Evacuation Day, 1776

By Peter Gun

It was 11 months to the day since the battles of Lexington and Concord. After the
battles, the British Army was besieged in Boston by over 15,000 Militia men representing
units from Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut , and New Hampshire. On this day, the
siege ended.

In April of the previous year, General Thomas Gage the Military Governor of Massachusetts
Bay and Commander in Chief of British forces in North America, dispatched troops to the
outlying villages of Lexington and Concord. His goal was to seize the weapons and military
supplies being gathered by the provincial congress and to quell a growing rebellion to British
rule. His attempt to march through the night to surprise the colonists with a dawn raid was
discovered and the alarm was sent out to the colonies by riders, one of whom was Boston
Silversmith Paul Revere.

While briefly opposed in Lexington, and with the element of surprise lost, the troops had to
continue on to Concord where they conducted their search with limited success. Later that morning,
British units were engaged and routed by the ever growing number of armed colonists. The
march back to Boston was dangerous and costly for the Redcoats. Throughout the forced
march they were fired upon and harassed by Militia units responding to news of the blood
spilled on Lexington common.

When the beleaguered British army units finally reached Boston Brigadier General William
Heath, now in overall command of the militia forces they were relatively safe. If the colonists followed
them into Boston, they would be endangered by the Naval Artillery from the HMS
Somerset and the high ground fortifications on the Charlestown Hills.

By the morning. The armed citizen militia surrounding Boston numbered over 15,000 and
formed the basis for what would later become the Continental Army. General Gage wrote of his
surprise of the number of rebels surrounding the city:

The rebels are not the despicable rabble too many have supposed them to be.In all their wars against the French they never showed such conduct, attention, and perseverance as they do now.

For the Next 11 Months many minor skirmishes and raids occurred on both sides. An attempt
to break out of the City led to a larger engagement known as the battle of Bunker Hill, a costly British victory that served to embolden the Militia rather than discourage them. In late January of 1776, a supply column lead by Henry Knox arrived with artillery captured from Fort Ticonderoga in New York.

By early March, the newly formed Continental Army, under the command of General George
Washington fortified Dorchester Heights. The Heights afforded the Continental Army with a
commanding View of Boston and its harbor. Coupled with the very powerful artillery pieces
captured from the British at Ticonderoga, the advantage had shifted from the Besieged British
forces in Boston to the Continentals occupying the high ground overlooking the city.
The British immediately initiated a cannonade that reportedly lasted for two hours. The guns
lacked the range to hit the fortifications on the heights and the attack was ineffective. The
Continentals retrieved 700 of the cannonballs fired at them for reuse.

The English commanders, now under General William Howe, realized that if they could not
remove the Continentals from Dorchester Heights, they could not hold the city. A plan to
assault the heights was drawn up, but the fickle New England weather prevented the attack
from occurring. Time had run out for King George’s men.

Bostonians loyal to the Crown dispatched a letter to George Washington, pleading that if he
would let the Redcoats depart unmolested, they would not burn the city as they left. The letter
did not address General Washington by either name or title so it could not be formally accepted,
however Washington honored the spirit of the letter and Continental troops allowed the British to
withdraw without harassment.

On March 17, 1776 under favorable winds 120 ships with 11,000 people aboard, including
9,906 British troops, and civilians loyal to the King set sail for Nova Scotia. The War for
Independence would continue for many more years, but British Troops never again would set
foot on New England Soil.

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