George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Major General Artemas Ward, 3 March 1776

To Major General Artemas Ward

Cambridge 3d March 1776


My Letter of last Night would inform you that the Genl Officers at this place thought it dangerous to delay taking Post on Dorchester Hills, least they should be possess’d before us by the Enemy, and therefore Involve us in difficulties which we should not know how to extricate ourselves from—this opinion they were Inclind to adopt from a belief, indeed almost a certain knowledge, of the Enemys being apprisd of ⟨our⟩ designs that way.

You should make choice of some good Regiments to go on the Morning after the Post is taken, under the Command of General Thomas, the number of Men you shall judge necessary for this Relief may be orderd—I should think from two to three thousand, as circumstances may require, would be enough. I shall send you from hence two Regiments, to be at Roxbury early on Tuesday Morning to strengthen your Lines, and I shall send you to morrow Evening two Companies of Rifflemen, which with the three now there may be part of the Relief to go on with Genl Thomas.1 these Five Companies may be placed under the care of Captn Hugh Stephenson, subject to the Command of the Officer Commanding at the Post (Dorchester). they will I think be able to gall2 the Enemy sorely in their March from their Boats & in Landg.

A Blind along the Causey should be thrown up, if possible, while the other work is about; especially on the Dorchester side, as that is nearest the Enemy’s Guns, & most exposed.3 We calculated I think, that 800 Men would do the whole Causey with great ease in a Night, if the Marsh has not got bad to Work again, & the tide gives no great Interruption4—250 Axe men I should think would soon Fell the Trees for the Abettes, but what number it may take to get them, the Fascines, Chandeliers &ca in place I know not—750 Men (the Working Party carrying their arms) will I should think be sufficient for a Covering Party. these to be Posted on Nuke-Hill. on the little hill in front of the 2d hill, looking in to Boston Bay—and near the point opposite the Castle. Sentries to be kept between the Parties, & some on the backside, looking towards Squantum.

As I have a very high opinion of the defence which may be made with Barrels from either of the Hills, I could wish you to have a number [sent] over—Perhaps single Barrels would be better than linking of them together, being less liable to accidents—the Hoops should be well Naild or else they will soon fly, & the Casks fall to Pieces.5

You must take care that the Necessary notice is given to the Militia agreeable to the plan settld with General Thomas.6 I shall desire Colo. Gridley & Colo. Knox to be over tomorrow to lay out the Work—I recollect nothing more at present to mention to you; you will settle matters with the Officers with you, as what I have hear said is intended rather to convey my Ideas generally, than wishing them to be adhered to strictly. I am with esteem &ca Sir Yr Most Obedt Servt

Go: Washington

ALS, MHi: Ward Papers.

1See General Orders, this date. The relief force was to defend the new lines on Dorchester Neck against any attack that the British might make against them from Boston.

2GW wrote “gald” in the manuscript but placed a tilde above the word to indicate that the spelling should be corrected.

3Rufus Putnam proposed the construction of this blind in his letter to GW of 11 Feb. 1776.

4GW inadvertently wrote “tade” instead of “tide” in the manuscript. Turf was being cut from the marshes for use in constructing fortifications and other works. On 24 Feb. 1776 Robert Hanson Harrison wrote to Ward: “I am commanded by his Excellency to Inform you that Genl [Israel] Putnam told him he had had a party cutting marsh Turf today and that they had done it with very little difficulty where the Tide had flowed—This he desires you will give Colo. [Rufus] Putnam notice of, and to tell him that If he finds that It may be done that he had better use the Turf as fast as It can be cut” (MHi: Ward Papers).

5“Rows of barrels filled with earth were placed round the works,” William Heath says in his Memoirs. “They presented only the appearance of strengthening the works; but the real design was, in case the enemy made an attack, to have rolled them down the hill. They would have descended with such increasing velocity, as must have thrown the assailants into the utmost confusion, and have killed and wounded great numbers. This project was suggested by Mr. William Davis, merchant, of Boston, to our General [Heath], who immediately communicated it to the Commander in Chief, who highly approved of it, as did all the other officers” (Wilson, Heath’s Memoirs description begins Rufus Rockwell Wilson, ed. Heath’s Memoirs of the American War. 1798. Reprint. New York, 1904. description ends , 49; see also Dandridge, Shepherdstown description begins Danske Dandridge. Historic Shepherdstown. Charlottesville, Va., 1910. description ends , 129).

6On the evening of 3 Mar. Robert Hanson Harrison wrote to Ward: “I am commanded by his Excellency to Inform you that If the wind which is from the Eastward this Evening shou’d Occasion the Tide to be rather high to morrow, and there shou’d be a probability of Its continuing so for any Time, that he wou’d not have you to call in the Militia ’till you hear further from him—as the propriety of calling them in, depends upon the circumstances of the Tide you will be enabled to form a proper Judgement from appearances To morrow—His Excellency desires that you will be particularly attentive to the motions of the Enemy, and use every precaution in your power to discover whither they have any designs of Taking possession of Dorchester Heights, as he would by no means have them accomplish It” (MHi: Ward Papers).

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