In the days following the battle of Bunker Hill (June 17, 1775), New Englanders awaited news of what would come next as the British regrouped and the Continental Congress hashed out its work in Philadelphia. A man like George Washington was needed to advance the war, but when would he come?
John Adams, in Philadelphia, was attending the Continental Congress, which had appointed George Washington as commander in chief of the colonial revolutionary forces on June 15. Two days later, the battle at Bunker Hill (Breeds Hill) took place.
The British won in a pyrrhic victory, and there was finger pointing to go around on both sides.
General Thomas Gage was recalled to England and replaced as commander in chief of the crown’s forces in North America.
On the American side, the Massachusetts men longed for more professional leadership for their militias.
Dr. Joseph Warren, president of Massachusetts provincial congress, had died in the action. And James Warren succeeded him. He made his frustrations with General Artemus Ward’s performance at Bunker Hill clear in a letter to Adams days after the battle:
“Had our brave men, posted on Ground injudiciously at first taken, had a Lee or a Washington instead of a General destitute of all military Ability and Spirit to command them, it is my Opinion the day would have terminated with as much Glory to America as the 19th of April. This is our great Misfortune, and is remediless from any other quarter than yours. We dare not supersede him here; it will come well from you, and really merits your attention. “
Adams opened his note in reply with a lament for the deceased Dr. Warren:
“Our dear Warren has fallen, with Laurills on his Brows, as fresh and blooming, as ever graced an Hero.”
But he went on with better news. Though he could not secure a post as general for Warren and Ward would retain some authority, he informed him that help was on the way: General George Washington.
“Before this reaches you, Gen. Washington, Lee and company will arrive among you,” he wrote. “We are sending you, Ten Companies of Rifle Men. These, if the Gentlemen of the Southern Colonies are not very partial and much mistaken, are very fine fellows. They are the most accurate Marksmen in the World: they kill with great Exactness at 200 Yards Distance: they have Sworn certain Death to the ministerial officers. May they perform their oath.”