In the early days of the Revolutionary War, the British held a tight grip on the city of Boston. On April 19, 1775, colonial forces attempted to confront the British in Lexington and Concord. Although the British prevailed, this was the beginning of the siege of Boston.
General Artemas Ward was given control over the various groups of militia by Brigadier General William Heath on April 20. Ward found it difficult to fully control the different militias but managed to position them in a siege line that ran from Roxbury to Chelsea which blocked in Boston and Charlestown.
Ward’s forces were bolstered over the following days when militias from Connecticut, New Hampshire and Rhode Island arrived. When British Lieutenant General Thomas Gage saw the number of colonial troops surrounding him, he withdrew his troops from Charlestown and concentrated on fortifying his defense of Boston.
During this time, civilian traffic in and out of Boston was restricted. Eventually the two sides agreed to allow unarmed people to leave the city.
Over the next month there were several minor skirmishes between the British and colonials but nothing major happened, until the arrival of British Major Generals William Howe, Henry Clinton and John Burgoyne along with 6,000 troops and supplies. At the same time, American Colonel Benedict Arnold was ordered to meet with Colonel Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys to attack Fort Ticonderoga in New York.
With fresh troops and supplies, the British planned to break though the siege line of the colonials. They wanted to take control of two strategic locations, the Dorchester Heights which overlooked Boston from the south, and Bunker Hill which overlooked Charlestown.
However, the Americans learned of the British plans. On the night of June 16, 1775, Colonel William Prescott took 1,200 troops and built a fortification at Breed’s Hill. The next morning, June 17, British General Howe launched an attack on Bunker Hill. Prescott managed to hold off two British advances before running out of ammunition and was forced to retreat. When the Battle of Bunker Hill was over and the British took control of the highland, over 1,000 had been killed or wounded. Prescott’s troops suffered about 450 casualties.
Newly appointed Commander-in-Chief of the newly formed Continental Army took charge. He positioned Major General Ward and his troops at Dorchester Heights. On the opposite side of the colonial defenses, he positioned Major General Charles Lee and his forces where they could guard the way in and out of Charlestown. In the middle, Washington positioned Major General Israel Putnam and his forces at Cambridge.
Washington was able to enlist the aid of long-range sharpshooters from Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia. He used these skilled marksmen to continually pester the British lines. Washington also brought in more troops to fortify the colonial defenses.
The winter was hard on Washington’s troops stationed around Boston, reducing their number down to 9,000. In the meantime, British General Howe had procured reinforcements, building his force to 11,000 trained troops.
On January 26, 1776, Henry Knox arrived at Cambridge with 59 cannons that had been captured at Fort Ticonderoga by Benedict Arnold and Ethan Allan.
On this day, March 2, 1776, Washington began a cannon bombardment of Boston. Some of the cannons had been positioned at Dorchester Heights where they could not only fire upon the British in Boston, but they could also fire at the British ships in Boston harbor.
By March 8, British General Howe realized that his position was indefensible and sent word to Washington that he planned to withdraw his troops. Howe promised to not burn down the city if Washington would allow them to leave unmolested.
On March 17, 1776, the British forces sailed out of Boston Harbor to Halifax, Nova Scotia to lick their wounds and recover from their embarrassment. Boston was freed after nearly 10 years of British occupation. The Siege of Boston proved to be a tremendous boost to the morale of the American colonists and helped lead to their victory over the English and the freedom of our nation.