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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Saturday, March 18, 2017

“Rec’d orders to be Ready to March tomorrow at 10 O’Clock”

Here’s more of Sgt. Henry Bedinger’s diary of the last days of the siege of Boston.

As I described yesterday, Bedinger served in one of the Virginia rifle companies. Those troops were rotated on and off the Dorchester peninsula in early March 1776 to defend against possible British landing parties.

The Royal Navy approached on 5 March, but a ship ran aground and a big storm stopped that foray.
6th. Nothing appeared as If we were going to be attacked, Capt. [Hugh] Stephenson Ordered us to March off the point About Two O’Clock in the afternoon in View of the Enemy. About 5 O’Clock came two Companies of Riflemen from Cambridge and Relieved those Who had been on the point with us, the Enemies fired a few Shott Towards the New forts but to no purpose only Hurt 3 Guns and then Quit Firing Entirely—

7th. This Day is appointed a Day of Prayer by the Legislature of this Colony. All the Riflemen are ordered on the point by 9 Oclock in the forenoon, &c. Came off at 3 O Clock.

8th. This Day a Flagg of Truce Came from the Enemy with a petition from the Select men of Boston to Gen’l [George] Washington, & By the Consent of General [William] Howe, the purport of which was that if our forces kept firing on the Town or Bumbardin it he would move off and Burn the City—but If he Did not Fire he (General Howe) will not Burn the Town. It Seems he is Determined to Move off at Any Rate.
I discussed that message from the selectmen and Gen. Washington’s response to it here, here, and here. Bedinger’s diary entry shows that even though the general refused to acknowledge the message as a point of protocol, everyone understood the unspoken understanding it communicated.

A couple of days after that exchange, however, Washington decided the British weren’t moving fast enough. He ordered his men to fortify and arm the corner of the Dorchester peninsula nearest to Boston to create a bigger threat. That prompted more maneuvers and firing.
9th. Orders Came that the riflemen Should hold themselves in readiness to March at an Hour’s warning—

10th. about 2 Hours after Dark the Enemy Began to fire on a party of our men who were throwing up a Breastwork on the Nearest point to Boston on Dorchester. They fired from a Small Vessel from Boston Neck, from the wharf, from Fort Hill, &c. Supposed they Fired 1000 Shott as it Lasted the whole Night. Our people Fired into Boston from Roxberry. The Firings Continued all Night. We had 1 Surgeon [Dr. Enoch Dole] & Three men Kill’d.

13th. Rec’d orders to be Ready to March tomorrow at 10 O’Clock.

14th. Set off with our whole Company for Cambridge.

15th. Friday. Were ordered to March to New York. The whole Battalion of riflemen were Ordered to March Ditto. Marched 9 Miles to one Flagg’s.
Once it became clear that the British army would not try to break through the Continental siege lines, Gen. Washington had to think about what territory to protect next. Sending the rifle companies to New York meant they would be ready to defend that city’s shores from a similar assault. That meant Sgt. Bedinger never got to see the actual evacuation of Boston.

TOMORROW: The riflemen on the road.

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