Lord Dartmouth had put it plainly to Governor Thomas Gage, “the sovereignty of the king over the Colonies requires a full and absolute submission.” Still few in Parliament had perhaps seen it going like this when, in February of that year, they had declared the Colony in an open state of rebellion, and pledging English lives and property to putting it down.
Now even with the re-enforcements of Lieutenant-General Hugh Percy arriving with a thousand fresh troops to aid the expedition of Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith, the Patriots had refused to relent. They pushed forward without giving an inch to British Regulars as they inflicted heavy casualties on them. Once, where they had perhaps been able to be talked down, it had now gone too far. Shots had been fired, blood had been shed, and the war was upon them.
It had to be dawning on Governor Gage, as he looked out late in the evening and saw the camp fires surrounding the city, that there would be no submission, there would be no obedience in the colonies except through military supremacy even as the Colonialists were perhaps realizing they had forfeited their own safety at Lexington and Concord that morning. Now the only safety they would be guaranteed would be in their own numbers and ranks, in their military preparations and their ability to band together as a cohesive force.
Now headquartered in nearby Cambridge, by the morning of April 20th, 1775 almost 15,000 Colonials surrounded the city. Plain people from nearby towns and colonies, militiamen, tradesmen, farmers who would have otherwise been home planting their crops, were now arriving in droves. Though they would not be able to take the Harbor or contend with the might of the Royal Navy, they could control the ground. Under the loose command of Brigadier General William Heath, who had taken control in the final stages of the Battles of Lexington and Concord, they began, with military like efficiency, to form Siege lines, emphasizing a blockage along the two necks, Boston and Charlestown, leaving the Royal forces trapped on the Peninsulas without land access to the remainder of the colony.
Even as Gage now planned his next move, fortifying along Charlestown and Boston Necks, General Artemas Ward, having received word that fighting had commenced, rose from his sickbed in Shrewsbury, where he had been laid up with bladder stones, took to his horse and rode thirty five miles to Cambridge.
A Colonel in the French and Indian Wars, Ward had made powerful enemies speaking out against Parliament and British colonial policies. Sir Francis Bernard, the predecessor to Governor Thomas Hutchinson, had stripped Ward of his commission and voided the results of an election to the Colonial Assembly that would have seen Ward take a seat in it. Had Bernard been able to contend with the respect and popularity that Ward had the portly officer might have been erased from history, but he could not. When it became apparent that the situation in Boston was degenerating into war, his former Regiment resigned from service to the Crown and elected him their new Commander. Only a few months later the Massachusetts Assembly voted him Commander-in-Chief of the Colonies Militia.
The task in front of Ward was not an easy or a simple one. He was, by virtue of his rank, not by any vested authority, the officer in charge, but, more than that, he commanded an army of volunteers, one that had enlisted only for a single battle rather than a long, drawn war. Criticized by some for failing to impose stricter rules on those troops, he was acutely aware of a situation that Samuel Adams would clearly state when he wrote, “Our soldiers will not be brought to obey any person of whom they do not themselves entertain a high opinion.” Writing to the Provincial Congress himself a few days later Ward would state, “My situation is such that if I have not enlisting orders immediately, I shall be left all alone. It is impossible to keep the men here expecting something to be done. I therefore pray that the plans [for the formation of an army] may be completed and handed to me this morning, and that you, gentlemen of the Congress, issue orders for the enlisting of the men.”
At that very moment he had a delicate balance he had to strike. Ultimately, despite his popularity, he would be replaced by General George Washington as New England tried to convince the remaining colonies that this was not their struggle alone, that this was a struggle for the liberty of all of the colonies united. It would ultimately his new Commander’s low opinion of him that would force him into retirement, and from anywhere but the more obscure places in early American history.
In the meantime Ward had to keep the Siege together through whatever means he could. Yet his challenges, they perhaps seemed small compared to that which was facing his adversary across the Charles River. It was there that the Patriot Commander found his greatest strength.
The truth was he benefitted from the ineptitude of Governor Gage, who miscalculated the situation and the Patriots more often than not. Even as Dr, Benjamin Church, a well-known Patriot, fed him information in the days following the Battle of Lexington and Concord, and the establishment of Rebel encampments, he seemed unable clearly assess the situation to properly put down the rebels who were now rising up against the Crown and his own authority. But he would not be alone for long. In just over a month Vice Admiral Samuel Graves would sail into the harbor with 4,500 fresh troops, and three new Generals, John Burgoyne, William Howe, and Henry Clinton. Within the course of another month he would be replaced entirely, recalled to London, and replaced by William Howe.
Regardless, the pot had boiled over as the fire of Revolution was lit. The inevitable collision between the American Colonies and England, the most powerful Empire in the World, had occurred, and it was beginning to become apparent that nothing would ever be the same again….