Wednesday, January 2, 2013

January 8: Raid on Charlestown, Massachusetts

On the night of January 8, 1776, Major Thomas Knowlton of the 20th Connecticut Continental Infantry led a raid on Charlestown, Massachusetts.

The British burned most of Charlestown after the Battle of Bunker Hill (June 15, 1775). According to a report in the Connecticut newspaper The Norwich Packet (January 15, 1776), the American raid targeted those buildings which the British "suffered to remain unburnt in June last, for their own convenience."

In his Revolutionary War Almanac, John C. Fredriksen wrote, "In a unique twist, General William HOWE and his staff were watching a theatrical satire in Charlestown entitled The Siege of Boston, when a uniformed soldier suddenly burst in with news of the raid.  The startled audience, assuming it was part of the performance, howled in laughter until Howe ordered all his officers to their stations."

The Norwich Packet reported that Knowlton's raiders found in one house six soldiers and one woman, "all of whom except one refractory fellow, who was killed, were brought off."  The Packet included another harrowing detail from the raid:

In another of the houses, according to the information of the prisoners, lived seventeen of the enemy's carpenters.  As the woman says she went to this house, in order to borrow something, just before our men arrived; but seeing no light, and not being able to get into that part of the house where they kept she concluded they were all asleep;--and as it is very certain no one escaped from the house;--and as our men set the building on fire very suddenly, it is thought the whole seventeen perished in the flames.


Consult John C. Fredrikson, Revolutionary War Almanac (New York: Facts on File, Inc., 2006), page 463; Tony Jacques, Dictionary of Battles and Sieges: A Guide to 8,500 Battles from Antiquity through the Twenty-first Century: A-E (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2007), page 228.

The Packet account leaves the impression that Knowlton's men were unaware of the men sleeping in the building, apparently only learning of them from the prisoners after the quick action.  The Packet reported that the entire mission took less than an hour.  The chaos of the situation is suggested by the account that although the American soldiers suffered no casualties, they departed until heavy fire from British positions at Bunker Hill.  
Post a Comment