Catharine Littlefield Greene: A Revolutionary Life

Catharine Littlefield Greene was a product of the feminine sphere of women during the colonial period. Marriage was considered a critical event in the life of the early American woman. It raised her status socially but it also moved her from dependency on her family to dependency on her husband. When she married Nathanael Greene, a former Quaker and iron forage owner with a limp, asthma, a smallpox scar on his right eye and who hailed from a fairly well-to-do family, she believed that she would be settling down to a life of domestic tranquility. But as we shall see, things were different for Caty. An American Revolution was on the horizon and her husband’s direct and important influence in that revolution changed her domestic circumstances.

Convivial and beautiful with few women friends, poorly trained in domestic skills, and without her own home to settle down in, Caty found her own path that often led to history’s criticisms of her that may have been based in jealousies, misunderstandings, and Caty’s own struggle to be a part of the social whirl that accompanied the officers’ corps during the Revolutionary War. Caty Greene, unlike many of her colonial sisters, was not freed by the American Revolution. Only a personal tragedy could free a woman who defied the narrow perception of acceptable behavior.

Note: Caty burned all her letters to Nathanael therefore their relationship was interpreted through Nathanael’s letters and responses to her.

Catharine Littlefield Greene (Miller) circa 1809 artist unknown. Caty was mortified when she saw this painting of her.

May 1761, six-year-old Caty Littlefield watched her mother’s burial on Block Island off the coast of Rhode Island, an isolated place where her ancestors had lived since the 1660’s free from Massachusetts dogma, formal social rules, a hurried sense of time, and organized religion and schooling. Two years later, Caty was taken in by her namesake, her mother’s sister Catharine Ray Greene, a dark-haired violet-eyed beauty who Caty resembled. Aunt Catharine had once had a relationship with Benjamin Franklin who wanted more than the platonic handholding she was willing to offer. Now, she was married to William Greene, Jr. a Rhode Island politician who was distantly related to Nathanael Greene.

General Nathanael Greene. Painted by Charles Willson Peale 1783.

Nathanael was a frequent visitor to the house in East Greenwich. Lacking a formal education as she did, the Caty he met there was comfortable in the society of men and her “power of fascination was absolutely irresistible.”  She was born on February 17, 1755, thirteen years younger than her future husband. Nathanael and Caty wed on July 20, 1774. They settled into Spell Hall his home in Coventry, Rhode Island, but those early days of tranquility were short lived.

Spell Hall, the Greene family homestead in Coventry, Rhode Island today.

The events in Massachusetts on April 19, 1775 when the British fired on civilians in Lexington and Concord changed all that. Nathanael, a private in the Kentish Guards a Rhode Island militia company, left to attend the siege of Boston. His militia company was sent home initially. Rhode Island then formed the Army of Observation. Nathanael had previously been denied officer status due to his limp that “was a blemish to the company.” Suddenly, the man the Kentish Guards considered to be a blemish incapable of cutting a physically shining figure was a brigadier general. He went home and showed Caty his commission. He and his men were sent to Roxbury, Massachusetts where they settled in with the Provincial Army.

General George Washington arrived in Cambridge, Massachusetts on July 2, 1775. The Continental Congress had appointed him commander-in-chief of the newly formed Continental Army of which the Provincial Army became a part. Washington saw in Nathanael Greene a man who loved his country, cared about his troops, was a strict disciplinarian, and an active soldier. Within the year, Nathanael was a major general in the Continental Army.  Caty was suddenly thrust into the role of a major general’s wife.

A whimsical drawing of Nathanael and Catharine Greene. Artist unknown.

She was determined to spend time with her husband at camp no matter where that was. Pregnant with their first child a son they named George Washington Greene, she initially traveled to Nathanael’s headquarters west of Boston in 1775. When she returned to Coventry, her lack of domestic skills, fear for Nathanael’s safety and pregnancy led to personal anxieties. She squabbled with her female in-laws who lived in her household in Coventry and those living in Nathanael’s childhood home in Potowomut.

Caty visited her husband at his headquarters as often as possible, with or without her children. As a general’s wife, she was naturally made the center of attention. She became close friends with Martha Washington and Lucy Knox. Her vivacious behavior elicited a spontaneous response from admiring gentlemen. She listened with genuine interest to stories told by men like General Israel Putnam. Young aides became smitten with her looks and playfulness, and Nathanael was delighted by their admiration. Even General Washington asked that she come to camp for her convivial nature brightened the hardest of winters. During an officers’ party in February 1780 at the Morristown, New Jersey encampment, Caty danced with General Washington for three hours straight without sitting down. Nathanael commented that they had “a pretty little frisk.”

In late spring 1776, whispers about Caty’s behavior circulated among her family members. In the winter of 1777, although they were very much in love, jealousies and insecurities surfaced between Caty and Nathanael. His admiration for Lady Stirling and Kitty, General Lord Alexander Stirling’s wife and daughter, and his reminder to watch her spelling when writing to the scholarly Lucy Knox lured Caty’s doubts about how much Nathanael loved her. His subsequent letters were an oxymoron of adoration or designed to make her jealous especially after he heard about the many parties Caty attended in Rhode Island:

“In the neighborhood of my quarters there are several sweet pretty Quaker girls. If the spirit should move and love invite who can be accountable for the consequences?”

Yet many times he soothed her fears:

“Let me ask you soberly whether you estimate yourself below either of these ladies. You will answer me no, if you speak as you think. I declare upon my sacred honor I think they possess far less accomplishments than you, and as much as I respect them as friends, I should never be with them in a more intimate connection. I will venture to say there is no mortal more happy in a wife than myself.”

Leaving her children with in-laws, Caty arrived in Valley Forge in 1778 where she met men like the Marquis de Lafayette, Baron von Steuben, and Alexander Hamilton while her jealousy simmered over the Stirling ladies. It was here she met General Anthony Wayne. An incurable ladies man, his wife never came to camp. Caty was stimulated by the company of this charming man. The whispered gossip began yet Nathanael remained unconcerned.

General Anthony Wayne

By the summer of 1780, she was back in Coventry. Nathanael’s new post was uncertain. Then, he was sent off to command the Southern Army to replace the disgraced General Horatio Gates. The Greene’s had no cash; only land in Rhode Island. While Nathanael bore the horrors of the Southern Campaign, forbidding Caty to join him, she was enjoying the social life in Newport among French soldiers.

After the British surrender in Yorktown, Virginia in October 1781, she traveled to South Carolina to join Nathanael at his headquarters near Charleston. She witnessed the devastation Nathanael had warned her of. After a twenty-three month separation, she found her husband much changed and worn down from the war and debt. Only land grants for his service in the Southern campaign stood between their family and utter financial ruin—Mulberry Grove plantation and holdings on Cumberland Island off the coast of Georgia. Anthony Wayne was granted the plantation adjacent to Mulberry Grove.

In 1785, Caty gave birth to their sixth child, Catharine. The infant died of whooping cough. Caty lay despondent for weeks. Nathanael hired a tutor for the children, a twenty-one year old graduate of Yale, Phineas Miller. The family moved to Mulberry Grove in November. Caty was pregnant again. Tragically in April 1786, she fell and gave birth to a premature daughter who died soon after.

By then, the Mulberry Grove plantation was thriving. The Greenes had a promising new start which came to an abrupt end on June 19, 1786, when Nathanael died of sunstroke at age 43. Caty soon learned the worst. Her husband died before he had made the barest beginning toward paying off the huge debts he owed to his creditors after borrowing money to equip his Southern Army. She would have to make a claim of indemnity to the government for reimbursement.

She poured her heart out to Jeremiah Wadsworth, one of Nathanael’s business partners and a man she had been attracted to for years. Wadsworth was married and had past indiscretions. Jealousy ignited between Miller and Wadsworth for Caty’s affections and Wadsworth’s support in settling her estate in Congress began to wane.

Jeremiah Wadsworth and his son Daniel. Painted by John Trumbull 1784.

In 1791, she stood before Congress with her indemnity claim that Alexander Hamilton had helped her prepare. Anthony Wayne held a seat in Congress and fought furiously for her settlement. On April 27, she was awarded $47,000 and for the first time since the war, her family was solvent. Soon after, Wayne disappeared from her life. He went west to join the military there. He died of complications from gout on December 15, 1796 during a return trip to Pennsylvania from a military post in Detroit.

By this time, Caty and Phineas Miller had drawn up a legal agreement concerning their relationship and prospective marriage. All five of her children were living at Mulberry Grove, but her oldest child, George, drowned in 1793 soon after coming home from France where he was attending school. In his late teens, George’s body was found on the banks of the Savannah River near Mulberry Grove. His body was taken down the river to the colonial cemetery in Savannah and was placed in the vault beside that of his father’s.

Enter Eli Whitney, a graduate of Yale who came south to accept a teaching position. Caty invited Eli to live in her home so he could read law and work on his new cotton gin invention. Phineas and Eli formed a business partnership with Caty as a silent backer to finance Whitney’s cotton gin invention.  However, the venture needed more capital than Caty could provide. Caty and Phineas invested in a land scheme—the Yazoo Company. The company collapsed and Caty once again faced poverty. She married Phineas later that year much to Eli’s chagrin for he was in love with her.

Eli Whitney

In 1800, Mulberry Grove was sold and the family moved to Cumberland Island at Dungeness where Nathanael, fourteen years before, had begun construction of his family’s future home. The island yielded everything the family needed to survive. Three years later at age thirty-nine, the gentle and faithful Phineas died of blood poisoning after pricking his finger on a thorn.

Caty was faced with selling Phineas’ part of the Miller estate which was tied up in his company with Whitney. There were also the settlements against her estate for legal fees, loans, etc. For a time, she sold live oaks to a lumber company in an effort to salvage the cotton gin company.

Eli Whitney returned to his home in New Haven, Connecticut yet he was tormented by his love for Caty. She was now past childbearing age and he wanted a family. She wrote him letters, cajoling him to come to her side, offering her sentiments on his health and his aloofness. She made a failed attempt at matching him with her youngest daughter, Louisa. On a trip to New York to endeavor to settle her final legal affairs with Nathanael’s and Phineas’ estates, she begged him to visit her. When he came at last, she recognized the final hopelessness of her dream of marriage with this man she badgered, pitied, worried over, and loved with all her heart. She often asked him to come back to Georgia to visit her, but he never returned.

On July 5, 1814, Caty wrote her last letter to Eli Whitney:

“We have a party of eighteen to eat Turtle with us tomorrow. I wish you were the nineteenth. Our fruit begins to flow in upon us—to partake of which I long for you… ”

She had grown and found as Nathanael once suggested, that self-pity made a sad companion. In the last week of August, Caty was struck with a fever. The same week the capital city of Washington lay in ruins, burned by the British. Caty never knew. She died on September 2, 1814.

Greene-Miller Cemetery on Cumberland Island at Dungeness

Despite history’s proverbial finger pointing about what she may have done during her marriage to Nathanael, Caty was a women whose strengths and weaknesses allowed her to face the consequences of war and meet them head on the rest of her life.


This blog is part of the Historical Writers Forum Women’s History Month blog hop. (https://www.facebook.com/Historical-Writers-Forum-Blog-Hop-Page-313883642875335)


Resources:

Stegeman, John F. and Janet A. Caty A Biography of Catharine Littlefield Greene Athens, Georgia University of Georgia Press, 1977. Print.

Carbone, Gerald M. Nathanael Greene A Biography of the American Revolution, 2008. Print.

Thayer, Theodore. Nathanael Greene Strategist Of The American Revolution New York: Twayne Publishers, 1960. Print.

https://www.eliwhitney.org/7/museum/about-eli-whitney/inventor

 

The Crossing: An American Revolution Christmas Night

1776, the first full year of the American Revolutionary War, began with General George Washington and the Continental Army breaking the ten month Siege of Boston and driving the British out. In April, suspecting that General William Howe, commander-in-chief of all British forces in America was headed for New York, Washington marched his somewhat undisciplined, fledgling army from Cambridge, Massachusetts to New York City. They occupied the largely loyalist city. In anticipation of an attack, the army set up batteries on the waterfront and a string of fortresses across the harbor at Brooklyn Heights on Long Island.

General George Washington

In July, an armada commanded by Admiral Lord Richard Howe arrived with 13,000 British and Hessians on board and dropped anchor off Staten Island. Born as illegitimate relations to King George III, the powerful Howe brothers let their troops recover from their long sea voyage before attacking the Continental position on Long Island late in August. After being badly outflanked, Washington’s army was able to escape to Manhattan under cover of fog at the oars of Colonel John Glover and his Marblehead Massachusetts mariners.

General William Howe

With the British in control of the East and Hudson Rivers, New York harbor and Long Island, Washington abandoned the city leaving behind a small force under General Israel Putnam and a regiment of artillery corps commanded by Henry Knox. Howe landed 10,000 troops on the eastern shore of New York Island and divided his army—some marched south to take the city (Putnam and Knox managed to escape). The rest of Howe’s army pursued the retreating Continental Army and defeated them at White Plains, New York.

Washington’s ragged, sick, and hungry army crossed the Hudson into New Jersey. Their last hope lay in the American forts that faced each other across the Hudson. Garrisoned with 2,500 troops, Fort Washington stood on a summit on the New York shore. Fort Lee, manned with 3,500 soldiers, rose on the palisades on the New Jersey shore. The forts fell to the British in mid-November, after which, General Howe set up a line of seven garrisons to hold the southern half of New Jersey. The smallest of these was at Trenton manned by fourteen hundred Hessians under Colonel Johann Rall.

Pursued by one of Howe’s best generals, the aggressive Lord Charles Cornwallis, the Continental Army retreated south through New Jersey headed for Trenton. The dispirited Patriots, many whose enlistments were to expire on December 1 and December 31 and had refused to re-sign, deserted by the hundreds reducing Washington’s army to a force of about 2,400 men.

General Nathanael Greene of Rhode Island reported to Washington, “Two brigades left us at Brunswick. It made no difference that the enemy is within two hours march and coming on.”

General Nathanael Greene

On December 1, despite being slowed by trees blocking the roads, destroyed bridges, and enemy sniper fire, Cornwallis’s exhausted army almost caught up with the Continental Army on the banks of the Raritan River at New Brunswick. He stopped in obedience to orders from General Howe to go no further.

When the Continental Army arrived near Trenton, they were faced with crossing the icy Delaware River into Pennsylvania. Washington dispatched Colonel John Glover, to bring over every small boat he could find. The army safely gathered on the Pennsylvania shore.

Washington realized that the Patriots needed a victory to instill new hope after the failed effort to keep the British from occupying New York. He knew he must strike a military blow to the enemy before his army melted away and he was determined to hit the Hessian garrison at Trenton. He and his general officers also understood that the element of surprise was the only way that the army stood a chance of defeating the highly trained Hessian mercenaries. They would attack on Christmas night.

On Christmas Day, the weather turned ominous. Glover was in charge of the boats: big, flat-bottomed, high-sided Durham boats normally used to transport pig iron on the Delaware from the Durham Iron Works near Philadelphia. Colonel Henry Knox (who would later become the army’s artillery general) organized and directed the crossing. A demanding part of the task would be transporting the eighteen field cannon and fifty horses.

Colonel John Glover

General John Cadwalader and Washington’s adjutant, Colonel Joseph Reed, were to lead a force of Pennsylvania militia and Rhode Island troops and cross downriver at Bristol. General James Ewing was directed to take Pennsylvania militiamen, attack directly across the river at Trenton, and hold the wooden bridge over Assunpink Creek at the foot of Queen Street, which the enemy might use as an escape route.

Drums rolled in camp, and starting at two in the afternoon the army began moving out for the river, each man carrying sixty rounds of ammunition and food enough for three days. The password was “Victory.” The answer was “Or Death.”  It was nearly dark and raining when the troops reached McConkey’s Ferry where the boats waited. Glover’s men used oars and poles to get the big boats across.

At 11:00 p.m., a full-blown northeaster struck, slowing the crossing as sheets of ice formed that grew thicker as they bounced on the windblown waves in the Delaware River. The ice was hindering the sweep oars and scraping against the sides of the boats.

It was 3:00 a.m., three hours behind schedule, when the last of the troops, horses, and cannon were across. The march south from McConkey’s Ferry turned into a march of misery. The storm worsened with cold, driving rain, sleet, snow, and violent hail. The troops trudged on in the most profound silence. Many wearing worn-out shoes or cloth tied around their feet left a trail of blood. Knox’s artillery led the way. There was little light to see by. A few men carried lanterns, and torches were mounted on some of the cannon so the army wouldn’t be seen moving through the forested terrain. Men and horses kept slipping and skidding in the dark.

Washington rode out into the lines and said, “For God’s sake, keep with your officers.”

Victory or Death, Advance on Trenton by Don Troiani

The entire twenty-four hundred on the march kept together for five miles until they reached the crossroads at Birmingham where the army divided. General John Sullivan’s column, which included Glover’s brigade, kept to the right on the River Road. Generals Lord Alexander Stirling and Hugh Mercer, commanded by Nathanael Greene, veered off to the left with Washington along the Pennington Road. The distance to Trenton was four miles either way.

Sullivan sent a courier to tell Washington that the weather was wetting his men’s gunpowder.

“Tell General Sullivan to use the bayonet,” Washington responded. “I am resolved to take Trenton.”

Yet some of the plan stalled. General Ewing called off his attack on Trenton because of ice in the river. General Cadwalader’s and Joseph Reed’s diversionary landing to the south had been aborted due to ice.

The Patriot columns reached their position outside Trenton at about the same time: an hour after daylight. Most of the residents had fled the village. The Hessians were quartered in the abandoned houses and the stone barracks. Harassed by rebel patrols that kept coming over the Delaware, Colonel Johann Rall established outposts on Pennington Road outside of town. The Patriots attacked the outposts just after eight o’clock in the morning.

Hessian Major Jacob von Braam heard the sudden sound of a musket volley. He and his disoriented company ran out into the blinding snow and tried to get into formation. The Americans surged forward in a confusion of musket fire and smoke.

Major von Braam saw his men were still unable to get into formation. “Retreat!” he ordered.

The Hessians fell back into town, as they had been trained to do when retreat was the only choice. They shouted in warning, “Der Fiend! Heraus! Heraus!” (“The enemy! Turn out! Turn out!”) In town, Hessians rushed out of their houses and barracks into the streets. Drums beat and officers shouted orders.

Henry Knox’s artillery was positioned at the head of King and Queen Streets. General Mercer and his troops moved down a hill on the west side of town and swept into the village through alleys and house lots. The Hessians retreated into the side streets as generals Sullivan’s, Stirling’s, and Greene’s men came at them with fixed bayonets.

General Henry Knox

When the Hessians rolled out a field gun midway on King Street, American artillery Lieutenant James Monroe rushed forward, seized it, and turned it on them. James lit the touchhole. The cannon belched a tongue of fire and black smoke when the ball exploded from the muzzle, killing two Hessians. Colonel Rall, who was rousted out of bed, was on horseback and in command in the midst of the battle. He ordered a charge, “All who are my grenadiers, forward!” A musket ball hit Rall in the chest and he fell from his horse.

Some of Rall’s confused men retreated to the cover of an orchard. The Patriots steadily advanced on the Hessians. Knox shouted orders to move the artillery units toward the orchards. Mortally wounded, Rall’s men picked him up and carried him to safety where he would die later that day. The Hessians in the orchard, finding themselves surrounded, lay down their arms and surrendered. Within forty-five minutes, twenty-one Hessians were killed, ninety were wounded, and nine hundred were taken prisoner. Five hundred managed to escape across Assunpink Creek at the foot of Queen Street.

The Capture of the Hessians at Trenton, December 26, 1776 by John Trumbull, showing George Washington and Johann Rall

Four Americans were wounded. Only two Americans died on the march. Washington exclaimed to his officers, “This is a glorious day for our country!”

The Continental Army was faced with the arduous journey from Trenton back to the Delaware River through snow and ice with the Hessian prisoners. The troops were uplifted, however, because they had done something glorious at last.

From Baltimore, addressing Washington on behalf of the Continental Congress, John Hancock wrote, “It is all the more extraordinary given it had been achieved by men broken by fatigue and ill fortune.”

The British naturally did not see it that way. William Howe cancelled Lord Cornwallis’s furlough request and ordered him to return to Trenton. To General James Grant, overall commander of the New Jersey outposts, Howe wrote:

Trenton was an unlucky cursed affair quite beyond comprehension. I have dispatched General Cornwallis to New Jersey with an army of 8,000 men to smash the remnants of the filthy rebel army and retake Trenton.

The Americans crossed the Delaware River back into Pennsylvania. On December 30, Washington took a force of five thousand men back to Trenton and encamped at Assunpink Creek Bridge. General John Cadwalader had finally crossed the Delaware River at Bristol leaving Washington’s army divided and vulnerable.

Washington rode among his ranks, who had not been paid in months and whose enlistments were up, and issued a plea for them to stay. “My brave fellows, you have done all that I have asked you to do and more than could be reasonably expected. But your country is at stake, your wives, your houses, and all that you hold dear.”

At Assunpink Creek Bridge, Knox’s artillery crews trundled cannon in place to defend the bridge as Cornwallis’s army attacked. The two sides exchanged heavy cannon fire. The Americans volleyed furiously at Cornwallis’s advancing troops. The bridge over Assunpink Creek was soon drenched in blood and the creek began to run thick with it as the bodies of the dead splashed into the water. Surrounded by the fog of smoke and confusion, Cornwallis called for his troops to fall back three times.

General Lord Charles Cornwallis

When night fell, Charles Cornwallis declared, “We’ve got the old fox safe now. We’ll go over and bag him in the morning.”

But in the morning, to Cornwallis’s mortification, Washington and his army had stolen away in the dark. Nathanael Greene’s army veered off to the left and John Sullivan’s army veered off to the right of Washington’s main army. On January 3, Greene’s vanguard clashed with Cornwallis’s army outside of Princeton. The British were taken totally unaware. Although General Hugh Mercer was unmercifully bayoneted and died nine days later, the Americans prevailed at Princeton, taking three hundred and fifty prisoners. Cornwallis’s rear guard retreated rather than risk anymore of their numbers.

The Death of General Mercer at the Battle of Princeton, January 3, 1777 by John Trumbull.

The British viewed Trenton and Princeton as minor American victories, but with these victories, now known as “The Ten Crucial Days”, the Americans believed that they could win the war. A century later, British historian Sir George Otto Trevelyan wrote in a study of the American Revolution, when talking about the impact of the victories at Trenton and Princeton, that “It may be doubted whether so small a number of men ever employed so short a space of time with greater and more lasting effects upon the history of the world.”

As General Nathanael Greene wrote to Thomas Paine, his aide and author of the popular Patriot pamphlet Common Sense, “The two late actions at Trenton and Princeton have put a very different face upon affairs.”


This post is a part of the Historical Writers Forum 2021 Holidays blog hop!

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The Crossing of the Delaware is an event in the second novel in my award-winning historical fantasy series of the American Revolution: Angels and Patriots Book Two, The Cause of 1776.  Click the cover to see more information on this book and all the books in the series.

Angels and Patriots Book Two: The Cause of 1776

Resources:

O’Shaughnessy, Andrew Jackson. The Men Who Lost American New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2013. Print.

Puls, Mark. Henry Knox Visionary General of the American Revolution New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008. Print.

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

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

Thayer, Theodore. Nathanael Greene Strategist Of The American Revolution New York: Twayne Publishers, 1960. Print.

Featured Image: Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Leutze, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Battle of Brandywine

British General William Howe and his brother, Admiral Richard Howe spent thirty-three days at sea from the day their armada embarked from Staten Island, New York on July 23, 1777. During that time, General George Washington, who had no reliable intelligence, desperately tried to anticipate where the Howes were going. The Hudson Highlands? To Albany to assist British General John Burgoyne’s army? To take the American’s supply depots in Pennsylvania?

george-washington
George Washington

Finally, he received intelligence that the British armada was sailing up the Chesapeake Bay. Howe’s exhausted army disembarked at Head of Elk, Maryland on August 25, 1777. The army rested, foraged, and scouted. On September 9, they began their slow march north and to the west of the Brandywine River in Pennsylvania.

Washington gathered his army at Chadd’s Ford on the steep thickly wooded east bank of the Brandywine to defend what he perceived as an attempt to take Philadelphia. Howe’s objective was just that. There were numerous fords at one mile intervals northward along the Brandywine: Brinton’s Ford, Wistar’s Ford, Jone’s Ford and Buffington’s Ford. These names were not thoroughly familiar to Washington and his generals. They had not taken the precaution of having at hand someone who knew the countryside.

WilliamHowe1777ColorMezzotint_(crop)
William Howe

By September 10, the British army was encamped at Kennett Square, six miles west of Chadd’s Ford and twenty-six miles from Philadelphia. Here Howe and his major generals Lord Charles Cornwallis and German Wilhelm von Knyphausen laid out their strategy and employed local scouts. Knyphausen would keep Washington’s army occupied in the center over Chadd’s Ford while Howe and Cornwallis marched north along the Great Valley Road to unguarded fords at the fork of the Brandywine and perform a right flanking maneuver on Washington’s army just as they had at the Battle of Long Island.

Washington formed his army into three wings. Nathanael Greene with his division and Anthony Wayne’s Pennsylvanians were in the center while John Sullivan’s division anchored the American right to guard Brinton’s Ford. Lord Alexander Stirling’s and Adam Stephen’s division formed a second line behind Sullivan’s men. Colonel Moses Hazen, guarding Jone’s Ford on Sullivan’s right, was ordered to scout to the north and west. Henry Knox set up an artillery park at Chadd’s Ford.

Washington and his staff settled in the Ring House and setup headquarters. Unless something completely unforeseen intervened, the stage was set for one of the largest battles of the American Revolution. Nearly 30,000 troops were within a few miles of one another and prepared for action.

September 11 dawned cool, gray, and dreary. In the pre-dawn hours William Howe’s army moved out. Knyphausen’s division left at the same time and marched directly eastward toward the Brandywine. British and Hessian brigades, Royal Artillery, dragoons, and two battalions of Highlanders rumbled toward Chadd’s Ford. About a mile beyond where Howe and Cornwallis filed off, Knyphausen’s van came upon Welch’s Tavern.

Washington sent General William Maxwell’s regiment across the Brandywine to harass the enemy’s vanguard. Maxwell opened fire on Major Patrick Ferguson’s rifles and Captain James Wemy’s Queen’s Rangers as they approached the tavern. The British van was brought to halt. British field guns began a cannonade. Knox’s gunners returned fire. For two hours the cannons kept up a deafening roar.

After having been ambushed three times, the troops marching at the head of Knyphausen’s column were more cautious. British General James Grant moved up with his Regiments of Foot. The Queen’s Rangers attacked the rebels with bayonets. Maxwell’s flank was turned by the Hessians. His left collapsed and retreated.

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Captain Patrick Ferguson had only 10 casualties. He credit the small number to his new rifle, a rifle that could be loaded lying on the ground by way of a screw plug that passed vertically through the barrel instead of having to stand to muzzle load the weapon. A well-trained rifleman could fire up to six times a minute. Maxwell, on the other hand lost close to fifty men.

The Battle of Brandywine had begun.

Near Wayne’s division, Colonel Thomas Proctor’s Pennsylvania artillery unit slid into place and lobbed balls across the creek at the enemy. While the artillery exchanged rounds Knyphausen did his best to convince Washington that he was opposing Howe’s entire army. To accomplish this, Knyphausen marched his units one way and then back again, using the hills and swales to show them or hide them as he saw fit.

On the east side of the river, Washington sorted through verbal reports in an effort to determine who Maxwell had spent the morning fighting. Did his light infantry harass and fall back in the face of Howe’s entire army? If not, then a large portion of Howe’s command was no longer in his front. Exactly what was happening? Around 9:30 a.m., Sullivan’s aide, Major Lewis Morris arrived at the Ring House with a message from Sullivan.

Maj. Jamison came to me at nine o’clock and said that he had come from the right of the army, and I might depend there was no enemy there.

Washington sent scouts north of Colonel Hazen’s position to reconnoiter. However, the first warning arrived shortly afterward around 10:00 a.m. from Colonel Hazen near  Buffington’s Ford.

The British are making a flanking movement. A strong British column is to the west headed toward the forks of the Brandywine near Trimble’s Ford.

By 11:00, the conflict had lulled and there was no movement from Knyphausen. Washington began to worry that they were facing a repeat of Long Island. Indeed, Howe and Cornwallis had reached Trimble’s Ford on the west branch of the Brandywine about five miles from where they began their march at Kennett Square. The British column picked up its pace and marched toward Jeffries’s Ford on the east branch of the Brandywine.

Washington ordered Stirling’s and Stephen’s divisions to shift north to protect the army’s right flank. Greene and Maxwell were to reinforce their position behind the morass near the river in preparation to assist Stephen and Stirling. At noon a report came in from Colonel James Ross.

A large body of the enemy from every account 5000, with 16 or 18 field pieces, marched along this road just now. This road leads to Trimble’s and Jeffrie’s ferries on the Brandywine. We are close on the enemy’s rear and skirmishing with some of their elements.

While Washington’s generals executed his orders, another message arrived from John Sullivan at 12:30.

Since I sent you the message by Major Lewis Morris, I saw Major Joseph Spears of the Militia who came this morning from a tavern called Martins in the Forks of the Brandywine—he came from thence to Welches Tavern and heard nothing of the enemy about the Forks of the Brandywine and is confident they are not in that Quarter. So Colonel Hazen’s information must be wrong. I have sent to that Quarter to know whether there is any foundation for the Report and shall give Yr. Excy the earliest information.

At 1:00 p.m., the vanguard of Cornwallis’ column arrived at Jeffries’s Ford. Just east of Jefferies’s Ford, the road to Birmingham intersected with the road coming from Jeffries’s Ford at right angles, cutting through a sharp defile. It was the perfect avenue to march troops behind. Hessian Captain Johann Ewald, leading Cornwallis’ van, filed his Hessians into the defile. Cornwallis followed. Ewald rode back to Cornwallis and said, “I do not understand why the pass has been left wide open for us where a hundred men could have held up either army the whole day. Washington should have defended this spot.”

At 2:00 p.m., a message arrived from Colonel Bland forwarded by Sullivan.

Colonel Bland has at this moment sent me word, that the enemy are in the rear of my right, about two miles, coming down. There, he says, about two brigades of them. He also saw a dust back in the country for above an hour.

While Washington was digesting Bland’s report, Cornwallis’ main flanking column was pressing through the defile and Sconneltown. The local Quakers watched as the British poured across the Brandywine. Young Quaker, Joseph Townsend wrote:

Our eyes were caught on a sudden by the appearance of the army coming out of the woods into the fields belonging to Emmor Jerfferis, on the west side of the creek above the fording placed. In a few minutes the fields were literally covered with them, and they were hastening towards us. Their arms and bayonets being raised shone as bright as silver, there being a clear sky and the day exceedingly warm.

Cornwallis divided his army into three columns before continuing the advance. Washington concluded that Stirling’s and Stephen’s division would not be sufficient to check the flanking column. He ordered Sullivan to pull his infantry out of line and shift his division north. After an hour of traversing difficult terrain consisting of hills, woods, thickets, marshy streams, and farm fields, Sullivan and his 1,400 men mostly from Maryland and Delaware were still trying to get into position. He finally rendezvoused with Stirling and Stephen on Birmingham Hill. Colonel Moses Hazen added his regiment to the forces.

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Cornwallis fanned part of his force out on Osborn’s Hill two miles north of Birmingham Hill. Now halted, the solders dropped where they stood. “The troops were both sultry and dusty and rather fatigued, many remaining along the road on that account,” Captain John Montresor wrote in his journal. Generals Howe and Cornwallis had a commanding view from their position on Osborn’s Hill including the distant views of the Americans’ changing front to meet their advance.

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Cornwallis ordered Ewald to form the advanced guard. It was 4:00 p.m. As Cornwallis’ front lines began to move, the Americans opened fire with solid cannon shot. Finally, the Americans switched to grapeshot and canister rounds. The Royal Artillery responded. Grapeshot ripped through the American ranks of both Stirling’s and Stephen’s divisions. Hot chunks of iron dismembered some, and crushed and killed others.

Sullivan was trying to get into a line of battle. He left his division under a French officer temporarily in charge of the Marylanders, to establish his overall command of Stirling’s and Stephen’s divisions and confer with them. The French officer, General Philippe de Borre, spoke no English and promptly led the Marylanders in circles. The sound of beating drums and fifes and boots thudding alerted them to the approach of the British Brigade of Guards. Instead of sliding to the right to align with Stirling’s left, de Borre attempted a complicated wheeling maneuver. A strong line of the enemy troops appeared directly in front of them and fired into their faces at pointblank range.

Twenty-six Marylanders were killed. The 1st Maryland Brigade was thrown into confusion. They poured down the southern slope of Birmingham Hill. With the 1st Maryland Brigade in full retreat, the 2nd Maryland Brigade assumed a retreat had been ordered. Colonel Samuel Smith’s Maryland men took to the cornfields. Except for Hazen, Sullivan’s division had been routed.

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British grenadiers suddenly appeared within forty paces of Stirling’s line and a hot volley ensued. Confusion erupted in both armies when heavy black powder smoke billowed along the lines. The grenadiers fired another volley and then ran at the rebels with fixed bayonets. The momentum of the advancing Light Infantry Battalion, together with the Grenadier Battalion, carried them up the slope and into General Thomas Conway’s Pennsylvania brigade of Stirling’s division.

Stirling’s men fell down the southern slope. They were unable to survive the rout of Sullivan’s division on the left, withstand the heavy firing in front, and repulse the grenadier’s’ bayonet charge. All of them were retreating into Sandy Hollow. Despite Stirling’s retreat, Stephen and his men tried desperately to defend their position on Birmingham Hill, but their left flank was exposed. General Lafayette and his men were trying to mount bayonets on the muskets of Stirling’s men when Lafayette took a ball in his leg.

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The Marquis de Lafayette Wounded

The thunder of cannon rolling to the north was the signal for Knyphausen to form his column to attack the sparsely manned American defense across the Brandywine which formed Washington’s center. Colonel Thomas Proctor’s gunners fired at the British as they waded across the river. From in front, Wayne’s divisional artillery fired at their right flank.

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Wilhelm von Knyphausen

While Knyphausen’s men lead by General James Grant were crossing the river, Greene, under orders from Washington, with his brigade of Virginians and generals George Weedon and John Muhlenberg were marching north to stop the advancing British and Hessian troops and protect the fleeing survivors of the Birmingham Hill rout.

Night was falling over Pennsylvania when Washington and his staff arrived at the Brinton House north east of Birmingham Hill as the remnants of Sullivan’s three divisional commands were fleeing in disorder southeast. Henry Knox mounted his artillery on a small hill. When Greene came to the rescue, Sullivan was making an attempt to realign his disordered troops. Greene’s division moved to both sides of Wilmington Road a mile south of Dilworth

At Chadd’s Ford, the British succeeded in crossing the river under fire from Colonel Thomas Proctor’s artillery redoubt. They attacked the American artillery redoubt and poured in. British howitzers killed many American gunners. The surviving gunners fled abandoning their pieces and ammunition. The Queen’s Rangers and the 71st Highlanders marched northward to attack the American artillery park at Brinton’s Ford. The gunners fled toward a nearby buckwheat field, where they were pinned against a fence line and bayoneted.

Wayne’s division positioned on the Great Post Road on a rise with General William Maxwell’s regiment on their right flank offered some long distance enfilade. However, Knyphausen’s advancing lines opened fire. As the last remnants of light hung in the sky, most of Wayne’s men were running for their lives under heavy fire. With Cornwallis’ Brigade of Guards bearing down on him from the north and Knyphausen’s troops pushing the in front Wayne ordered a retreat.

To the north, Greene’s formed division draped across Wilmington Road on a hill outside of Dilworth to face British General James Agnew’s 4th Brigade, British Battalion of Grenadiers and Regiments of Foot, which included Ewald’s surviving Hessian jaegers who had attached themselves to the grenadiers.

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Johann Ewald

Agnew and Ewald crossed Wilmington Road and marched up the slope in their front. The exhausted British and Hessians were surprised by Greene’s expansive front. On Greene’s right, Weedon’s men held their fire until Agnew’s flanking line was directly in front. They caught part of Agnew’s regiments in an open field. Agnew returned fire. Weedon’s men opened a sustained fire while Knox’s cannon crews did the same from the knoll near the Brinton House. The British officer corps was decimated in the firing. Both sides volleyed until dark. With ammunition almost spent, firing ceased on both sides. Greene and the others pulled back southeastward.

William Howe halted pursuit and the exhausted British and Hessian troops dropped where they stood. One of Howe’s Royal Engineers, Captain Archibald Robertson advised, “It being almost dark, unacquainted with the ground and the troops very much fatigued, it shall be impossible to pursue further the advantage we have gained.”

Washington’s army was in full retreat south toward Chester. The battle had scattered the army, flooding the roads and fields with exhausted troops from various commands whom stumbled on without the guidance of officers. The dead and wounded lay scattered across the countryside, British, German, and American alike, many of the survivors crying and begging for medical help, food and water.

The Battle of Brandywine had come to an end. Washington’s army was routed again because they could not hold the field.


Resources:

Pancake, John S. 1777 The University of Alabama Press, 1997. Print.

Auricchio, Laura. The Marquis Lafayette Reconsidered New York: Penguin Random House, 2014. Print.

O’Shaughnessy, Andrew Jackson. The Men Who Lost America New Haven & London Yale University Press, 2013. Print.

Puls, Mark. Henry Knox Visionary General of the American Revolution Palgrave McMillian New York, 2008. Print.

Harris, Michael C. Brandywine Savas Beatie LLC El Dorado Hills, California 2017. Print.

Philbrick, Nathaniel. Valiant Ambition Penguin Books New York, 2016. Print.

 

Women Camp Followers of the American Revolution

Most of their names are forgotten or were never recorded. They were wives, daughters, and girlfriends of British, American, and German soldiers and officers. Some followed the army looking for food and protection and work because they were no longer able to support themselves after the men left for war. Others were determined to be with their husbands no matter the cost. These women played a vital role in the American Revolution, sewing, nursing, cooking, guarding baggage, and offering support only they could provide their husbands. They suffered giving birth while enduring the hardships of war and moving armies.

Today, women who followed the army are referred to as “camp followers,” even though that term was not used in the eighteenth century. While General George Washington and many officers did not like to admit it, the army needed them even though the army could barely provision its own troops.  But, if women were not permitted in military camps, the army stood to lose a number of good soldiers. Men with families in need asked for furloughs or deserted in order to provide for their destitute loved ones.

On August 4, 1777, Washington wrote:

“the multitude of women in particular, especially those who are pregnant, or have children, are a clog upon every movement. The Commander in Chief earnestly recommends it to the officers to use every reasonable method in their power to get rid of all such as are not absolutely necessary.”

General George Washington

In fact Washington’s disdain for the camp followers was demonstrated three weeks later on August 24, 1777, when he marched his army through Philadelphia. Washington ordered that “not a woman belonging to the army is to be seen,” so the considerable number of camp followers were spirited off into alley ways and side streets. As the women tramped along parallel to the army’s line of march, they seethed with resentment and “poured after their soldiers.”

Washington’s resentment seems somewhat hypocritical. Martha Washington spent every winter with her husband in the Continental Army camp. She performed a lot of the same tasks as the camp followers, but she also brought an air of gentility and insisted on some formal social activities, as did American general Nathanael Greene’s wife, Caty, General Henry Knox’s wife, Lucy, and Sarah Alexander, wife of Major General Lord Stirling, when they were in camp. Caty sometimes brought her children to camp. Other times, she left them with relatives.

Caty Greene

A year before Washington’s march through Philadelphia, American General William Smallwood and his Maryland Battalion consisting of nearly 700 men, joined General Washington’s forces in New York. The battalion included wives, mothers, daughters, mistresses, and other assorted women looking for safety and work.  Captain Nathaniel Ramsey’s wife, Margaret Jane Peale “Jenny” traveled in a small carriage and endured many of the hardships of army life with her husband. Jenny didn’t perform manual labor. Instead, she acted as a hostess, and her quarters became the center of social life for the Maryland officers.

A month later, in August 1776, when British General William Howe’s army landed on Gravesend Beach on the southern tip of Long Island in preparation for their first battle for New York with the Continental Army, women and children were among the British troops.

There were some 250 women and 500 children among British General John Burgoyne’s army that marched south from Montreal, Canada in June 1777, with the ultimate intention of taking Albany, New York.  Burgoyne had his mistress with him. His German commander, General Fredrich von Riedesel Baron of Eisenbach, was accompanied by his wife, Baroness Frederika Charlotte Riedesel. Frederika spent a year traveling from Germany with their three small daughters to be with her husband.

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Frederika Charlotte Riedesel

Frederika and her children joined other officers’ wives who followed at some distance behind the first line of advance.  Frederika wrote about Burgoyne’s small tactical victory at the Battle of Freeman’s Farm in September and his retreat at the Battle of Bemis Heights on October 7, a turning point in the American Revolution.  She also documented her own harrowing experiences in her journal:

I saw the whole battle myself, and, knowing that my husband was taking part in it, I was filled with fear and anguish and shivered whenever a shot was fired….

It was a terrible bombardment, and I was more dead than alive … Little Frederika, was very much frightened, often starting to cry, and I had to hold my handkerchief over her mouth to prevent our being discovered.

The greatest misery and extreme disorder prevailed in the army.  The commissary had forgotten to distribute the food supplies among the troops … more than thirty officers came to me because they could stand the hunger no longer.

My children lay on the floor with their heads in my lap.  And thus we spent the whole night.  The horrible smell in the cellar, the weeping of the children, and, even worse, my own fear prevented me from closing my eyes.

An incident occurred a few months earlier on the morning of July 27, 1777, as a group of Native Americans, an advance party from Burgoyne’s army led by a Wyandot called Panther, descended on the village of Fort Edward. Two warriors, one of whom was Panther, were escorting twenty-five-year old Jane McCrea and her companion, Sara McNeil, to the British camp. McNeil was related to one of Burgoyne’s generals and McCrea was engaged to a loyalist. The women became separated and McCrea was killed and scalped.

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This depiction of The Death of Jane McCrea was painted in 1804 by John Vanderlyn.

American Benedict Arnold claimed that both women “were shot, scalped, stripped, and butchered in the most shocking manner…” Arnold’s outrage served to help make the death of Jane McCrea a sensation.

Mary McCauley followed the Seventh Pennsylvania Regiment. Her husband, John, was an artillery man. During the Battle of Monmouth, New Jersey, on June 28, 1778, Mary carried water from a nearby spring to the thirsty men on that hot and smoky battlefield. The water was also used to cool the blazing cannons. John collapsed during the battle, perhaps from the heat, and Mary immediately took his place at the cannon. She assisted in firing it with the rest of the crew for the remainder of the battle.

Women who offered their services to the army chose to give up the security of home (if they had one left) and embark on a journey that offered discomfort, hardship, and danger. They worked just as hard and suffered just as much as the men they worked beside. Many of the contributions of Revolutionary War era women have been forgotten. It is only appropriate to remember their courage and sacrifice, honoring them as well as the fighting men they supported.


Resources:

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

Philbrick, Nathaniel. Valiant Ambition New York: Penguin Books, 2016. Print.

Pancake, John S. 1777 The University of Alabama Press, 1997. Print.

O’Shaughnessy, Andrew Jackson. The Men Who Lost America New Haven & London Yale University Press, 2013. Print.

https://www.history.org/history/teaching/enewsletter/volume7/nov08/women_revarmy.cfm

https://www.historyisfun.org/blog/witness-to-war/

 

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.

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General Henry Knox

But he would have his artillery. By the end of January 1776, 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.

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”.

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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 (Breed’s) 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 General 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.