13 August 2009

Chapter 3 - Finally they get a Break!

Whew! Finally I finished this chapter! Yay for all that travel time, sitting around, that allowed me to buckled down and finish.

Such an exciting chapter! I was intrigued by the differences between the attitudes of the two armies' leadership and manner of promoting people. In the British army, if you had title, rank and money, you would be promoted. In the Americans' army, it was whoever was on hand who seemed like they could probably be counted on to step up to the plate.

Also, the British army had set regulations, set ways of attacking and defending; tried and true and that's the way it was. The American army, at a distinct disadvantage, was forced to think outside the box. Consequently, they had much more innovative methods, theories and ideas that would influenced their fighting. For example, Henry Knox convinced a crew to go with him to Ticonderoga and get those guns and, despite what could have justifiably been crippling difficulty, he successfully brought every single one home. That feat not only gave the American soldiers hope, it gave the army a fighting chance at success.

For the last couple chapters, the author has been painting a bleak, bleak picture. The Americans are significantly out-maned, the soldiers are sick and still not very orderly. The shortage of gun powder is causing General Washington to lose sleep and there isn't an expected break in sight. It's felt like, with the narrative, he's been leading up to something.. or at least something had to give, and finally it did.

The standoff outside of Boston had dragged on until spring with neither side making a move. After the heavy loss at Buncker Hill, Dorchester Heights remained empty, a "high, windblown no-mans land, neither side unmindful of its strategic importance, but neither side daring to seize and fortify it."

However, once the guns from Ticonderoga arrived, a new energy blew throughout the American camp; now they could consider making a move. Rufus Putnam, a resourceful lieutenant colonel, came up with the idea to build defensive structures off site and then assemble them in a single night on top of the Heights. Washington's council of war determined that it was the best option available and set about making it happen.

It was a complicated procedure, with many opportunities for the British to notice and take the Heights before the Americans could secure it. To prevent this, Washington cut off all correspondence to Boston so that the word would not leak out. Also, to cover the sound of the construction and assembly, the armies exchanged vollies of fire.

Records indicate a couple instances where the movements of the Americans were noticed and even reported. It seems clear that, if the news had fallen on more energetic ears, the Americans' efforts would have been discovered:

1- According to the diary of one British officer, a few of the British did find out as early as February 29, from deserters and from a spy referred to only as "Junius," that the rebels intended to "bombard the town from Dorchester (pg. 90-91)."

At about 10:00pm on March 4, the night the Americans took Dorchester Highets, a British lieutenant colonel, Sir John Campbell, reported to Brigadier General Fancis Smith that the "rebels were at work on Dorchester Heights (pg. 93)."

But in both cases, nothing came of it and the American army took Dorchester Heights, and the British army, by complete surprise.

It seems so evident to me that the hand of the Lord had to have played an active part in all of these happenings and it seems that many who were there felt similarly:
"The night was unseasonably mild - indeed, perfectly beautiful with a full moon - ideal conditions for the work, as if the hand of the Almighty were directing things, which the Reverend William Gordon, like many others, felt certain it was. "A finer [night] for working could not have been taken out of the whole 365," he wrote. "It was hazy below [the Heights] so that our people could not be seen, though it was a bright moonlight night above the hills (pg. 92)."

I appreciate that Mr. McCullough doesn't shy away from including descriptions of the circumstances and quotes that seem to support that very idea.

1 comment:

Ritsumei said...

I haven't posted on this chapter yet, but I agree, it was a nice reprieve from all the difficulty of the previous one.

Interesting thing: When the Americans get around to following General Washington's advice to get tough on the army, John Adams takes the British "Articles of War," which were apparently taken right from the Romans. He figured that anything else was far inferior. And that's what was adopted by Congress and inflicted on the army. And it helped things. But I'm reading John Adams' biography (it's distracted me pretty completely from 1776; I must discipline myself) and I've gotten as far as 1780, and still the war stretches on. There won't be a "resolution" as far as the war goes, in our book, which is easy to forget at this point. In fact, I think we might end with the army going into Valley Forge...