage would allow Patriots to freely assemble in Boston. If Gage was authorized to arrest patriot leaders, it may have been prudent for those leaders to leave town.

Joseph was not to be intimidated into silence. He focused his skills to provide an eloquent exposition of the Patriotic cause and an impressive theatrical performance.

A crowd of 5000 gathered at the Old South Meeting House; some were British officers. Samuel Adams invited them to sit in the pews directly in front of the pulpit so they “might have no pretense to behave ill.” This put the soldiers uncomfortably close to the many leading patriots in attendance. The officers were not only sitting in the pews, some, it is said, may have been seated on the steps leading up to the pulpit.

Around eleven o’clock in the morning, Joseph arrived in a carriage and proceeded to change into a toga in the shop across the street before entering Old South Meeting House. A toga was worn by a citizen of Rome and distinguished him from a soldier or a slave. At Harvard, Joseph had performed the play Cato with his classmates. This was Joseph realizing Cato in his own way in the present: the citizen unintimidated by Caesar’s tyrannical threats, declaiming to an honorable citizenry on behalf of liberty and a representative government.

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The pulpit of Old South Meeting House today.

Since the meetinghouse was jammed with people, Joseph was taken around to the back of the building, where he climbed a ladder to access the pulpit through the rear window. It was dramatic entrance that intensified the already surging emotions of the moment. For those who did not share his point of view, his “Demosthenian posture”, with a white handkerchief in his right hand, and his left hand in his breeches, was downright juvenile. Joseph began to speak in the high pitched nasal delivery of New England ministers. One loyalist commented on his “true puritanical whine.”

Joseph opened with a statement of natural rights. He went on to contend:

“And no man or body of man, can without being guilty of flagrant injustice, claim a right to dispose of the person or acquisitions of any other man, or body of men, unless it can be proved that such a right has arisen from some compact between the parties in which it has been explicitly and freely granted.”  

Joseph’s biographer, Dr. Samuel Forman, translated and summarized passages from his speech. These are a few culminations of Joseph’s beliefs and observations:

He warned that tyrants did not hesitate to distort religious beliefs.

Britain became interested in the colony [Massachusetts] and came to a mutually beneficial relationship, only after the settlers had done all the hard work to establish it.

He focused the discourse on the responsibility of the individual to do their part for the maintenance of liberty.

He projected the view, uniting Patriots with British Whigs that the fate of liberty in America was crucial to liberty in Great Britain. He spoke to the present while being mindful of providing the foundation for a solid future.  

There are two varying versions of what happened during his oration. A British officer displayed a handful of musket balls in a threatening manner. Joseph, who was steps higher on the podium, answered by dropping his white handkerchief that literally covered the officer’s gesture. A second story related by Thomas Hutchinson, speaks of a botched assassination attempt, that, if Dr. Warren said anything against the King, etc., an officer was to throw an egg in his face as a signal to draw swords and massacre John Hancock, Samuel Adams, and hundreds more.

At this point, Joseph launched into a passage he had written at the last minute, in which he insisted “an independence of Great Britain is not our aim” but went on to caution that if measures to do so “are ineffectual and it appears that the only way to safety is through fields of blood, I know you will not turn your faces from your foes”. 

When Joseph spoke of the events of March 5, 1770, instead of dwelling on the brutality of the soldiers, he focused on the agony and despair of the families who had lost loved ones that night. His father died in 1755, after falling from a ladder while working in the Warren family orchard. The tragic accident was witnessed by his youngest brother, John, who was only two years old at the time. Joseph may have been drawing upon his own traumatic memories when he spoke of of widow and her children witnessing the death of a husband and parent.

“Come widowed mourner, here satiate they grief; behold the murdered husband gasping on the ground, and to complete the pompous show of wretchedness, bring in each hand thy infant children to bewail their father’s fate. Take heed, ye orphan babes, lest, whilst your streaming eyes are fixed upon the ghastly corpse, your feet glide on the stones bespattered with your father’s brain.” 

The British responded to Joseph’s Boston Massacre Oration with ridicule. On March 15, 1775, British officers and Loyalists gathered on King Street and then proceeded to the nearby British Coffee House where they conducted a mock town meeting. The orator, loyalist physician Thomas Bolton, began to read a satirical lampoon of Joseph’s oration.

When Joseph began his speech on March 6, he had humbly insisted that his own words could not match those of previous orators such as James Lovell, Dr. Benjamin Church, and John Hancock. The contemptuous discourse that derided Joseph’s humility, accused him of poisoning street thug and fellow Son of Liberty William Molineux, and scoffed at his association with the atheist Dr. Thomas Young, among other things, may have been written by the traitorous Benjamin Church himself. It was character assassination.

Bolton read “I cannot boast the ignorance of Hancock, the insolence of Adams, the absurdity of Rowe, the arrogance of Lee, the vicious life and untimely death of Molineux, the turgid bombast of Warren, the treason of Quincy, the hypocrisy of Cooper, nor the principals of Young.”

The Rivington Tory press in New York printed Bolton’s speech. It was ignored by Patriots at that time and did not advance the cause of Loyalism.

Read Joseph Warren’s full speech at http://www.drjosephwarren.com/2015/03/1775-boston-massacre-oration-manuscript-transcription-in-full-text/

Resources:

Forman, Samuel A.  Dr. Joseph Warren, The Boston Tea Party, Bunker Hill, and the Birth of American Liberty. 2012:  Pelican Publishing Company, Gretna, Louisiana.

Philbrick, Nathaniel. Bunker Hill A City, A Siege, A Revolution. 2013Penguin Books, New York, NY.

 

Dr. Joseph Warren is an important character in my award-winning historical fantasy novel Angels & Patriots Book One. Available on Amazon in paperback, Kindle eBook or read for free on Kindle Unlimited. Angels & Patriots Book One

The Taking of Dorchester Heights

General George Washington, the newly appointed commander-in-chief of the fledgling Continental Army, arrived at army headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts on July 2, 1775. The amateur general desired to prove himself with an assault on besieged Boston that would end the war in one fell swoop. The Continental Congress and Washington’s war council refused to allow it. Without consent, and a lack of gunpowder, heavy weaponry, and congressional funding, offensive operations were virtually impossible.

Henry_Knox_by_Gilbert_Stuart_1806
General Henry Knox

But he would have his artillery. By the end of January 1776, Colonel Henry Knox had returned to Cambridge with “a noble train of artillery”. The expedition to retrieve the guns from Fort Ticonderoga, at the southern tip of Lake Champlain, had been an astounding feat of fortitude.

In a meeting of his war council, on February 16, 1776, Washington argued for attacking Boston. “A stroke well aimed at this critical juncture might put a final end to the war.”

General Nathanael Greene was concerned that an assault on a town garrisoned with British regulars could have horrible consequences, “horrible if it succeeded, and still more horrible if it failed.”

“Our defeat may risk the entire loss of liberties of American forever,” General Horatio Gates stated.

General Artemas Ward, the commanding officer of the army prior to Washington’s arrival, maintained, “The attack must be made with a view of bringing on an engagement, or of driving the enemy out of Boston and either end will be answered much better by possessing Dorchester Heights.”

Image from the collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society.
General Artemas Ward

Washington’s previous plan had been to attack across the frozen waters of Back Bay. Holding on to part of that plan, he proposed a backdoor amphibious assault launched from Cambridge. The Americans would cross Back Bay to Boston’s western shores. They could possibly take the city before the British troops had a chance to return from Dorchester Heights.

General William Heath pointed out that if the enemy did “make a sally” from Boston, British General William Howe would provide for defense of the town. Washington’s plan to expect his soldiers to cross a mile and a half of open water in the face of British artillery “was madness”.

William_E_Heath
General William Heath

It was finally agreed to build fortifications on Dorchester Heights on a single night before the British knew what was happening, just as had been done at Bunker Hill. The operation would require the procurement, supply, and maintenance of equipment, as well as, movement of troops and hospitalization of the wounded. Those things would prove to be as challenging as the military engagement.

Freezing temperatures meant that building a redoubt atop the bare, rock-hard, wind-swept hills of Dorchester was going to be difficult. The solution came from an unexpected source—Lieutenant Colonel Rufus Putnam, a cousin of Israel Putnam. Rufus had worked beside a few British engineers during the French and Indian War. Washington asked him to devise a way to quickly build a fortification on the Heights.

Rufus borrowed a book from General William Heath titled Attack and Defense of Fortified Places by the British engineer John Muller. On page 4, he discovered an engineering term he had never heard before: chandelier.

A chandelier was a double-ended wooden scaffold that sat on the ground: when it was placed beside another chandelier, the open space between the two frames was filled with fascines; bundles of tree branches that when covered with dirt formed the basis of a cannon-proof bulwark. With dozens of precut chandeliers and fascines, the Americans could create the beginnings of a redoubt atop Dorchester Heights.

Chandeliers-and-fascines
Two chandeliers, stacked with fascines.

Putnam took his plan to construct chandeliers to colonels Richard Gridley and Henry Knox. In turn, the three went to see George Washington. The solution was a scheme whereby the fortifications would be fabricated elsewhere out of sight, then, with massed manpower and oxen, hauled, along with the heavy cannon, to Dorchester Heights, where all would have to be in place and ready for action before daylight on March 5; the sixth anniversary of the Boston Massacre.

As a diversion, a cannonade and bombardment would begin against the British works on Boston Neck and Bunker Hill from the American works on Cobble Hill and Lechmere’s Point in Cambridge and from Lamb’s Dam on the Roxbury side. This required the placement of some of the heavy cannons from Ticonderoga. The causeway from Roxbury to Dorchester would be lined with a long barrier of hay bales to block the enemy’s view of the Americans moving to the Heights.

Men were dispatched to round up wagons, carts, and 800 oxen. The army’s hospital in Cambridge was readied. Notices in the Boston Gazette, published out of Watertown, called for volunteer nurses. 2000 Massachusetts militia were called out.

Work details, in Roxbury, cut down trees to make chandeliers, barrels, abatis, fascines, and gabions. The barrels would be set in rows in front of the parapets to present the appearance of strengthening the works; but the real design was, in case the British made an attack, to roll them down the hill toward the approaching enemy. Carpenters in Cambridge built 45 flat-bottomed bateaux, each capable of carrying 80 men, along with two floating batteries.

For miles around, everyone was expecting something. Bets were wagered on what would happen and when. Abigail Adams wrote to her husband, John, in Philadelphia:

The preparations increase and something is daily expected, something terrible it will be. I have been in a continual state of anxiety and expectation . . . it has been said ‘tomorrow’ and ‘tomorrow’ for this past month, but when the dreadful tomorrow will be I know not.”

Washington’s fear that the American operation would be discovered was fueled when a Virginia rifleman deserted to the British. Generals William Heath and John Sullivan personally inspected the lines to ensure that the guards on duty were vigilant on the chance that British got wind of what was happening and moved first to occupy the Heights.

On the night of February 27, Colonel Henry Knox led a group of his artillerymen to install cannon and mortars on Lechmere Point. The cannonade began from there on the night of March 2. Cannons began lobbing shot and shells into Boston to divert the enemy and drown out the noise of the work parties. The British responded with a furious cannonade of their own.

Siege_of_Boston_1776

On the night of March 4, at 7:00 p.m. Henry Knox’s regiments began firing from Roxbury, Lechmere Point, and Cobble Hill at a ferocious rate. The roar of British guns answered.

British captain Charles Stuart described sheets of fire filling the sky, and that “the inhabitants [of Boston] were in a horrid situation, particularly the women…drove from their houses by shot, and, crying for protection.”

When the cannonading began, General John Thomas, with 2000 men, started across the Dorchester causeway, moving rapidly and silently, shielded from view by the long barrier of hay bales. An advanced guard of 800 men made up largely of riflemen, went first, to fan out along the Dorchester shores. A work party of 1,200 men followed the riflemen. Then came the hundreds of heavy wagons loaded with chandeliers, fascines, hay bales, barrels, and the guns from Ticonderoga. Progress up the steep smooth slopes was extremely difficult, yet some of the ox teams and wagons made several trips.

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At Cambridge, generals Nathanael Greene and John Sullivan readied 4000 troops for an amphibious assault in the event of a signal from the Roxbury meetinghouse.

The night proved to be perfect for the work operation to come. The weather was unseasonably mild. A low-lying haze prevented the British from seeing much of anything beyond Boston, and a full moon provided the Americans with the light they needed to see their way. On the Heights, the troops went to work with picks and shovels to arrange the chandeliers and fascines, and dig ditches and build breastworks. By 10:00 pm, the fortifications were sufficiently ready to defend against small arms and grapeshot.

A British lieutenant colonel, Sir John Campbell, reported to British General Francis Smith that the rebels were at work on Dorchester Heights. Smith chose to ignore it. From that point on, the work proceeded unnoticed.

General William Heath wrote, “Perhaps there never was so much work done in so short a space of time.”

At first light, the British were shocked to see two redoubts atop the hills of Dorchester—one facing east toward Castle Island and the other facing north toward Boston, with two smaller works on their flanks and heavy artillery staring down on the town.

WilliamHowe1777ColorMezzotint_(crop)
General William Howe

General William Howe was said to have exclaimed, “My God, these fellows have done more work in one night than I could make my army do in three months!”

Howe had been confident that the rebels would never make a move on Boston, and had promised to sally forth if they did so. As a matter of pride, he would have to attack as he vowed. His council of war believed an attack would be a terrible mistake however, despite their objections, Howe ordered 3000 troops to embark down the harbor to Castle Island from where an assault on the Heights would be launched at nightfall.

Among General Howe’s council, Captain Archibald Robertson, Captain John Montresor, and Lord Hugh Percy contended that they “ought to immediately embark” Boston altogether. By nightfall, a storm that some judged to be a hurricane, raged. Howe was glad to accept this interruption as an excuse for not undertaking an attack that would have cost the lives of many of his regulars. The following morning, he called back the detachment and informed his war council of his intentions of evacuating Boston and going to Halifax, Nova Scotia.

On March 17, 1776, General Howe and his army evacuated Boston ending the eleven month long siege. On March 19, the last of the British might in Boston harbor Blew up Castle William and burnt some of the barracks. There was a lazy attempt to cannonade Dorchester Neck. Then, on March 27, they headed for open sea.

Resources:

http://www.processhistory.org/gw-cambridge/

https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/chandelier

Memoirs of Major-General Heath. Containing Anecdotes, Details of Skirmishes, Battles, and other Military Events, During The American War. Written Br Himself. publithtrt accorying to 3ft of Congrefa. Printed at Boston, Bt I. THOMAS and E. T. ANDREWS, Faust’s Statue, No. 45, Newburt-Street. Sold by them; by I. Thomas, Worcefter; by Thomas, Andrew! Is” Pen- himam, Albany j by Thomas, Andrews (9* Butler, Baltimore; and by the Bookfellers throughout the Continent. MUG. I798.

Philbrick, Nathaniel. Bunker Hill A City, A Siege, A Revolution. 2013Penguin Books, New York, NY.

McCullough, David. 1776. 2005: Simon & Schuster, New York, NY.

My award-winning historical fantasy novel, Angels & Patriots Book One is available on Amazon in paperback, Kindle eBook, or read for free on Kindle Unlimited. Angels & Patriots Book One