05 September 2009

Dorchester Heights (Part 1)

Where Are We?

The first thing I did when I was looking at this chapter was try to figure out where they were talking about. I was surprised at how tricky that was! Of course, then I got distracted, and when I came back I googled again and it came right up this time. Go fig. Anyway, here's this map of Boston from 1775. And here's the map of present-day Boston. You'll have to zoom in about 3 times, plus recenter the map a bit in order to get the scale to be more or less the same. The countryside that the army was camped in is now part of the city. Dorchester Heights is now just another historic neighborhood in Boston, rather than a separate entity. My the difference a few hundred years can make! But it's nice to know where we are talking about.

View Larger Map


There is a striking difference between the relationship between England and the colonies then, and the relationship of England and America now. On page 77 McCullough talks about the men that England sent to command the troops sent to put down the rebellion.

Clinton, Howe's second-in-command, was the least impressive in appearance, a short, fat, colorless man who could be shy and petulant. But he had a keen military mind and the advantage of knowing Americans from boyhood. He had grown up in New York, where his father, Admiral George Clinton, served as governor from 1741 to 1751.

Quite a few of them had served in the French and Indian War, some owned land in "the Americas," and relations seem to be generally cozier then than they are now. This is, of course, to be expected. England was the seat of the colonies' government, the parent state, the people's homeland. But somehow I'd grown up with the impression that you were either in England or you were in America. (Think of Ever After, with it's "You are forthwith stripped of your titles and sentenced to be shipped to the Americas..." like so much baggage. And certainly not a round trip!) The book makes it sound like there was much more moving back and forth, at least among the well-connected and well-to-do, than I had previously been aware of. More like the way the various stories (and here I'm thinking Secret Garden) talk about English officers and their families going to India, but then coming back for school and marriage and whatever. England, the place, remained an important part of an Englishman's life, even if he did happen to be living in the colonies. It makes the Loyalists' position make more sense. Not that I agree, just that it makes more sense. They were Englishmen. Really, truly. It wasn't until they felt King George betrayed them that the colonists fought for independency. And even then, not all of them agreed; some remained loyal to the crown.

Fort Ticonderoga

Fort Ticonderoga was a fort built on a narrow section of Lake Champlaign in New York. It had been strategically important in previous conflicts between Britain and France, and now was the starting point of some very heroic action in the Revolutionary War. Originally it had been a French fort, but had been captured by the British in the French and Indian War. Americans then held it from shortly after the Battle of Lexington and Concord until 1777, including the time we are considering in our book, though at this time it was in some disrepair. The cannon and other armaments were transported to Boston by Henry Knox, in a move that proved decisive in ending the seige of Boston in the Americans' favor.

I was really impressed with Knox's achievement! Knox was not what you think of when you picture a military hero:

Colonel Henry Knox was hard not to notice. Six feet tall, he bulked large, weighing perhaps 250 pounds. He had a booming voice. He was gregarious, jovial, quick of mind, highly energetic - "very fat, but very active" - and all of twenty five. ... To further complicate life, Knox had taken up the patriot cause and fallen in love with the daughter of a prominent Tory. ... In the tense days following the bloodshed at Lexington and Concord, the young couple packed up what little they could carry and slipped out of Boston in disguise.

It was Henry Knox who first suggested the idea of going after the cannon at far-off Fort Ticonderoga on Lake Champlain, an undertaking so enormous, so fraught with certain difficulties, that many thought it impossible. ... When Knox told Washington he was confident the guns could be retrieved and hauled overland to Boston, Washington agreed at once, and put the young officer in charge of the expedition. (Page58-59)

So off Henry goes, taking his younger brother William with him and sending a letter to his wife with the encouraging news that he should not be facing any fighting on this assignment. But fighting is not the only difficulty to be considered in war time!

First, there's winter. They start this little trip in mid-November. Brrrr! Then, there's distance. On present-day highways the most direct route is 223 miles and 4 hours. But they didn't have highways and they did have snow, thaws, freezes, and more snow, boats, forty-two sleds, eighty yoke of oxen, and a need for stealth and speed. The book says the distance they actually covered was nearly 300 miles. What an undertaking! Here we see one of the advantages of the American army's willingness - necessity for - doing things unorthodoxly. In the English army a junior officer, of low birth and so young, would likely not have been able to get his scheme approved. Knox, however, was in the American army which was not in a position to be choosy about where their talent came from or looked like, so long as it was loyal. So he went. And his cannon were the decisive point which broke the stalemate at Boston.

To Be Continued...


misskate said...

It's really nice to have a partner to read this with; you think of things that I don't really consider. Thanks for the maps!

Also, I hadn't thought about the mind-set that the English seem to have had with their colonies (ie. your comparing India and America's relationship to England.) I'd not considered that before. Hooray for multiple heads churning out multiple thoughts!:)

Ritsumei said...

Yeah, I've thought that about the things you post more than once. It's an interesting thing, this whole reading and discussing thing! I'm not quite through with the chapter yet, but we're guests this evening for dinner, so I doubt that I'll be able to finish doing the rest of the chapter, but I'm working on it!