The Boston Campaign was the opening act of the American Revolutionary War. It was a decisive victory for the Continental Army and the patriot cause and forced the British to take the rebellion seriously. It was one of the few campaigns throughout the war that was a complete disaster from beginning to end for the British. Every battle was either lost or a punitive victory, and what emerged was a unified nation. It was during the Boston Campaign that the Continental Congress formed and wrote the Declaration of Independence. It was also during this time that George Washington was selected to be the Commander-in-chief of the Continental Army.
The major battles & events that occurred during the campaign are the following:
- Boston Massacre - March 5, 1770
- Boston Tea Party - December 16, 1773
- Powder Alarm - September 1, 1774
- Battles of Lexington and Concord - April 15, 1775
- Siege of Boston - April 15, 1775 - March 17, 1776
- Battle of Chelsea Creek - May 27 & 28, 1775
- Battle of Machias - June 11 & 12, 1775
- Battle of Bunker Hill - June 17, 1775
- Burning of Falmouth - October 18, 1775
Prelude to War
The Seven Years' War was fought between England and France from 1754 - 1763 and took place across the world, including the 13 original colonies. This war would come to be known as the French and Indian War in America. The fighting was fierce, but the British emerged victorious after a victory at the Battle of Quebec. The victory was not all that the British had acquired. They also acquired a large amount of debt that put a heavy burden on their citizens. After much deliberation on how to pay off the debt, the British Parliament decided to begin to tax their colonies.
The first of these acts was the Stamp Act. The Stamp Act was passed in 1765 and was arguably the most controversial legislation passed by the British Parliament leading up to the American Revolutionary War. The colonies ignited and organized the Stamp Act Congress, in which many leaders from the 13 original colonies appeared and gave their opinions on the matter. It was during the Stamp Act Congress that Patrick Henry delivered his great speech that ended with the famous line, "Give me Liberty or Give me Death." The Stamp Act was repealed by the British Parliament.
In 1767, the British Parliament passed the Townshend Acts. The Townshend Acts was written up by Charles Townshend and imposed a tax on paper, glass, paint, and other common items that were imported. The taxes were almost invisible and were small compared to what those in the mother country were paying. Nevertheless, the colonists became infuriated, and groups such as the Sons of Liberty began to protest these acts. They boycotted British goods, which began to hurt many British merchants. Boycotts became so passionate that the British sent troops to Boston in 1768. In 1770, the British guards, fearing for their lives, fired into a mob of colonists in an event that became known as the Boston Massacre. Three years later, the Sons of Liberty organized the Boston Tea Party.
Parliament rescinded the Townshend Acts for a short period and eventually passed the Intolerable Acts. These acts were directed to punish the colonies and force them to submit, but they had unintended consequences. The British placed Thomas Gage as the commander-in-chief of British troops in North America and was instructed by King George III to enforce royal authority on its colony. On September 1, 1774, Gage sent an expedition to secure and remove ammunition in an event that became known as the Powder Alarm. The provincial militia began to muster, and Gage realized that he was greatly outnumbered. He sent for reinforcements from England. The mother country was able to spare 400 marines.
The Beginning of the American Revolutionary War
After the Powder Alarm, the provincial militia organized élite units that would muster at a minute's notice and called them minutemen. On April 18, 1775, these minutemen would be tested in battle when General Gage organized a march to Concord with the mission of removing ammunition. However, news of the mission was leaked to Joseph Warren, and the provincials were alerted when Paul Revere, William Dawes, and Samuel Prescott alarmed the countryside. The minutemen and local militia mustered, and the British were confronted by a handful of these men in Lexington. Major John Pitcairn lost control of his men, and a shot was fired. The shot became known as the shot fired around the world, and it was recorded as the first shot of the American Revolutionary War. The war had begun.
The British routed the militia at Lexington and marched towards Concord, where they were pushed back. Francis Smith and Lord Percy were able to save their men from the onslaught of fire from the militia and minutemen. The British limped back to Boston and were then surrounded and put under siege. Thomas Gage was bottled up.
Siege of Boston
After the expedition to Concord, militia from surrounding areas, including many from Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire, placed Thomas Gage and his British Army under siege within the peninsula of Boston. General Artemis Ward was the commanding officer during the siege but was not the only officer present. Officers John Stark, William Prescott, Israel Putnam, and Nathanael Greene also played a role in the siege.
The siege provided logistical problems for the provincials. The British were able to resupply their army with the Royal Navy and had fewer men to supply, but the provincials were not able to do the same. They had more men and did not have a central government to supply their men. This problem led to a few skirmishes and battles between the two armies.
The first of these battles was the Battle of Chelsea Creek. The British had supplied their army by raiding farmers on small islands in the Boston Harbor. In order to counter this, the provincials under commander Artemis Ward. The result was a British defeat and the loss of two of their soldiers and the British ship Diana. The provincials successfully removed supplies from Hog Island.
After Chelsea Creek, the British Admiral Graves sent a schooner to Machias in the District of Maine. The schooner met complete disaster when the residents rose in resistance. During the battle, the Loyalist commander was killed. When Graves learned of his commander being killed, he became irate and sent expeditions to punish the residents. This led to the burning of Falmouth and had the opposite effect that Graves intended. Instead of discouraging action against the British, it provided a reason for the Continental Congress to raise the Continental Navy.
The British sent reinforcements with three of their best generals: Sir William Howe, Sir Henry Clinton, and Sir John Burgoyne. The three were known as Cerberus and took little time in mobilizing their men.
Patriot commander William Prescott took a gamble and fortified Breed's Hill in the middle of the night. When Howe and his subordinates arose in the morning, they saw that they were in a precarious situation. He decided on a frontal attack. This decision would lead to a punitive victory for the British. They charged Breed's Hill valiantly but lost over 1,000 soldiers, which included Major John Pitcairn. After the battle, General William Howe walked the field of the dead and mourned the loss. He would not underestimate the Continental Army for the rest of the war.
Meanwhile, the Second Continental Congress was in debate over independence. John Adams made a motion to create a Continental Army. John Dickinson opposed but was left speechless when Adams nominated the Virginia planter George Washington. The choice of a Virginian was key because it united the colonies. Virginia was the largest colony and, therefore, carried the most influence. George Washington had also established himself as one of the more respectable members of the Congress. The nomination was carried and George Washington was named the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army.
George Washington began forming the Continental Army with what he had, but by the time he made it to Boston, the Battle of Bunker Hill had already happened. When he arrived in Boston, he began to restore discipline but quickly found a problem with supplying the army with proper rations and weapons. It would take hard work and dedication to dislodge the British from Boston.
Capture of Fort Ticonderoga
After the first shots were fired at Lexington and Concord, militia across the 13 original colonies mobilized. Benedict Arnold received permission to recruit men to capture Fort Ticonderoga. On his way, he came across Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys, who were also planning to capture the fort. The two decided to join forces and surrounded the fort. Within hours, Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys, along with Benedict Arnold, captured the fort without firing a shot. Fort Ticonderoga supplied the Continental Army with much-needed ammunition, especially artillery. Washington's General Henry Knox would make use of these weapons in Boston.
Fort Ticonderoga has a small back story to it. This was the first time that Benedict Arnold would be slighted for his accomplishment. When Ethan Allen reported the victory, Arnold's name was not mentioned, although he played the most important role. When we study American History, his name is never mentioned, but instead, Ethan Allen, as if Ethan Allen captured the fort without any help from anyone else. This is factually untrue and harmful to the entire story of the American Revolutionary War. While it is possible that Arnold is left off the pages of history due to his future treason, that does not mean that it is good history.
Fortification of Dorchester Heights and British Removal from Boston
The Continental Army was stuck in a stalemate and was in need of a way to dislodge the British from Boston. It would be one of Washington's young generals who came up with an idea to bring the heavy guns of Fort Ticonderoga to Boston and place them on Dorchester Heights. Knox made the march with great difficulty. He managed to pull the heavy guns through terrible conditions and few supplies. By early March in 1776, Washington and his Continental Army had placed the heavy guns on top of Dorchester Heights. Howe planned to attack the high ground again, but a snowstorm eliminated the possibility. On March 17, 1776, the British evacuated Boston and sailed for Halifax, Nova Scotia. In Halifax, the British regrouped and planned an attack on New York. Washington, sensing that the British would attack New York, set out for Long Island to fortify New York.