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Archive for March 17th, 2008

dorchester-heights.jpg

After more than 6 months of occupying Boston, the city at the heart of the Revolution, General Howe was more than ready to leave.  As early as January, London had given him permission to take his troops to New York City, a much better spot to lanuch an offensive campaign, but by the time word arrived, winter had set in.  Finally on March 17, 1776, he got his wish – although not in the way that he would have liked it.

As Howe was waiting for temperatures to rise, General George Washington was looking for a way to drive the British out.  For reasons still not completely understoood, the British had failed to secure Dorchester Heights – high-ground overlooking the harbor of Boston.  They were well aware of its strategic importance, but a deadly bout of overconfidence kept them from taking up position there.

In one of the real-life stories that sounds more like an improbable movie script, Washington was able to covertly move two thousand men to the Heights overnight.  They accomplished it with good planning and also a decent amount of luck.  A heavy fog enshrouded the soldiers and equipment while a barrage of cannon-fire masked the sound of thousands of men moving and setting up defenses. 

Howe woke the next morning, saw that he had been outflanked under cover of darkness, and proclaimed that the “rebels have done more in one night than my whole army could do in months.”

After negotiating a deal with Washington — don’t attack, and we won’t burn Boston — Howe, his men, and 1,200 loyalists boarded ships and left on St. Patrick’s Day.

Recommended reading: Almost a Miracle: The American Victory in the War of Independence

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