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Letter from General Washington to John A. Washington



Cambridge, March 31, 1776.

DEAR BROTHER: Your letter of the 24th ultimo was duly forwarded to this camp by Colonel Lee, and gave me the pleasure of hearing that you, my sister, and family, were well. After your post is established to Fredericksburgh, the intercourse, by letter, may become regular and certain; and whenever time (little of which, God knows, I have for friendly correspondences) will permit, I shall be happy in writing to you. I cannot call to mind the date of my last to you, but this I recollect, that I have written more letters to, than I have received from you.

The want of arms, powder, &c˙, is not peculiar to Virginia. This country (of which, doubtless, you have heard such large and flattering accounts) is more deficient of each than you can conceive. I have been here months together with (what will scarce be believed) not thirty rounds of musket cartridges a man — have been obliged to submit to all the insults of the enemy' s cannon for want of powder,


keeping what little we had for pistol distance. Another thing has been done, which, added to the above; will put it in the power of this Army to say what, perhaps, none other, with justice, ever could: We have maintained our ground against the enemy under the above want of powder, and we have disbanded one Army and recruited another within musket-shot of two-and-twenty regiments, the flower of the British Army, when our strength had been little, if any, superior to theirs; and at last have beat them, in a shameful and precipitate manner, out of a place the strongest by nature on this Continent — strengthened and fortified in the best manner, and at an enormous expense.

As some account of the late manoeuvre of both armies may not be unacceptable, I shall, hurried as I always am, devote a little time to it.

Having received a small supply of powder, then, very inadequate to our wants, I resolved to take possession of Dorchester-Point, lying east of Boston, looking directly into it, and commanding, absolutely, the enemy' s lines on the Neck (Boston.) To effect this, which I knew would force the enemy to an engagement, or subject them to be enfiladed by our cannon, it was necessary, in the first instance, to possess two Heights, (those mentioned in General Burgoyne' s letter to Lord Stanley, in his account of the battle of Bunker' s Hill,) which had the entire command of it. The ground at this time being frozen upwards of two feet deep, and as impenetrable as a rock, nothing could be attempted with earth. We were obliged, therefore, to provide an amazing quantity of chandeliers and fascines for the work; and on the night of the 4th, after a previous severe cannonade and bombardment for three nights together, to divert the enemy' s attention from our real design, removed every material to the spot, under cover of darkness, and took full possession of those Heights, without the loss of a single man.

Upon their discovering of the works next morning, great preparations were made for attacking them; but, not being ready before the afternoon, and the weather getting very tempestuous, much blood was saved, and a very important blow (to one side or the other) prevented. That this remarkable interposition of Providence is for some wise purpose, I have no doubt; but as the principal design of the manoeuvre was to draw the enemy to an engagement under disadvantages — as a premeditated plan was laid for this purpose, and seemed to be proceeding to my utmost wish; and as no men seemed better disposed to make the appeal than ours did upon that occasion, I can scarce forbear lamenting the disappointment, unless the dispute is drawing to an accommodation, and the sword going to be sheathed.

But to return; the enemy, thinking (as we have since learned) that we had got too securely posted before the second morning to be much hurt by them, and apprehending great annoyance from our new works, resolved upon a retreat, and accordingly embarked in as much hurry, precipitation, and confusion, as ever troops did, the 17th, not taking time to fit their transports, but leaving King' s property in Boston to the amount (as is supposed) of thirty or forty thousand pounds, in provisions, stores, &c˙. Many pieces of cannon, some mortars, and a number of shot, shells, &c˙, are also left; and baggage-wagons, artillery-carts, &c˙, which they have been eighteen months preparing to take the field with, were found destroyed, thrown into the docks, and drifted upon every shore. In short, Dunbar' s destruction of stores after General Braddock' s defeat, which made so much noise, affords but a faint idea of what was to be met with here.

The enemy lay from the 17th to the, 27th in Nantasket and King' s Roads, about nine miles from Boston, to take in water from the Islands thereabout, surrounded by their shipping, and to fit themselves for sea. Whither they are now bound, and where their tents will be next pitched, I know not; but as New-York and the Hudson River are the most important objects they can have in view, as the latter secures the communication with Canada, at the same time it separates the Northern and Southern Colonies, and the former is thought to abound in disaffected persons, who only wait a favourable opportunity and support, to declare themselves openly, it became equally important for us to prevent their gaining possession of these advantages; and, therefore, so soon as they embarked, I detached a brigade of six regiments to that Government; so soon as they sailed, another


brigade composed of the same number; and to-morrow another of five will inarch. In a day or two more I shall follow myself, and be in New-York ready to receive all but the first.

The enemy left all their works standing in Boston and on Bunker' s Hill — and formidable they are. The town has shared a much better fate than was expected, the damage done to the houses being nothing equal to report; but the inhabitants have suffered a good deal by being plundered by the soldiery at their departure. All those who took upon themselves the style and title of Government-men in Boston, in short, all those who have acted an unfriendly part in this great contest, have shipped themselves off in the same hurry; but under still greater disadvantages than the King' s Troops have done, being obliged to man their own vessels, (for seamen could not be had for the transports for the King' s use,) and submit to every hardship that can be conceived. One or two have done what a great many ought to have done long ago — committed suicide.

By all accounts, there never existed a more miserable set of beings than these wretched creatures now are. Taught to believe that the power of Great Britain was superior to all opposition, and that foreign aid, if not, was at hand, they were even higher, and more insulting in their opposition, than the Regulars. When the order issued, therefore, for embarking the troops in Boston, no electrick shock — no sudden clap of thunder — in a word, the last trumpet, could not have struck them with greater consternation. They were at their wits' end; and, conscious of their black ingratitude, chose to commit themselves, in the manner I have above described, to the mercy of the waves at a tempestuous season, rather than meet their offended countrymen. But with this declaration the choice was made, that if they thought the most abject submission would procure them peace, they never would have stirred.

I believe I may, with great truth, affirm, that no man, perhaps, since the first institution of armies, ever commanded one under more difficult circumstances than I have done; to enumerate the particulars would fill a volume. Many of my difficulties and distresses were of so peculiar a cast, that, in order to conceal them from the enemy, I was obliged to conceal them from my friends — indeed, from my own Army; thereby subjecting my conduct to interpretations unfavourable to my character, especially by those at a distance, who could not, in the smallest degree, be acquainted with the springs that governed it. I am happy, however, to find, and to hear from different quarters, that my reputation stands fair; that my conduct hitherto has given universal satisfaction. The addresses which I have received, and which, I suppose, will he published, from the General Court of this Colony, (the same as our General Assembly,) and from the Selectmen of Boston, upon the evacuation of the town, and my approaching departure from the Colony, exhibit a pleasing testimony of their approbation of my conduct, and of their personal regard, which I have found in various other instances, and which, in retirement, will afford me many comfortable reflections.

The share you have taken in the publick disputes is commendable and praiseworthy; it is a duty we owe our country — a claim posterity has upon us. It is not sufficient for a man to be a passive friend and well-wisher to the cause. This, and every other cause of such a nature, must inevitably perish under such an opposition. Every person should be active in some department or other, without paying too much attention to private interest. It is a great stake we are playing for, and sure we are of winning, if the cards are well managed. Inactivity in some, disaffection in others, and timidity in many, may hurt the cause — nothing else can; for unanimity will carry us through triumphantly, in spite of every exertion of Great Britain, if linked together in one indissoluble band. This they now know, and are practising every stratagem which human invention can devise to divide us, and unite their own people. Upon this principle it is, the Restraining Bill is passed, and Commissioners are coming over. The device, to be sure, is shallow — the covering thin. But they will hold out to their own people that the acts complained of are repealed; and Commissioners sent to each Colony to treat with us, neither of which will be attended to, &c˙ This, upon weak minds among us, will have its effect; they wish for reconciliation,


or, in other words, they wish for peace, without attending to the conditions.

General Lee, I expect, is with you before this. He is the first officer in military knowledge and experience we have in the whole Army. He is zealously attached to the cause, honest and well meaning, but rather fickle and violent, I fear, in his temper. However, as he possesses an uncommon share of good sense and spirit, I congratulate my countrymen upon his appointment to that department. The appointment of Lewis, I think, was also judicious; for, notwithstanding die odium thrown upon his conduct at Kanhawa, I always looked upon him as a man of spirit, and a good officer; his experience is equal to any one we have. Colonel Mercer would have supplied the place well; but I


question (as a Scotchman) whether it would have gone glibly down. Bullitt is no favourite of mine; and, therefore, I shall say nothing more of him, than that his own opinion of himself always kept pace with what others pleased to think of him — if anything, rather ran ahead of it.

As I am now nearly at the end of my eighth page, I think it time to conclude; especially as I set out with prefacing the little time I had for friendly correspondences. I shall only add, therefore, my affectionate regards to my sister and the children, and compliments to any inquiring friends; and that I am, with every sentiment of true affection, your loving brother and faithful friend,


To John A˙ Washington.