Almost a Miracle: The American Victory in the War of Independence

By John Ferling | Go to book overview

3
CHOICES, 1775

IT SEEMED TO SOME in England that every ship arriving from America brought bad tidings. The first account of the staggering losses suffered by the regulars at Lexington and Concord reached London late in May. The disbelieving government rejected the story as an American fabrication, but within a week the nation knew that the news had been painfully accurate. Two months later word arrived of the loss of Ticonderoga and Crown Point, followed the very next day by an account of the battle for Bunker Hill and the stupendous price that the British army had paid to take it. Later in the summer the press reported the arrival in Plymouth of the Charming Nancy, a handsome three master, whose passenger list included nearly two hundred soldiers wounded on Charlestown Heights, “some without legs, and others without arms; and their cloaths hanging on them like a loose morning gown,” according to one story. Disembarking with them were scores of widows and children of the slain soldiers. It was, wrote one scribe, “a most shocking spectacle.”1

During the first cruel weeks of this war, Lord North abandoned the ministry's established practice of a long summer hiatus from business. He called his cabinet to three separate meetings in June and July to consider the confounding emergency in America. The last summons came on the day after word arrived of Bunker Hill, causing most members to make hurried journeys from their country homes to London.2 North's ministry, like many another government stung by dire news from the war front, radiated optimism in public, proclaiming that the engagement in Charlestown had been a British victory. In private, the ministers were more honest, realizing—as an undersecretary of state put it—that

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