On 26 Sept 1775, Capt. John Barker of the British army’s 4th Regiment wrote in his diary:
The Cerberus Frigate returned from England, with answers to the dispatches sent home after the Action of the 17th June, reports that England is determined to go through with this Affair for which reinforcements are to be here soon.The Cerberus was the same royal warship that had brought Gens. William Howe, John Burgoyne, and Henry Clinton to Boston in May, and now it brought word of yet more troops. At the same time, people expected the American army to attack the town or the British lines. It appeared that both sides were still determined to break the stalemate by force.
Several Deserters from the Rebels are lately come in; they all say that it is intended to attack us.
But in fact the Cerberus had brought news of a major change on the British side. Boston selectman Timothy Newell heard about it the next day:
These several days have been tolerably quiet. The works at the Southward go on.Immediately after receiving Gen. Gage’s report on the costly victory at Bunker Hill, the ministry had scrapped its planned instructions for him and replaced them with these orders, dated 2 August:
Yesterday the Cerberus Man of war arrived in 7 weeks from London—brings advices of coercive measures by Administration—5 Regiments—one thousand Marines, another Admiral with a fleet of men of war &c.—and General [Thomas] Gage called home.
From the tenor of your letters, and from the state of affairs after the action of the 17th, the king is led to conclude that you have little expectation of effecting anything further this campaign, and has therefore commanded me to signify to you his majesty’s pleasure, that you do, as soon as conveniently may be after you receive this letter, return to England, in order to give his majesty exact information of everything that it may be necessary to prepare, as early as possible, for the operations of next year, and to suggest to his majesty such matters in relation thereto as your knowledge and experience of the service enable you to furnish.Gage was to turn over command of all British troops in North America to Gen. Howe (shown above, courtesy of NNDB.com). Howe had probably been making the important military decisions for weeks, though orders were still issued in Gage’s name as governor and commander-in-chief.
On 5 October, Gen. George Washington shared the intelligence with the Continental Congress:
That General Gage is recalled and last Sunday resigned his command to General Howe. That Lord Piercy, Col: [Francis] Smith and other Officers who were at Lexington, are Ordered home with Gage.Washington was undoubtedly wondering what the new British commander’s strategy would be.