J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Tuesday, March 04, 2008

“Throwing in Shot and Shells ’till Daybreak”

On Sunday I described how the Continental artillery started to bombard Boston with shot and shells. This is what it felt like inside Boston, according to selectman Timothy Newell’s journal for 2 March:

Saturday night half past 11, began from the Country, Bombardment and cannonade which continued on both sides till morning and then ceased and began again Lords day evening at 9 and so continued all the night, and tho’ several houses were damaged and persons in great danger, myself one, no one as I can learn received any hurt.
I get the sense that Newell, a deacon of a his Congregationalist meeting, felt an extra level of shock that this bombardment was coinciding with the Sabbath. Were New England soldiers really behaving that way?

Lt. John Barker of the 4th Regiment described the same bombardment with the eyes of a military man:
About 11 o’clock at night, upon a Signal being given at Cambridge, the Rebels began to bombard the Town of Boston, from Phipps’s Farm, Cobble’s Hill, and the Heights of Roxbury; they continued throwing in Shot and Shells ’till daybreak; the same was returned them from the Lines and the Batteries at Barton’s Point: Our Shells very bad, most of ’em bursting in the Air or not at all.
Barker’s account of the next night:
At 10 this night the Rebels began again, and a warmer fire was kept up on both sides ’till daybreak; the Rebels had removed the Mortar from Phipps’ Farm to Cobble’s hill. . . .

Very remarkable no hurt was done as the most of the Shot and Shells fell in the Town. Out A–t—y a little mended, a few of our Shells answering.
I wonder if Barker’s choice to blank out letters in “Artillery,” as if it were a profane word or a name that should not be mentioned, signaled that he still didn’t think much of that branch’s performance.

As for Newell, on 4 Mar 1776 he felt the dangers of the shells growing worse:
Monday—soon after candle light, came on a most terrible bombardment and cannonade, on both sides, as if heaven and earth were engaged.

Five or six 18 and 24 lb. shot struck Mr. [Peter] Chardon’s house [near Bowdoin Square], Gray’s, Winnetts.—our fence &c.—

Notwithstanding, the excessive fire till morning, can’t learn any of the Inhabitants have been hurt, except a little boy of Mr. Leaks, had his leg broke—it is said some of the soldiery suffered.
In fact, the Continental bombardment of Boston was remarkable in causing very few fatalities, even among the British troops.

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