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The Boston Siege: American Revolution War

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The Siege of Boston represented a decisional aspect in the American Revolution War. With the American colonists resisting for that amount of time demonstrated that they had the strength and attitude to fight for their rights and beliefs. During the month of April 1775, while the battles of Lexington and Concord were taken place, the colonial forces, led by General William Heath, were closing in the outskirts of Charlestown and Boston. Once the command was passed to General Artemas Ward, the number of insurgent forces was increased with men from the enclosing colonies.

The commanding officer of the British forces was General Thomas Gage, who ordered retreat his army to withdraw to the neck of Boston, once he saw the colonial army outside the city of Charlestown. The agreement, regarding the pass of the civilian personnel between the two establishments, was a harmonious one, as long as the civilians were exposed. This agreement is specified in the book “After the Siege: A Social History of Boston 1775-1800”: “In a meeting on April 22 between Gage and town officials, both sides agreed that ‘the women and children, with all their effects, shall have safe conduct without the garrison’ and that male inhabitants ‘upon condition…that they will not take up arms against the King’s troops’ would also be permitted to leave…All possessions except plate and firearms could be taken from the town. General Gage assured those civilians desiring to stay that they would receive his protection. At a town meeting the following day the inhabitants agreed to the terms…”[1]

The Americans were in control of the Charlestown and Boston Neck, but were incapable to produce a blockade in the harbor of Boston. The existence of the American Navy was not to be discussed in this early stage of the dispute, nor could it create a resistance to the British Royal Navy. Forces from New Hampshire, Connecticut and Rhode Island decided to join the Massachusetts militias. For more than month, both armies have strengthened their fighting capacity and defense system, mentioning the fact that a move was expected to be produced from either side.

The British army didn’t have access to the rest of country, so its only source of supplies was the fleet in the Boston Harbor, commanded by Admiral Samuel Graves. On May 25, 1775, a British warship brought Major General William Howe, General Henry Clinton and General John Burgoyne, alongside 6000 soldiers, reinforcing the encampment. By June 1775, the British forces, having enough reinforcements to exploit a gap in the colonial defense, were planning to set occupation establishments in Bunker Hill and Dorchester Heights. Hearing the British plans, General Artemas Ward ordered Colonel William Prescott to prepare a fortifying Bunker Hill and disarray the European side’s operations.

The building earth fortifications were set on the night of 16/17 June 1775, according to the book of Battle of Bunker Hill: “Whereas, it appears of importance to the safety of this colony that possession of the hill called Bunker’s Hill, in Charlestown, be securely kept and defended; and, also, some one hill or hills on Dorchester neck be likewise secured: therefore, resolved, unanimously, that it be recommended to the Council of War that the above-mentioned Bunker’s Hill be maintained, by sufficient forces being posted there; and as the particular situation of Dorchester Neck is unknown to this committee, they advise that the Council of War take and pursue such steps respecting the same as to them shall appear to be for the security of this colony.”[2]

The debate regarding the construction of the fortress was an important aspect of the future battle. The resulting measure was to construct a redoubt on Breeds Hill, which was closer to Boston, but at an inferior area, and only minor earthworks were completed on Bunker Hill. During the sunrise of June 17, British forces were surprised by the expansion of the fortifications. The Royal Navy post-ship, HMS Lively, fired upon the redoubt, followed by over 100 cannons from the artillery and warships. By late afternoon, British troops moved in to attack Charlestown. Even though, the first two attacks were repelled, on the third and last one, the British forces succeeded in forcing the retreat of the colonial forces into Cambridge. The attack was not crowned with a total success, the result being only a few American casualties, and a number of 268 deaths and 828 wounded, which represented a heavily loss for the British and a boosting confidence for the American colonialists. Without a doubt, after the Battle of Bunker Hill, the siege became a gridlock with little insurgent activity. The Continental Congress adopted the Olive Branch Petition, in the hope of preventing a major outburst conflict between the two sides, and sent it to London. King George III received it in September and rejected it.

An important figure, that decided the outcome of the American Revolution War, was George Washington. After attending the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, Washington found himself in the position of Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, and therefore he was bound for Boston. The order Washington received was to create an army, capable of facing the mighty British forces. The fact of being apart from his wife for such a long time, Washington wrote: “I shall feel no pain from the toil or the danger of the campaign. […] My unhappiness will flow from the uneasiness I know you will feel being left alone.”[3]

On July 2, the Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, George Washington, arrived in Cambridge. From New England, the Middle Colonies and Virginia arrived reinforcements, some of them being armed with the Kentucky or Pennsylvania Rifles, representing an exquisite addition to the colonists’ firepower.

[1] Cf.: http://historyofmassachusetts.org/the-siege-of-boston/

[2] http://historyofmassachusetts.org/the-siege-of-boston/

[3] http://www.mountvernon.org/digital-encyclopedia/article/siege-of-boston/

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