Times had taken a sharp turn for the worse. Lexington and Concord had changed everything. When the Redcoats fired into the Boston crowd in 1775, the benefit of the doubt was granted. Now the professional imperial army was attempting to arrest patriot leaders, and minutemen had been killed in their defense. In May 1775, with Redcoats once again storming Boston, the Second Continental Congress convened in Philadelphia.
The Second Continental Congress was presided over by John Hancock, who replaced the ailing Peyton Randolph, and included some of the same delegates as the first, but with such notable additions as Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. All of the colonies sent delegates, although the Georgia delegation did not arrive until fall. As time passed, the radical element that included John Adams, Samuel Adams and Richard Henry Lee began to eclipse the more conservative faction represented by John Dickinson. Nonetheless, many of the delegates expected at the outset, that the rupture between colony and mother country would be healed.
The questions were different this time. First and foremost, how would the colonist meet the military threat of the British? It was agreed that a Continental Army would be created.
John Adams labored hard among his fellow Northerners to gain support for George Washington as the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army. Adams realized that many people in the South and wealthy Americans in all areas harbored deep reservations about the new armed conflict, and reasoned that the appointment of a prominent Southerner to head the military effort would generate a broader base of support for the struggle. Washington, present in Philadelphia in full military dress, accepted the responsibility and departed for Boston on June 23, who chose to serve without pay.
Congress appointed four majors-general to serve under Washington: Artemas Ward, Charles Lee, Philip Schuyler and Israel Putnam.
How would supplies be paid for? The Congress authorized the printing of money. Before the leaves had turned, Congress had even appointed a standing committee to conduct relations with foreign governments, should the need ever arise to ask for help. No longer was the Congress dealing with mere grievances. It was a full-fledged governing body.
Statements of Position
Still, in May of 1775 the majority of delegates were not seeking independence from Britain. Only radicals like John Adams were of this mindset. The Congress went to great lengths to offer a philosophical justification for its participation in the war. In fact, that July Congress approved the Olive Branch Petition, a direct appeal to the king. The American delegates pleaded with George III to attempt peaceful resolution and declared their loyalty to the Crown. The King refused to receive this petition and instead declared the colonies to be in a state of rebellion in August.
A stronger statement followed on July 6, 1775, the Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking up Arms, which held out the possibility of independence if American rights were not restored. The colonists still identified their opponent as parliament, rather than the king:
Insult turned to injury when George ordered the hiring of Hessian mercenaries to bring the colonists under control. Americans now felt less and less like their English brethren. How could their fellow citizens order a band of ruthless, foreign goons? The moderate voice in the Continental Congress was dealt a serious blow.
The Question of Independence
Richard Henry Lee's resolution (June 1776) promoting independence reflected changing public opinion on the matter of retaining ties with Britain. In the resolution's three sentences, three major points were outlined.
The colonies should unite in a demand for independence from Britain.
The new united colonies should seek to secure alliances with foreign powers.
The united colonies should cement their unity of action in unity of government, forming a "plan of confederation."
This measure was adopted by Congress and then fleshed out in Jefferson's Declaration of Independence.
Located on Lake Champlain in northeastern New York, Fort Ticonderoga served as a key point of access to both Canada and the Hudson River Valley during the French and Indian War. On May 10, 1775, Benedict Arnold of Massachusetts joined Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys of Vermont in a dawn attack on the fort, surprising and capturing the sleeping British garrison. Although it was a small-scale conflict, the Battle of Fort Ticonderoga was the first American victory of the Revolutionary War, and would give the Continental Army much-needed artillery to be used in future battles.
Background of Fort Ticonderoga
In 1755, French settlers in North America began building a military fortification, Fort Carillon, on the western shore of Lake Champlain. Because of its location, which offered access to both Canada and the Hudson River Valley, the fort saw more fighting during the French and Indian War than any other post. In July 1758, British forces unsuccessfully attacked the fort, suffering heavy casualties. Under the command of General Jeffrey Amherst, the British returned the following year and were able to defeat the French, who destroyed much of Fort Carillon and withdrew to Canada.
With the fort now under their control, the British renamed it Fort Ticonderoga. By April 1775, when hostilities broke out between colonial militiamen and British soldiers at Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts, the British garrison at Fort Ticonderoga numbered barely 50 men.
A Surprise Attack
Fort Ticonderoga was located directly across Lake Champlain from Vermont, where the Green Mountain Boys—a militia organized in 1770 to defend the property rights of local landowners—joined the revolutionary effort without hesitation. On the morning of May 10, 1775, fewer than a hundred of these militiamen, under the joint command of their leader, Ethan Allen, and Benedict Arnold of Massachusetts, crossed Lake Champlain at dawn, surprising and capturing the still-sleeping British garrison at Fort Ticonderoga.
As the first rebel victory of the Revolutionary War, the Battle of Fort Ticonderoga served as a morale booster and provided key artillery for the Continental Army in that first year of war. Cannons captured at Fort Ticonderoga would be used during the successful Siege of Boston the following spring. Because of its location, the fort would also serve as a staging ground for Continental troops before their planned
invasion of British-held territory in Canada.
After the Battle of Lexington and Concord, the patriot militia controlled the hills surrounding Boston. The patriots heard through their spies that the British were planning to attack Bunker Hill. On the night of June 16, 1775, a detail of approximately 1600 American troops acting under orders from Artemas Ward moved out of their camp, carrying picks, shovels, and guns. They entrenched themselves on a rise located on Charleston Peninsula overlooking Boston. Their destination: Bunker Hill.
From this hill, the rebels could bombard the town and British ships in Boston Harbor. But Artemas Ward's men misunderstood his orders. They went to Breed's Hill by mistake and entrenched themselves there — closer to the British position.
The next morning, the British were stunned to see Americans threatening them. In the 18th century, British military custom demanded that the British attack the Americans, even though the Americans were in a superior position militarily (the Americans had soldiers and cannon pointing down on the British).
William Howe was the commander in chief of the British army at the Battle of Bunker Hill.
Major General William Howe, leading the British forces, could have easily surrounded the Americans with his ships at sea, but instead chose to march his troops uphill. Howe might have believed that the Americans would retreat in the face of a smashing, head-on attack. He was wrong.
His Majesty's ships opened fire on the Americans. Early in the afternoon, 28 barges of British soldiers crossed the Charles River and stormed the hills. The Americans waited until the British were within 15 paces, and then unleashed a bloody fusillade. Scores of British troops were killed or wounded; the rest retreated down the hill.
Again, the British rushed the hill in a second wave. And again they retreated, suffering a great number of casualties.
By the time the third wave of British charged the hill, the Americans were running low on ammunition. Hand-to-hand fighting ensued. The British eventually took the hill, but at a great cost. Of the 2,300 British soldiers who had gone through the ordeal, 1,054 were either killed or wounded.