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THE COLONISTS DECLARE THEIR INDEPENDENCE
158. Beginning of hostilities. General Gage began to throw up earthworks around Boston, and his soldiers, whose numbers were now steadily increasing, each day grew more insolent.
On their part the colonists organized themselves into companies of “minutemen ” — so called because pledged to be ready at a minute's notice to spring to the defense of their liberties. Drilling was practiced on every town green, and firearms, bayonets, ammunition, and other materials for use in war were secretly stored in convenient places.
Some of it was hidden at Concord, a village twenty miles out of Boston, and this Gage deter BOSTON, LEXINGTON, CONCORD, AND mined to capture. In the night of April 18, 1775, he secretly sent thither eight hundred of his best soldiers, who were instructed to stop on the way, at Lexington, and arrest the two leaders of the patriots, John Hancock and Samuel Adams, who were staying there. But the news of this expedition leaked out. In accordance with a prearranged signal a lantern was hung by the Boston committee in the belfry of Old North Church;
1 Because of their scarlet jackets, the Americans called them “ redcoats,"
its flashing light conveyed information that the soldiers had started. Paul Revere, who was waiting in Charlestown for this purpose, galloped ahead of the troops on a fast horse, and with warning shouts awakened the farmers living along the highway leading to the threatened villages. Some minutemen who were guarding the house in Lexington where Hancock and Adams were stopping, called to him,
Painting by Chappel
Here the troops are entering the town of Lexington
“Don't make so much noise!” “Noise!” cried the indignant Revere, “you 'll soon have noise enough; the regulars are coming!
When the redcoats marched into Lexington early in the morning they found the highway blocked by a large party of minutemen who silently awaited their approach. These hardy and courageous fellows, mostly farmers of the neighborhood,
1 Longfellow's poem, Paul Revere's Ride, has helped to immortalize this stirring incident.
William Dawes did a similar service to the southwest of Boston, by way of Roxbury, for it was feared that troops might also be sent in that direction.
had been told by their commander, "Don't fire unless you're fired on; but if they want a war, it may as well begin here." The British officer cried, “ Disperse, you rebels! " But as they would not stir, the soldiers poured a volley into their ranks, and eight were killed — the first American patriots to lose their lives in the Revolutionary War. Hancock and Adams easily escaped;1 but later in the day the war material at Concord, although stoutly defended at the town bridge by four hundred minutemen, was destroyed by the British.
From Lexington messengers had hurried on horseback to alarm the neighboring towns. As a consequence the regulars found the highway, on their return march to Boston, lined with more than a thousand minutemen, who from behind houses, stone and rail fences, trees, and rocks, poured a merciless fire into the retreating column. The troop finally reached Boston exhausted and panic-stricken, having lost about a third of their number in killed and wounded. The long-expected war had begun in earnest.
159. Second Continental Congress. In the following month (May 10, 1775), the Second Continental Congress began its session at Philadelphia, and was presided over by John Hancock. 2 Throughout the war this body served as the general Colonial Government. On the whole, the Congress was a body of distinguished and patriotic men, worthy of our nation's deepest gratitude.
160. George Washington appointed commander. Among the first things done by Congress was JOHN HANCOCK
1 The two patriots started at once for the Continental Congress at Philadelphia. As they walked across the fields, the rattle of musketry was heard, and Adams exclaimed, “Oh! what a glorious morning is this!” He saw in it the beginning of the Revolution that was to set his country free.
? The most prominent of the new members was a young Virginia lawyer named Thomas Jefferson. Although neither an orator nor debater, he had a wide knowledge of law and was an ardent patriot.
to provide for a Continental army, under the command of George Washington. The nucleus of this army was the large body of minutemen now encamped around Boston.
The Revolution owed its success chiefly to this remarkable leader. He proved to be one of the most skillful soldiers the world has ever known; his character was strong and sincere; he had sound judgment, was firm, resourceful, and unselfishly devoted to the cause of his countrymen. One of his most remarkable traits was his patience. He could calmly bear great responsibilities; never was he guilty of rashness or caprice, and he had courage to meet and overcome those who misrepresented him. Once he wrote, “ Defeat is only a reason for exertion; we shall do better next time.” These qualities made him one of the greatest men in history.
161. Ticonderoga and Crown Point. On the very day that Congress assembled, some of the Vermont patriots, called “Green Mountain Boys," surprised and easily captured Fort Ticonderoga, on Lake Champlain. Ethan Allen, their bold and dashing leader, told the astonished English commandant that he took possession of the stronghold “ In the name of the great Jehovah and the Continental Congress.” Two days later, Crown Point, lying to the north, also fell into American hands, and with it large stores of British powder and ball. 2
162. Battle of Bunker Hill. By the first of June, the British garrison in Boston had by reinforcements from England grown to ten thousand. They were besieged by sixteen thousand determined militiamen.
Overlooking Boston on the north is Bunker Hill, in Charlestown; Dorchester Heights commands the city from the southeast. Gage decided to occupy both of these hills, to pre
1 The face of this noble-hearted man would sometimes light up into a pleasant smile; but when at rest, it was stern, and in moments of indignation he showed that he had a quick temper. However, he kept this well under control, and was one of the most courteous, dignified, and distinguished-looking gentlemen of his day.
2 These two forts guarded the old portage route between Canada and the Hudson River. The Americans needed them to protect New York against attack from Canada.