William Prescott and Israel Putnam conducted the retreat by way of Charlestown Neck to Prospect Hill, where new entrenchments commanding Boston were thrown up. The British fortified the crest of Breed’s Hill. General Gage, in reporting the affair to his government, used the following impressive language:
“The success, which was very necessary in our present condition, cost us dear. The number of killed and wounded is greater than our forces can afford to lose. We have lost some extremely good officers. The trials we have had show the rebels are not the despicable rabble too many have supposed them to be, and I find it owing to a military spirit encouraged among them for a few years past, joined with uncommon zeal and enthusiasm. They entrench and raise batteries; they have engineers. They have fortified all the heights and passes around the town, which it is not impossible for them to occupy. The conquest of this country is not easy; you have to cope with vast numbers. In all their wars against the French, they never showed so much conduct, attention, and perseverance as they do now. I think it my duty to let you know the situation of affairs.”
General George Washington, accompanied by his aide, Thomas Mifflin; Joseph Keed, his military secretary; and General Charles Lee, arrived at Cambridge on July 2, 1775. He was joyfully welcomed, and he and his companions remained for a few days as the guests of President Langdon of Harvard College. On July 3rd Washington’s commission was read to a part of the army and to the provincial congress of Massachusetts, and he assumed command of the Continental forces.
A prodigious task confronted him. The undisciplined and wretchedly clad swarm came and went as they chose, none having enlisted for more than a brief term. About 2,000 were sick or absent on furlough, out of a total of 16,771 soldiers. Several thousand more were needed to resist the attack that it was believed the enemy would soon make. But the British had received so severe treatment that it required weeks for them to recover, and the summer became oppressively hot. England recalled Gage, who sailed for home in October, and was succeeded by Howe. Washington closely besieged the enemy in Boston. Throwing up entrenchments, he steadily approached the city, and day by day and week by week the situation of Howe became more critical. When winter arrived, Washington formed the plan of crossing Charles River on the ice, but at a council of war, the majority of officers declared the scheme too hazardous.
Washington now decided to fortify and occupy Dorchester Heights, which would command the city and in a large degree the harbor. General Henry Knox brought a number of cannon from Fort Ticonderoga, New York that were dragged over the Green Mountains on sleds. Their arrival did much to cheer the spirits of the patriots, who numbered about 14,000. The commander called upon Massachusetts to furnish him with 6,000 militia, which was partly done.
With a view of concealing his real purpose, Washington kept up a bombardment of the British lines throughout the nights of March 2-4, 1770. On the last night, General John Thomas moved with 1,200 men from Roxbury and took possession undetected, of the higher hill which commanded Nook’s Hill, nearer the city. General Howe was amazed the next morning when he saw what had been done, for his position had become untenable. Preparations were made to embark men in boats and attack the Americans, but a violent storm prevented it. Then it was agreed that but one thing could be done, and that was to evacuate Boston.
The evacuation took place March 17th. The British destroyed a great deal of property but left many supplies behind which fell into the hands of the Americans. Washington entered the city on March 19th, the main body of troops following the next day. The street through which he rode still bears his name. The Massachusetts Legislature voted their thanks to the great man, and Congress ordered a commemorative medal in gold and bronze to be struck. This medal is now in the possession of the Massachusetts Historical Society.
When Howe sailed away, he took with him more than a thousand Tories, who dared not remain behind and meet their indignant countrymen. Instead of going to New York, as he originally intended, the British commander went to Halifax, Nova Scotia where he waited for reinforcements and gave his thoughts to forming campaigns for the conquest of the colonies.
Disastrous Invasion on Canada
While the siege of Boston was in progress, the Americans fixed upon a plan for the invasion of Canada. The mistake, which has been repeated more than once, was in believing that the Canadians if given the opportunity, would make common cause against Great Britain. General Philip Schuyler was placed in command of the expedition but fell ill, and Richard Montgomery, the second in command, took charge. He was a valiant Irishman, who had done brilliant service in the British army, and was full of ardor for the American cause.
In several unimportant skirmishes, his men were so insubordinate and cowardly that he was disgusted, and expressed his regret that he had ever taken command of such a lot of troops. Nevertheless, he pressed on from Fort Ticonderoga, New York, while Schuyler at Albany used every effort to forward him supplies. St. John was invested, and the impetuous Ethan Allen, one of his officers, hastened to Fort Chambly, Quebec to raise a force of Canadians. He recruited nearly a hundred, and, being joined by a few Americans set out to capture Montreal. The promised reinforcements did not reach him, and, being attacked by a powerful force, he made the best defense he could, but was finally compelled to surrender, with all of his men who had not escaped. Allen was sent to England, where he was held a prisoner for a long time.
The British fort at Chambly was besieged, and surrendered on October 18th. With its capture, the Americans secured six tons of powder and 17 cannon. Fort St. Jean, Quebec was captured on November 3rd. By that time, Guy Carleton, the British commander, was so alarmed that he abandoned Montreal, which surrendered on the 20th. Taking possession, Montgomery issued a proclamation, urging the Canadians to unite with the colonies in the war for independence and to elect representatives to the Continental Congress.