History From America's Most Famous Valleys
or Freedom's Early Sacrifice.
A Revolutionary Tale of New England,
Founded upon Fact.
by J. R Simms.
Albany: J. Munselll 78 State Street 1857.
Donated by Willis Barshied, Jr.
The storm cloud gathers fast, the hour's at hand,
When it will burst in fury o'er the land."
Eighteen days from the interview of our hero with his lady-love, noticed in the preceding chapter, Gen. Gage, then in command of the British troops stationed at Boston, sent a detachment of his men to destroy a quantity of military stores accumulated at Concord; the Lexington battle followed, the details of which are familiar, or ought to be, to every American. The news of this conflict spread through the colonies like fire upon a prairie before a gale of wind. It was heralded by swift-footed messengers, and was soon known in every hamlet from Maine to Georgia. The militia of Coventry, imitating the example throughout New England, were soon on their march to the theatre of war.
Passing through Windham, Nathan obtained a brief interview with Lucy, the troops having halted in the neighborhood of the Fitch dwelling to rest. The moments flew rapidly, and when the gifted hero drew his watch and observed that the time of rest had nearly expired, a shade of regret clouded his brow, but it was only for a moment; and as the rolling drum warned that the interview must close, although the eye of Lucy moistened with a tear, the lovers parted full of hopes and bright visions of bliss. Our heroine had been too zealous in the cause of liberty to attempt, as some would have done, to detain her lover, yet he could not fail to infer more than once, that she would rather the crisis had not arrived. As the stirring sounds of the fife and drum died away in the distance, doubts came to torment her, but against them and the pulsations of her young heart, which almost threatened its rupture, she struggled-she conquered, though not until several hours after her lover had been marching on the road towards Boston. His thoughts on this journey may perhaps be better imagined than described.
Arriving in the vicinity of Cambridge, all -was bustle and activity; thousands of New England's hardy sons had already congregated, some in the garments they had on at the plow or anvil, which they had not deemed it prudent to take time to lay off; and all actuated by one feeling-drawn together by one sympathetic chord.
Gen. Gage, seeing the hills around Boston occupied by the armed yeomanry of New England, for some time confined his operations to the city; the besieging Americans however, were organizing and disciplining for subsequent duties, Many of the militia who first rallied near Boston, when they discovered they were not needed, returned home; while others enlisted to see the end of the Lexington tragedy. Of the latter number was young Hale, who was given a captain's commission, in Col. Webb's regiment.
Early in June several thousand fresh troops arrived in Boston when Gen. Howe, commissioned so to do by the British government, offered pardons to all Americans for past offences, except to Samuel Adams and John Hancock. The manner of their exceptions shows them entitled to the very front rank of American patriots. Neither the prospect of peace, with all its blessings, if to be purchased at (he possible sacrifice of national privileges, or the prospect of war, with all its horrid details, could change the settled purpose of the Bostonians.
It having been rumored abroad that the British troops intended visiting the country, active measures were on foot in the camp to prevent it. After a good night's repose, Gen. Gage, then in command of the troops al Boston, was startled by a loud rapping at his door.
" Who's there?" he inquired, raising his head from his downy pillow, just as the rap was violently repeated. Immediately he heard the disturber of his morning dreams hold off the latch, vainly attempting to enter his appartment." Who's there?" again interrogated the occupant of the bell-chamber.
"My name is Henry Clinton, sir," said the intruder, "and I would speak with Gen. Gage this moment."
Springing from his bed he unlocked the door, and seeing his brother officer there at so unusual an hour, he exclaimed, " Gen. Clinton, what has happened-what the d--l brings you to my door by daylight? Have the Yankees carried us all by storm, at the point of mop-sticks and pitch-forks? or has some most important news just arrived from England? Speak; do tell what has happened."
"I am only waiting an opportunity to do so, your honor!" said Clinton, dryly, tipping his chapeau very gracefully. "The Yankees have not altogether carried us by storm, but they might very easily if we all slept as soundly as yourself. Why sir, Col. Allen had not half the difficulty to arouse the commandant of Old Ti,* that I have had to wake you. But I am on business. To be brief, sir, the rag-tags of the would-be generals, Mr. Ward and others,! are strongly intrenching themselves on Breed's Hill, and
Allusion is here made to the capture of Fort Ticonderoga, by Col. Ethan Allen,
in May, 1775.
+ At this period of the contest, the British officers were unwilling to extend the title of General to Americans, and when Gen. Gage first communicated with Gen. Washington, by letter, it was superscribed to " Mr. Washington"-of course it was returned unopened, because it was not addressed to him in his official capacity, although a business letter.
it is rumored in town that they intend to keep possession of it, and--"
" The d--l they do!" interrupted the dressing hero, who tore one of his silk stockings half off; and ruptured his beautiful buff breeches in two places in his hot haste to get them on.
Bang! bang! bang! went several loud guns at this moment.
" What does this firing mean?" said Gen. Gage, nearly letting his gold watch fall in a vain endeavor to thrust it into its fob.
"A few morning guns for variety, your honor. You know our men are complaining of ennui; before coming here I left orders for some of our best artillerists to punish the cowardly rebels for their temerity. They are very valiant in the night, when our troops are asleep, but I dare say a few more shots will send them scampering from the hill, like a flock of frightened sheep." Bang! bang! bang!
" What! the firing seems to be in another direction from the first," said the dressing hero, now about to leave his room, "what can this mean?"
"Only that the ships in the harbor are joining in the salute," responded Clinton, as the two descended into the street. They proceeded immediately to the tower of a meeting-house, which afforded them a fine view of the American redoubt, a work which had sprung up as if by magic, while the two spectators had either been playing cards over a glass of wine, or were sleeping off the heavy charges their war-god, Bacchus, had literally loaded them with. Raising a glass to his eyes and surveying the American works on the hill, surprise was visible in his countenance, but without seeming to lose his usual gravity, on which he prided himself, Clinton handed the magnifier to his companion, barely remarking as he did so, " The Yankees can shovel gravel, if they can't do any thing else!"
After a brief survey, Gage lowered the glass with an oath, expressing his astonishment that the rag-tags, as his friend had dubbed them, could have accomplished so much in so little time, and that they should continue their unfinished works with such apparent unconcern; as the shot of the enemy were plowing up the soil all around them.
" This will never, never do; them rascals must all be caught and gibbeted, or locked up in dungeons," said Gage, "and we must set ourselves to work to do it. What, let a report go into the country, that a handful of raw militia defied British regulars with impunity?" ' At this moment Generals Burgoyne, Howe and Pigott, who had been notified to meet Gage and Clinton there, came panting into the bellfry. " This looks as though we were to have a warm day of it," said Gage to Howe, as the latter sank down upon the deck much exhausted.
After panting a few moments, grumbling at the great number of steps he had to climb in his ascent, and wiping the perspiration from his brow, he replied to Gage as follows; " Depend on't there'll be no righting. Send a regiment of red coats that way, with bright bayonets, and then Jonathan fox-hunters will show their heels in double quick time." With emphasis he added, "I'll lay a wager of ten bottles of as good Madeira as the Pope of Rome ever tasted, that Pigott and myself with, a few troop's, will rid the hill of them jackanapes in two hours!"
" I am not disposed to overrate the courage of the rascals," said Gage, " but some how or other they do not seem to mind the shot of our cannon in the least, for which reason I will take your bet. Yourself and Pigott shall have the honor of selecting your troops for the occasion, and when ready to march, Clinton, Burgoyne and I will take our station here, (if we can press some chairs into the service,) to witness the flight of the "rag-tags." What say, Clinton, will yon share the bet with me."
" I prefer betting to win, sir," said Clinton, " but I will promise to help drink the wine, standing upon that petticoat-looking banner* they have planted on their works, long before noon, will not you, friend Burgoyne."
"Indeed I will in full bumpers, from the head of one of their butter-firkin drums," added Burgoyne. After a few preliminaries were settled, the party left the lower to prepare to punish the daring provincials. Thus commenced the great tragedy, since known as the battle of Bunker Hill.
Considerable delay was experienced in getting the British troops ready to march; in the meantime the Americans were prosecuting their labor with incessant diligence. It was nearly noon when the men under Howe and Pigott landed from boats in Charleston, and marched up the hill to attack the provincials. The trio in the steeple had waited long and anxiously to see the " rebels scamper off," but when instead, they saw scores of their own select infantry cut down before the American redoubt, like grass before a mower, and the remainder fleeting towards their boats, they bit their lips, which only parted to eject an occasional oath, in anger; and when, on being rallied and brought by their officers to a second charge, more fatal, even, than the first from the Americans' fire, and before which they again retreated down the hill, their rage knew no bounds. Gage and Burgoyne flew into a passion-stamped upon the bell-deck, and each in turn swore
* In the years 1775 and 1776, the American flag was one of plain red that of stars and stripes was adopted June 14, 1777.
that the line of the breastwork were manned by Englishmen, as no other troops could stand such charges; while Clinton in a perfect rage, left his mortified companions, taking an oath that as the honor of the royal flag was jeopardized, he would carry the works or perish in the attempt.
Early in the morning of this day, fraught with such important consequences to lovers of liberty, Captain Hale, having left his company in command of his lieutenant, armed with a fowling gun,* crossed the isthmus to the fortification on Breed's Hill, accompanied by Gen. Warren, who was also proceeding thither to volunteer his aid to the brave Prescott. As they passed the neck of land exposed to the cross-fire of the British, a grape shot striking the barrel of Hale's gun, forced it from his hand upon the ground. Snatching it up uninjured, he took deliberate aim and fired at an officer on the nearest floating battery, with what effect is unknown. Declining any command. Warren and Hale sought the most exposed part of the American redoubt, where by counsel and example, they proved efficient auxiliaries.
The Americans under Prescott were not only without bayonets, but were greatly deficient in powder and ball, not having on an average at the commencement of the action, over three or four charges to each man. It was, however, most judiciously expended during the first two attacks of the enemy, scarcely a charge having been fired that did not take effect in some manner upon the foe. More than one Briton bit the ground before the steady aim of young Hale; who, with the old gun he had often shot ducks with in the lake near his father's, he was now repelling the invaders of his country.
Arriving with fresh troops at the landing, Gen. Clinton once more rallied the dispirited soldiers under Howe and Pigott. When about to lead them to a third assault, he addressed them much as follows: " What! are a handful of green Yankees invincible? Are soldiers in the service of King George, well equipped, and their officers who have won laurels in foreign lands, fighting with veteran troops man to man, to be disgraced forever by a vein attempt to storm the mushroom works of a pack of cowards and mint-tea-drinkers, armed, too, as they are? Methinks I hear the village church bells ringing a merry peal throughout America, at the defeat of disciplined troops by a few ragamuffins! What think you Parliament will say, when told that a thousand or even two thousand New England farmers without bayonets, successfully resisted three or four thousand of England's best infantry? Tell it not in Gath, neither publish it in the streets of London! I appeal to you as men, as Englishmen,
* In the early part of the Revolution, nearly all the American captains not only wore swords, but carried guns.
men, to redeem your national character for bravery! Let not the sun go down with shame upon your heads, for disgraced you can not fail to be in the eyes of all Europe, and your officers, too, if yonder works are not stormed, nor shall I crave the honor of commanding men after this day, -who have not sufficient mettle and pride of country, to plant successfully our floating lion, where hangs like a dish-cloth, Jonathan's ball-riddled apology for a flag! For myself,! declare, and call heaven to witness, I would rather die an hundred deaths, than survive this day's defeat!" The appeal of Clinton had not been made in vain, and with huzzas the troops desired him to lead them on.
At this moment, seeing the troops about to advance to a third assault, a murmur ran through the American lines for ammunition there being but a few charges in the whole redoubt. Leaping over the brestwork, our hero, though greatly exposed, began to rifle the cartridge-boxes of his fallen foes; and a few other patriots imitating his example, a little powder was thus obtained; but not having bullets of suitable size, gravel stones were substituted, and with this meagre provision to repel, the provincials awaited the approach of the enemy. As they drew near and opened a brisk fire, the discharge of the Americans betrayed their want of ammunition more clearly than their recent attempts to obtain it had done, and Clinton gave orders to scale the works. At this moment the favored son of New England-the gifted Warren received a bullet in his head, and fell into the arms of our hero, who dropped his gun to receive him. Although in a dying state, young Hale would have borne his friend from the works no longer tenable, but so impetuous was the onset of the enemy, that clubbed muskets and the few spontoons at hand could not restrain them, and amidst the melee which followed, he bent himself over the fallen chief, that his own body might shield him from British vengeance.
" Your hand, Hale,"whispered the dying man, " that I may, know you are here, for my brain is on fire," and all is darkness," As the young captain pressed the hand he held, the same voice faintly articulated-" My dear wife, and children, and aged mother, tell them God will protect them, when I am gone; and my--loved-but-injured-country," continued the voice at intervals though husky, " may-you-be--f-free!" The last word though spoken with some emphasis, was but the dying effort of that voice whose oratory had enchained thousands with delight; it was now hushed forever.
Just as Hale caught the last words of the hero, he heard the click of a gun near him, and turning his head he saw that it was aimed at himself. Gen. Howe had that moment halted near by, leaning on the arm of Col. Small, and when the gun poised at Hale was about to be snapped again, the Colonel sprang forward and with his sword knocked up the piece with the exclamation "You rascal, would you shoot down an unarmed man as you "would a dog?" The bullet whistled harmlessly through the air. Approaching near, Col. Small addressed the victim of war, whose head still rested upon the knee of young Hale. " My dear friend," said he, " I hope you are not badly hurt?" The muscles about the eye moved as though he heard and recognized the speaker's voice, for they had once been warm personal friends; and a smile seemed to linger about his mouth; but it was only momentary, for immediately after the blanched cheek gave evidence that the messenger on the pale horse ''had passed by, and that the spirit of the immortal Warren had gone with nearly a thousand others from that eminence on that day, to their final rest.
"And to whom, permit me to ask, am I indebted for the preservation of my life?" said Hale to the stranger, with a graceful inclination of the head. " My name is John Small," he replied, " and I would fain know in whose arms the illustrious Warren expired?"
" By a providential circumstance in the arms of your prisoner, Nathan Hale," responded our hero; at the same time loosening the clasp which confined his sword-belt. Observing that he was about to tender his sword, the gallant Colonel said quickly, "Retain it, sir. If not mistaken, I have the honor of now meeting Captain Hale of the American Infantry." The latter bowed his assent. " I see how it is,'' continued the speaker, "the citizen's dress tells me that my greatly esteemed but unfortunate friend Warren and yourself, were volunteers in this terrible conflict."
" We were," said Hale, now choking with emotion, as his eyes rested on the pallid countenance still reposing upon his knee, and he thought of the anguish in store for his friend's surviving family. His thoughts wandered to an object tar away, and presage whispered, 'such may possibly be my fate ere this contest is over.'
The day after the battle, Capt. Hale was exchanged for a British captain taken during the action, and returned to the American camp. He was in Boston a sufficient length of time, however, to witness the general mourning that pervaded the town: among the Whigs for the many brave spirits that had sealed with their lives their devotion to country, especially for the loss of death's noblest victim, the intelligent, the generous Warren;* and among the Tories (who felt little sympathy for their country or countrymen,) for the sudden death of such a host of daring soldiers, in the front rank of whom stood Maj. Pitcairn of Lexington memory.
* On the 8th day of April, 1776, the remains of Gen. Warren were reinterred, on which occasion a fitting Oration was delivered at the King's Chapel in Boston, by Perez Morion, to a large and attentive audience.
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