Shays's Rebellion: Letters of Generals William Shepard and Benjamin Lincoln to Governor James Bowdoin of Massachusetts (1787)

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Shays's Rebellion: Letters of Generals William Shepard and Benjamin Lincoln to Governor James Bowdoin of Massachusetts (1787)

[General Shepard to Governor Bowdoin]


January 26, 1787

The unhappy time is come in which we have been obligedto shed blood. Shays, who was at the head of about twelve hundredmen, marched yesterday afternoon about four o'clock, towards thepublic buildings in battle array. He marched his men in an opencolumn by platoons. I sent several times by one of my aides, andtwo other gentlemen, Captains Buffington and Woodbridge, to himto know what he was after, or what he wanted. His reply was, hewanted barracks, and barracks he would have and stores. The answerreturned was he must purchase them dear, if he had them.

He still proceeded on his march until he approachedwithin two hundred and fifty yards of the arsenal. He then madea halt. I immediately sent Major Lyman, one of my aides, and Capt.Buffington to inform him not to march his troops any nearer thearsenal on his peril, as I was stationed here by order of yourExcellency and the Secretary at War, for the defence of the publicproperty; in case he did I should surely fire on him and his men.A Mr. Wheeler, who appeared to be one of Shays' aides, met Mr.Lyman, after he had delivered my orders in the most peremptorymanner, and made answer, that was all he wanted. Mr. Lyman returnedwith his answer.

Shays immediately put his troops in motion, and marchedon rapidly near one hundred yards. I then ordered Major Stephens,who commanded the artillery, to fire upon them. He accordinglydid. The two first shots he endeavored to overshoot them, in hopesthey would have taken warning without firing among them, but ithad no effect on them. Major Stephens then directed his shot throughthe center of his column. The fourth or fifth shot put their wholecolumn into the utmost confusion. Shays made an attempt to displaythe column, but in vain. We had one howitz which was loaded withgrapeshot, which when fired, gave them great uneasiness.

Had I been disposed to destroy them, I might havecharged upon their rear and flanks with my infantry and the twofield pieces, and could have killed the greater part of his wholearmy within twenty-five minutes. There was not a single musketfired on either side. I found three men dead on the spot, andone wounded, who is since dead. One of our artillery men by inattentionwas badly wounded. Three muskets were taken up with the dead,which were all deeply loaded.

I have received no reinforcement yet, and expectto be attacked this day by their whole force combined.

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