Friday, August 19, 2011

Letters from the Front: The Siege of Boston

"They are now convinced that Americans will fight, & seem loth to make any further Trial of their Bravery."

Following the Battle of Bunker Hill, Congressional forces settled into an uneasy siege of Boston, concerned at the potential for a British break-out assault, but unwilling to reduce the pressure on the "ministerial troops." The Siege would continue until March 1776, when the British abandoned their post, retreating by sea to Halifax, Nova Scotia. Most of the documents in the Letters from the Front series chronicle this siege, which has largely been overlooked by recent writers on the American Revolution. As will be seen in this and other letters, the siege loomed large in the minds of contemporaries. 

This installment provides a view of the siege in its relatively early days, through the eyes of William Tudor. A 1769 graduate of Harvard College, Tudor had trained as a lawyer under John Adams in Boston during the pre-war years. In July 1775, General Washington appointed him to serve as the Judge Advocate of the Continental Army at Boston, responsible for guiding courts martial and other elements of the military justice system. Tudor would rise to the position of Judge Advocate General of the entire army the following year, and also ranked as Lieutenant-Colonel of Henley's Additional Continental Regiment. Tudor's dual posts remind us that, unlike in the modern army, regimental officers were often permanently detached from their units to serve in other capacities. Tudor's letter provides vivid details on the siege, weighing in especially hard on the rifleman who had arrived from Virginia and Pennsylvania in the late summer. His concern with events to the southward, particularly as regarded the economy, demonstrates how American soldiers retained their links to their civilian origins while engaged in our founding struggle.


Sol Feinstone Collection No. 1399
William Tudor to Stephen Collins, Cambridge, Massachusetts 27 September 1775                 
Transcribed by Andrew Dauphinee August 2011

                                                                                                           "Cambridge 27th. Sept. 1775

Dear Sir,

            I take my Pen rather to fulfill my Promise, than to send you any News very interesting.  The manoevres of our Army here, has afforded Nothing important for 3 Weeks past.  The Works at plough’d Hill are completed, but are useless, as we have not Powder Sufficient to cannonade the Enemy’s Entrenchments at Bunker’s Hill.  And if we had, it would be little more than wasting it to expend it in firing Cannon Balls.  In the Course of two months the ministerial Army have sent us from their Lines, on Boston Neck & Charlestown, near 2000 Cannon shot without killing 10 men, Besides 500 Bombs.  Col. Arnold with a Detachment of 1100 men march’d a fortnight since for Quebec by the way of Kennebeck River.  This [pg. 1] Expedition is variously thought of in Camp.  Some imagine he will never reach the Place, as the Hardships & Difficulties of such a Road at this advanc’d Season, are insurmountable.  They think he may master these kind of Obstacles, but suppose his Success on his Arrival will depend on Genl. Schuyler’s  movements turning out fortunately.  We are all anxiously waiting for decisive News from St. John’s.
             Our News from Boston is.  That the Troops are nightly in Expectation of an attack from Us.  And have taken every Precaution to guard against one.  That the piratical Cruisers are daily sending in our Vessels for Confiscation.  That they expect no Reinforcement before the Spring, & that the Enemy are disheartened.  That they have plenty of Salt Provisions, & that the Officers of the Army get fresh.  They are now convinced that Americans will fight, & seem loth to make any further Trial of their Bravery.  They give up the Exercise of Taxation, & only contend for our Acknowledgement of the Supremacy of Parliament [pg. 2] which they mean not to be have exercis’d otherwise than for the Regulation of Trade.  We are content to grant them to possess the mark of Supremacy, but cannot their declarative Right of legislating for Us in all Cases whatever.  What Madness to be fighting for the Recognition of a Right which they say they will not exercise!  We complain of their contending for Words, for Sound only – they retort & say that is what we are doing.  But if we once grant them concede they have the Right, we are dependent intirely on their Generosity for the Non Exertion of it.
            I wish you would inform me of what Quantity of Flax seed has been ship’d from the Southward for Ireland this Fall.  Pray acquaint me what you intend doing with your Flour & Wheat &c.  How & whereto you trade, & if the Non Exportation Agreement is truly comply’d with.  Pray have you no Men of War, or their Tenders cruising between your Capes?  In what Manner your People are employ’d since the Restraining Act took Place & what are the Sentiments of the Quakers.  Send me as much Information as possible, & rely on my returning the obligation in kind.  Yours sincerely
                                                                                                Wm Tudor

We have been much plagu’d with the Rifle Men.  They were too hastily inlisted.   There are some who are but poor Marksmen.  Several have deserted & gone over to the Enemy.  We had 34 of them try’d by a Ct. Martial for Mutiny.  The Officers are Gentlemen, but have not a thorough Command of their Men.  Many of them are Irish & foreigners & are shrewdly suspected of being transported Convicts.  I am sorry to acquaint you that the Character of a Rifle Man is held in very little Estimation here."

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