"Most Englishmen considered that there were only two possible reasons for a man becoming a soldier: either because he was forced to, or because he was so poor and destitute that he had no other choice."
March 2: From a Lechmere Point redoubt in Cambridge MA, rebel artillery fires on the British
March 3: Silas Deane travels in secret to ask France for aid and armaments
March 4: After working through the night to fortify Dorchester Heights, Washington’s troops fire down on the British using cannon Knox brought from Ticonderoga
March 8: Congress decides that Native Americans cannot be enlisted in rebel forces without permission of both Congress and the national council of the individual’s tribe
March 12: A public notice in Baltimore asks that women assist the war effort by making bandages for the wounded out of old sheets and rags
March 17: General William Howe finally evacuates British troops from Boston and sails to Nova Scotia
March 25: Congress thanks Washington for ending the siege of Boston, giving him a gold medal
March 31: Abigail Adams urges her husband John to “Remember the Ladies” as he and other members of Congress consider the future of the colonies
In This Corner, Wearing Red Coats
When the British infantry dutifully marched up the slopes of Bunker Hill under a furnace-hot sun and equally warm gunfire, they carried full pack and gear weighing 60 pounds. When three commanding generals first landed in Boston, they carried their fishing rods with them. Such was rank and such was file in 1776 in His Majesty's Service. Lo, the poor redcoat, unloved by his officers, hated by his enemy, trying to do his duty on eight pence a day, frustrated by a foe who refused to come out from behind stone walls and fight like a man, armed with a musket that couldn't hit London Bridge at 200 paces, and all of this 3,000 miles from home.
Yet this same redcoat was quite the finest soldier of his day. He lost only one battle during the whole Revolution fighting in the orthodox formations he had been trained for, and at that one, Cowpens, he was led by a cavalry, not an infantry, officer. Stoically he had stood garrison duty in Boston trying to ignore the taunts of street urchins crying "lobsterback! lobsterback!” splatting him with snowballs or finding himself bumped into the harbor from a dark wharf. Sam Adams trained his huge Labrador Queque to bite a redcoat on sight. And now in March 1776, he had been cooped up in Boston for nine months, 8,000 strong, unable to strike out at the rabble of angry patriots besieging him. With enough salt pork and a side of hard biscuits left for three more weeks, the sun rarely smiled on the British soldier. No British regular unit ever mutinied.
Of the redcoat one historian wrote: "Ignorant and ill-mannered-ex-jailbirds… debtors or country bumpkins - the enlisted men of the regular British army were the most truly reliable element in it." The British upper crust and the government had deep mistrust of a standing army as they remembered too well Oliver Cromwell, his Puritan horde, and regicide in the 17th c. A military career was a desirable alternative for younger sons of the aristocracy, the class that produced almost all of Britain's officers. But the ranks came from wherever the recruiting officer could find them, particularly taverns, getting his quarry drunk and then swearing him in. Whatever the victim's protests on sobering, as long as the recruiting officer could show the man had had his enlistment bonus in his hand at some point, he was in the army now.
Impressment, forcible enlistment, was commonplace in British life, particularly for the navy. A fun-lover in a low Thames-side dive might find himself in his cups and in love with the barmaid one minute and unconscious and in the navy the next. A Royal Navy press gang boarded a merchant ship in London seeking recruits, resulting in one officer being shot and eight sailors drowning as they tried to swim away. In northeastern England, a gang of laborers returning home from work carrying their dinner fought back a press gang by clubbing a recruiter with a leg of mutton and routing another with a bundle of turnips. The hatred of impressment was so great that using a hard-earned meal to avoid service was an excellent option.
Conscription for home service was bitterly resented by common Englishmen. For overseas service it was unheard of. But the government needed men. Thomas Gage, the commanding general in Boston for much of 1775, pleaded for soldiers: 20,000 of them. Lord North’s ministry set a quota of 55,000 men but there were only 9,000 stationed at home, so the recruiters swept the pubs, the prisons, the slums. Hugh Lord Percy had boasted that he could march from one end of the colonies to the other with 5,000 men, but Bunker Hill had convinced the British command otherwise....