March 17th was more than just St. Patrick’s Day. Little known outside of Boston, and probably not well remembered in the city thanks to public education, March 17th is Evacuation Day. In 1776, the newly appointed General George Washington took command of the army near Boston. The city was then under siege from the British. The Crown decided to crush the heart of the American Revolution by starving Boston. Washington was sent to do something about it.
A large monument atop Dorchester Heights commemorates just what he did. The heights overlook all of Boston harbor including the fortress, which still stands, that guards it. Using cannons captured from the British at Fort Ticonderoga in New York, Washington overnight constructed battlements on Dorchester Heights and pointed the cannons at every British ship in Boston harbor. Seeking to avoid another very costly battle, like the recent Bunker Hill, General Howe ended the 11-month siege and abandoned Boston. Washington saved Boston and did so with an ironic secret. Howe feared losing his ships from the cannons, or many of his men trying to push Washington off the heights. While the fight would have been bloody, the ships were safe. Washington had the seventy odd cannons but he did not have gunpowder to fire a single shot. It was all a huge bluff.
General Howe retreated from Boston without a fight because he did not want to repeat the Battle of Bunker Hill. Howe won that fight, but lost more than a third of his men in doing so. After Bunker Hill (the fight was actually on the nearby Breed’s Hill but that name apparently does not ring to history) Howe had to recommend to the crown that to hold America would require a massive army. There is an apocryphal quote attributed to Howe (or artistic license) after Bunker Hill that goes, “Many more such victories and we will lose the war”?
Taking the time to remember the events of our history can only inspire us to rise to the challenges of the future.