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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Friday, March 17, 2017

A Rifleman’s View of the End of the Siege

I’ve been writing about the Continental riflemen, and this is the anniversary of the British evacuation of Boston in 1776. So here is a rifleman’s view of the end of the siege.

Henry Bedinger (1753-1843) of Shepherdstown, Virginia (now West Virginia), was a sergeant in one of the Virginia rifle companies. Those and the Maryland riflemen were stationed on the southern wing of the Continental Army in Roxbury. And fortunately for us, Bedinger kept a diary.

March 2d In the Night of the 27th of Feb’y John Curry, one of our Riflemen Deserted to the Enemy, Took with him his Messmates Gunns, Shot Pouch &c, &c. This Day was two more Canon Fired at the Enemy Nearer Roxberry Street—

3d Last Night were thrown Bumbshells Into Boston the first Time, first from Lechmore’s point, thence from Roxberry Fort, Two Mortars were Brought into the fort, the one By Great Misfortune was Broke to pieces in throwing the first Shell, and unfortunately wounded Two Men, tho’ not Very Bad—Orders Came out to prepare for an Engagement—

4th Orders Came out to go on Dorchester Point and Intrench, two Rifle-Companies from Cambridge were ordered here. In the Evening as soon as Sun Down our Teams Began to Load with Intrenching Tools, Spears, Canon, about 100 Teams to Carry Facines and pressed Hay, accordingly 2000 men and upwards went and Began the work and about 1 O’Clock our five Companies of Riflemen Marched on, when the Others had already made Two Compleat Facine forts on the Top of the Two Hills, made Two Redoubts and a Cover along the Neck with hay.

We marched a Little Beyond the Forts and posted ourselves behind a hill Near the water Edge where we Remained as Silent as possible. Mean Time our Forts Fired Shot and Threw Bombs into Boston from Brookline, from Lichmore’s point & Cobble Hill. They were no Less busy In throwing as many Bomb Shells and Shott as we, which made no Small Noise, one Canon Ball Struck a Lieutenant [John Mayo] in the Back part of the thigh Next to his knee as he Stept out of the Door of a house in Roxberry from which wound he Died in about 4 hours—

5th. About 3 O’Clock the first 2000 men were Relieved by 3000 & upwards, who all Began to work at Intrenching and made Great progress: before 8 In the morning the Canon were fixed In Both the Forts and Redoubts, a Vast number of Barrels of Dust and Sand were Set around Each fort on the Top of the Hills in order to Roll Down to Break the Ranks of the Enemy If they offered to attack us, the Riflemen Lay Still at the hill.

(The) General Requested they should (remain) another Night and Untill the Tide went out on the Next Day which Capt Stephenson Consented to who Commanded the five Companies provided the Gen’l would send us another Day’s provision which he did Next Morning.

Towards the Evening a Schooner went out of the harbour toward the Castle But Run a Ground & the Tide Left her there pretty Near the Shore. Some of the Artillery Men with a small Brass Field piece went Down from the Hill to fire upon her, Accordingly they fired three Shott when through Great Misfortune the piece went off too soon, and Took off One Man’s hand and put out one Eye—At the Same Instant there Came Down to her Relief Two Brigs of war, so that put an End to our firing on the Schooner.

This Night we Expected an Attack but there arose Such a storm Towards Day that it was Impossible for them to Land, the men worked on Bravely and we Lay Still.
Shifting fresh troops onto the Dorchester peninsula to relieve those who had built and defended the fort was one reason that operation went more smoothly than the move onto the Charlestown peninsula the previous June. But the Continentals also had the good luck of that storm stymieing the counterattack. As of 6 March, the British command had decided on leaving.

TOMORROW: The riflemen move.

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