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Battle Of Bunkerhill

June 17, 1775

Battle of  Bunker Hill


About the latter end of May a great part of the reinforcements ordered from Great-Britain, arrived at Boston on May 25th, 1775. Three British generals, Howe, Burgoyne and Clinton, whose behavior in the preceding war had gained them great reputation, also arrived about the same time. General Gage, thus reinforced, prepared for acting with more decision, but before he proceeded to extremities he conceived it due to ancient forms to issue a proclamation, holding forth to the inhabitants the alternative of peace or war.  On June 12th He therefore offered pardon in the king’s name to all who should forthwith lay down their arms, and return to their respective occupations and peaceable duties, excepting only from the benefit of that pardon “Samuel Adams, and John Hancock, whose offences were said to be of too flagitious a nature to admit of any other consideration than that of condign punishment.”  He also proclaimed that not only the persons above named and excepted, but also their adherents, associates, and correspondents, should be deemed guilty of treason and rebellion, and treated accordingly. By this proclamation it was also declared “that as the courts of judicature were shut, martial law should take place, till a due course of justice should be re-established.” It was supposed that this proclamation was a prelude to hostilities, and preparations were accordingly made by the Americans. A considerable height, by the name of Bunkers-hill, just at the entrance of the peninsula of Charlestown, was so situated as to make the possession of it a matter of great consequence, to either of the contending parties.  On June 16th, orders were therefore issued by the provincial commanders that a detachment of a thousand men should entrench upon this height. By some mistake Breed’s-hill, high and large like the other, but situated nearer Boston, was marked out for the entrenchments, instead of Bunkers-hill. The provincials proceeded to Breed’s-hill and worked with so much diligence, that between midnight and the dawn of the morning, they had thrown up a small redoubt about 8 rods square. They kept such a profound silence that they were not heard by the British, on board their vessels, though very near. These having derived their first information of what was going on from the sight of the work near completion, began an incessant firing upon them. The provincials bore this with firmness, and though they were only young soldiers continued to labor till they had thrown up a small breastwork, extending from the east side of the redoubt to the bottom of the hill. As this eminence overlooked Boston general Gage thought it necessary to drive the provincials from it.  About noon on June 17th, therefore he detached major general Howe and brig. general Pigot, with the flower of his army, consisting of four battalions, ten companies of the grenadiers and ten of light infantry, with a proportion of field artillery, to effect this business. These troops landed at Moreton’s point, and formed after landing, but remained in that position till they were reinforced by a second detachment of light infantry and grenadier companies, a battalion of land forces and a battalion of marines, making in the whole nearly 3000 men.  While the troops who first landed were waiting for this reinforcement, the provincials for their farther security, pulled up some adjoining post and rail fences, and set them down in two parallel lines at a small distance from each other, and filled the space between with hay, which having been lately mowed, remained on the adjacent ground.

The king’s troops formed in two lines, and advanced slowly, to give their artillery time to demolish the American works. While the British were advancing to the attack, they received orders to burn Charlestown. This was not done because they were fired upon from the houses in that town, but from the military policy of depriving enemies of a cover in their approaches. In a short time this ancient town, consisting of about 500 buildings, chiefly of wood, was in one great blaze. The lofty steeple of the meeting house formed a pyramid of fire above the rest, and struck the astonished eyes of numerous beholders with a magnificent but awful spectacle. In Boston the heights of every kind were covered with the citizens, and such of the king’s troops as were not on duty. The hills around the adjacent country which afforded a safe and distinct view, were occupied by the inhabitants of the country.

Thousands, both within and without Boston, were anxious spectators of the bloody scene. The honor of British troops beat high in the breasts of many, while others with a keener sensibility, felt for the liberties of a great and growing country. The British moved on but slowly, which gave the provincials a better opportunity for taking aim. The latter in general reserved themselves till their adversaries were within ten or twelve rods, but then began a furious discharge of small arms. The stream of the American fire was so incessant, and did so great execution that the king’s troops retreated in disorder and precipitation. Their officers rallied them and pushed them forward with their swords, but they returned to the attack with great reluctance. The Americans again reserved their fire till their adversaries were near, and then put them a second time to flight.  General Howe and the officers redoubled their exertions, and were again successful, though the soldiers discovered a great aversion to going on. By this time the powder of the Americans began so far to fail that they were not able to keep up the same brisk fire as before. The British also brought some cannon to bear which raked the inside of the breast work from end to end. The fire from the ships, batteries, and field artillery was redoubled—the soldiers in the rear were goaded on by their officers. The redoubt was attacked on three sides at once. Under these circumstances a retreat from it was ordered, but the provincials delayed, and made resistance with their discharged muskets as if they had been clubs, so long that the king’s troops who easily mounted the works had half filled the redoubt before it was given up to them.

While these operations were going on at the breast work and redoubt, the British light infantry were attempting to force the left point of the former, that they might take the American line in flank. Though they exhibited the most undaunted courage, they met with an opposition which called for its greatest exertions. The provincials here, in like manner, reserved their fire till their adversaries were near, and then poured it upon the light infantry, with such an incessant stream, and in so true a direction as mowed down their ranks. The engagement was kept up on both sides with great resolution. The persevering exertions of the king’s troops could not compel the Americans to retreat, till they observed that their main body had left the hill. This, when begun, exposed them to new danger, for it could not be effected but by marching over Charlestown neck, every part of which was raked by the shot of the Glasgow man of war, and of two floating batteries. The incessant fire kept up across this neck prevented any considerable reinforcement from joining their countrymen who were engaged; but the few who fell on their retreat, over the same ground proved, that the apprehensions of those provincial officers who declined passing over to succor their companions, were without any solid foundation.

The number of Americans engaged, amounted only to 1500.  [1775]  It was apprehended that the conquerors would push the advantage they had gained, and march immediately to American head quarters at Cambridge, but they advanced no farther than Bunker’s-hill. There they threw up works for their own security. The provincials did the same on Prospect-hill in front of them. Both were guarding against an attack, and both were in a bad condition to receive one. The loss of the peninsula depressed the spirits of the Americans, and their great loss of men produced the same effect on the British. There have been few battles in modern wars, in which all circumstances considered, there was a greater destruction of men than in this short engagement. The loss of the British, as acknowledged by general Gage, amounted to 1054. Nineteen commissioned officers were killed, and 70 more were wounded. The battle of Quebec in 1759, which gave Great-Britain the province of Canada, was not so destructive to British officers as this affair of a slight entrenchment, the work only of a few hours. That the officers suffered so much, must be imputed to their being aimed at. None of the provincials in this engagement were riflemen, but they were all good marksmen. The whole of their previous military knowledge had been derived, from hunting, and the ordinary amusements of sportsmen. The dexterity which by long habit they had acquired in hitting beasts, birds, and marks, was fatally applied to the destruction of British officers. From their fall much confusion was expected. They were therefore particularly singled out. Most of those who were near the person of general Howe were either killed or wounded, but the general, though he greatly exposed himself, was unhurt. The light infantry and grenadiers lost three-fourths of their men. Of one company not more than five, and of another, not more than fourteen escaped. The unexpected resistance of the Americans was such as wiped away the reproaches of cowardice, which had been cast on them by their enemies in Britain.  The spirited conduct of the British officers merited and obtained great applause, but the provincials were justly entitled to a large portion of the same, for having made the utmost exertions of their adversaries necessary to dislodge them from lines, which were the work only of a single night.

The Americans lost five pieces of cannon. Their killed amounted to 139. Their wounded and missing to 314. Thirty of the former fell into the hands of the conquerors. They particularly regretted the death of general Warren. To the purest patriotism and most undaunted bravery, he added the virtues of domestic life, the eloquence of an accomplished orator, and the wisdom of an able statesman. Nothing but a regard to the liberty of his country induced him to oppose the measures of government. He aimed not at a separation from, but a coalition with the Mother Country. He took an active part in defense of his country, not that he might be applauded and rewarded for a patriotic spirit, but because he was, in the best sense of the word, a real patriot. Having no interested or personal views to answer the friends of liberty, confided in his integrity. The soundness of his judgment, and his abilities as a public speaker, enabled him to make a distinguished figure in public councils, but his intrepidity and active zeal, induced his countrymen to place him in the military line. Within four days after he was appointed a major general, he fell a noble sacrifice to a cause which he had espoused from the purest principles. Like Hambden he lived and like Hambden he died, universally beloved and universally regretted. His many virtues were celebrated in an elegant eulogium written by Dr. Rush, in language equal to the illustrious subject. The burning of Charlestown, though a place of great trade did not discourage the provincials. It excited resentment and execration, but not any disposition to submit. Such was the high toned state of the public mind, and so great the indifference for property when put in competition with liberty, that military conflagrations, though they distressed and impoverished, had no tendency to subdue the colonists. They might answer in the old world, but were not calculated for the new, where the war was undertaken, not for a change of masters, but for securing essential rights. The action at Breed’s-hill, or Bunker’s-hill, as it has been commonly called, produced many and very important consequences.  [1775]  It taught the British so much respect for Americans entrenched behind works, that their subsequent operations were retarded with a caution that wasted away a whole campaign, to very little purpose. It added to the confidence the Americans began to have in their own abilities, but inferences, very injurious to the future interests of America, were drawn from the good conduct of the new troops on that memorable day. It inspired some of the leading members of Congress, with such high ideas of what might be done by militia, or men engaged for a short term of enlistment, that it was long before they assented to the establishment of a permanent army. Not distinguishing the continued exertions of an army through a series of years, from the gallant efforts of the yeomanry of the country, led directly to action, they were slow in admitting the necessity of permanent troops. They conceived the country might be defended by the occasional exertions of her sons, without the expense and danger of an army engaged for the war. In the progress of hostilities, as will appear in the sequel, the militia lost much of their first ardor, while leading men in the councils of America, trusting to its continuance, neglected the proper time of recruiting for a series of years. From the want of perseverance in the militia, and the want of a disciplined standing army, the cause for which arms were at first taken up, was more than once brought to the brink of destruction. - David Ramsay’s The History of the American Revolution



The Pennsylvania Gazette
Text Courtesy of: Accessible Archives
June 28, 1775

WATERTOWN, June 19, 1775

Friday Night last a Number of the Provincials entrenched on Bunker Hill in Charlestown; and on Saturday about Noon a large Number of Regulars from Boston came across Charles River, and landed a little below the Battery near the Point, when a bloody Battle commenced (many being killed and wounded on both sides) The very heavy Fire from the Shipping, the Battery on Cop Hill, Boston, together with the Train of the Enemy, obliged the Provincials to retreat a little this Side of Charlestown Neck about Sunset, when the Enemy took Possession of our Entrenchment; after which the Meeting House, and we hear they have not left one Building unconsumed. The Engagement continues at this Publication, 9 o'Clock with Intermissions. The Confusion of the Times render it impracticable to give a particular Account of what has already occurred, but hope to give a good one in our next. The Provincials are in high spirits.

Extract of a Letter from a gentleman in Providence (45 Miles from Boston) to his Friend in this City, dated June 20, 1775.

"You doubtless have been alarmed with divers Accounts of the Contest which happened on the 17th Inst. between the King Troops and our Army; shall give you a Narrative in a few Words as the Post now waits.

"On the Evening of the 16th, Col. Putnam took Possession of Bunker Hill, with about 2000 Men, and began an Entrenchment, which they had made some Progress in. - At 8 in the Morning, a Party of Regulars landed at Charlestown and fired the Town in divers Places. Under Cover of the Smoke, a Body of abut 5000 Men marched u to our Entrenchments, and made a furious and sudden Attack; they were drove back three Times; and when they were making the third Attack, one of our People imprudently spoke aloud that their Powder was all gone; which being heard by some of the Regular Officers, they encouraged their Men to march up to the Trenches with fixed Bayonets, and entered them; on which our People were ordered to retreat, which they did with Speed, till they got out of Musket Shot; they then formed, but were not pursued: In the mean Time six Men of War, and four floating Batteries were brought up, and kept up a continual Fire on the Causeway that leads on to Charlestown; our People retreated through the Fire, but not without the Loss of many of the Men.

Our Loss is 60 Men killed and missing, and about 140 wounded. The brave Dr. Warren is among the former, and Col. Gardiner among the latter. We left 6 Field Pieces on the Hill; our People are now entrenched on Pleasant Hill, within Cannon Shot of Bunker Hill. The Loss of the King Troops must be very considerable; the exact Number we cannot tell. If our People had been supplied with Ammunition, they would have held Possession most certainly. They have began firing on Roxbury with Carcases, to set it on fire, but have not yet succeeded. Our People are in high Spirits, and are very earnest to put this Matter on another Trial."

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