On a recent trip to Boston, I was shown by fellow Emerging Revolutionary War historian Rob Orrison, Dorchester Heights. One of my favorite quotes of the entire American Revolutionary War was in reference to the Continental Army’s move to fortify the very heights at Dorchester.
“My God, these fellows have done more work in one night than I could make my army do in three months.” Uttered by General William Howe the morning after the Americans had used the night to build an entire fortification network on the commanding hillsides of Dorchester.
This move, conducted in the secrecy of the night, led to the British evacuation of Boston, after an aborted offensive by the British do a providential snowstorm. Less than two weeks after that influential night, on March 17, 1776, the British evacuated Boston, never to return.
I did not get to spend too much time on the heights but I was able to snap a few pictures, shown below. But, I did have the great fortune to be on the heights at night, looking out over Boston, which has grown just slightly since 1776. A few moments of silence ensued, where I had the chance to mull over what that view must have looked like and what the soldiers who hurriedly dragged the fascines and gabions, and shoveled dirt that night must have worried about as they feverishly tried to finish their duties.
The cannon that bore down on Boston from the heights of Dorchester Heights were a product of one of the greatest feats of the entire war. Former Boston bookseller turned artillerist extraordinaire had brought the heavy armament on an arduous trek, through the late stages of winter from upstate New York to the Continental Army besieging Boston.
Henry Knox was the man behind the delivery and he would serve as George Washington’s Chief of Artillery before the war was over. Afterwards, Knox would become the first Secretary of War in Washington’s Administration. At Dorchester Heights, with Washington’s planning and Knox’s delivery the city of Boston was liberated without firing a shot.
The heights retained its military importance through the end of the War of 1812. By the end of the 19th century, in 1898, the General Courts of Massachusetts had commissioned a monument to stand on what remained of the heights. The white marble Georgian revival tower that stands 115 feet, commemorates that night in 1776 that American soldiers did what British soldiers would take months to complete. By 1978, after a listing on the National Register of Historic Places, the monument and remaining hill site was handed to the National Park Service by the city of Boston. Dorchester Heights became part of Boston National Historical Park which was established in 1974.
When planning a visit to Boston National Historical Park and to Dorchester Heights, which is open to visitation, both during the day and at night please consult the website for the national park here. That way you can familiarize yourself with the regulations and how to make the most of your visit.