The Battle of Bunker Hill

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<p>The Battle of Bunker Hill</p> <p>James Fanchiang</p> <p>AP World HistoryMr. ShoreJune 13, 2011</p> <p>The Battle of Bunker Hill was one of the earlier battles of the Revolutionary War. The battle occurred at Bunker Hill, or Bunker's Hill, a 110-foot hill, and Breed's Hill, a 62-foot hill, both of which overlooked the city of Boston, Massachusetts. The conflict took place on June 17, 1775 between a British force of over 3000 soldiers and the colonial militiamen that numbered approximately 2400. The battle resulted in a costly British victory, as they suffered over 1000 casualties compared to the 450 casualties on the colonists' side. This engagement became evidence that the American colonists were able to take on a larger and more organized force.On June 16, the evening before the battle, Colonel Prescott of the Continental Army was ordered by General Ward to " Bunker Hill, build fortifications to be planned by Col. Richard Gridley, the chief engineer..."1 and to defend the fortifications until relieved. Colonel Prescott and his men then proceeded to build defenses on the Hill. However, after "[a] long consultation..."2, Prescott, Gridley, and two generals decided to fortify Breed's Hill instead, a nearby hill that was closer to Boston. A square redoubt, or earthwork fortification, was built on Breed's Hill, with 6-foot high walls. By the morning of June 17, the entrenchment was spotted by British sailors offshore, who then proceeded to bombard the fortification. The cannonade was largely ineffective, missing their mark, and the militiamen kept building their defenses, even making wooden platforms to stand on when it came time to fire back.3 British General Thomas Gage ordered a frontal assault, preparing "[t]en companies of light infantry, ten of grenadiers, the 5th, 38th, 43d, and 52d regiments, and some companies of royal artillery...a very moderate estimate fixes at two thousand men."4 The warships and floating batteries HMS Somerset, Cerberus, Glasgow, Lively, Falcon, and Symmetry continued to fire salvos at the redoubt throughout the day. By midday, the British forces had landed at Moulton's Point, approximately a quarter mile east of Breed's Hill. After landing at Moulton's point, British General Howe inspected the American defenses and requested reinforcements from General Gage. While waiting for these reinforcements, the British troops under Howe lunched quietly. As the historian Richard Frothingham stated, "It proved to many a brave man his last meal."5 Meanwhile, on the American side, a detachment was ordered to set up barricades a couple hundred yards behind the redoubt to " 'go and oppose' the enemy."6 Under the command of Captain Knowlton and Colonels Stark and Reed, the militiamen put up rail fences supported by stone. Reinforcements for the American colonists also began to arrive, but in small numbers. As the Americans finished emplacing the last of their defenses, the British Army was poised to strike.General Howe led the assault on the rail fence barricade while General Pigot led the attack on the redoubt itself. It was a warm summer day, and each British infantryman was encumbered with nearly 120 pounds of supplies and weapons; they advanced slowly towards the American lines.7 At this point, the famous words, "Wait 'til you see the whites of their eyes!" were uttered by either the American General Putnam or Colonel Prescott in attempt to conserve ammunition and to use their muskets at maximum efficiency. Both the soldiers at the barricade and within the redoubt obeyed this order; they also obeyed the order to pick out the officers and dispatch them first. These orders had devastating effects on the British; the simultaneous firing of muskets at a close range killed and wounded many, including many officers. "The officers themselves were shot down in unheard-of proportion, and at the rail fence those who survived out of full companies of thirty-nine were in some cases only three, or four, or five."8 General Pigot ordered a retreat, and so did Howe. The American militiamen rejoiced at this: "The American volunteer saw the veterans of England fly before his fire, and felt a new confidence in himself. The result was obtained, too, with but little loss to his side."9 However, the battle was far from over. General Howe reassembled his men and led another assault on the rail fence barricade. Again, many of Howe's troops were cut down: at times, Howe was left with himself alone.10 British Major John Small was also left as the last man standing, spared only when General Putnam exclaimed to not fire upon him, as he was "as dear to him as a brother."11 The nearby Charlestown was set afire by British artillery, but this had little effect on the militiamen. After being defeated twice, Howe spent more time in developing a new tactic. The first two attacks were within thirty minutes of each other, but there was a longer pause before the third assault.12 The British troops' backpacks and blankets were ordered to be left at camp, and reinforcements were sent for. The colonists also took advantage of this intermission; they relayed messages to General Ward to tell him that Cambridge, his town of residence, was safe from British attack, and to send supplies and reinforcements. However, due to disorganization, few of the reinforcements actually made it to the battlefield; reinforcements merely trickled in.13 Some officers and their companies, in the confusion, "lost their way" and ended up being spectators instead of fighting. General Ward had not given enough supervision, so his orders were either misinterpreted or disobeyed. Such is the case of Major Gridley of the artillery the son of the chief engineer Colonel Gridley), who was court-martialed for "[taking] post at a distance, and [firing] at the shipping (the HMS Glasgow)."14 15 Colonel James Scammans, being ordered " 'to the hill,'"16 went to Cobble Hill instead. The colonel then sent a messenger to Bunker Hill to inquire if he was needed there. However, by the time Colonel Scammans' regiment got there, they "[reached] the top in time to witness the end of the battle."17 While the Americans attempted to sort out the confusion, British General Howe was ready to strike again. This would be the beginning of the end.General Howe, with reinforcements, set to attack the redoubt from three sides. This time, the assault on the rail fence barricade was merely a distraction. British artillery was brought in closer to attack the entrenchments in front of the earthwork fort, and sent their defenders into retreat. By now, the militiamen were extremely low on gunpowder; the only amount left was in a few unfired artillery shells.18 Each man was down to literally two or three shots. British Generals Pigot and Clinton led the assault up the hill on the left while Howe commanded the frontal assault. Following the orders given to them earlier, the colonial militiamen waited until the British were within range, but this time at a much shorter distance of twenty yards.19 Though this dispatched some British troops, the rest of the line charged forward, scaling the redoubt walls. Both the American and British soldiers engaged in hand-to-hand combat with swords and bayonets, even utilizing muskets as clubs and employing the use of stones.20 A large amount of dust was kicked up in this commotion, allowing many colonists to escape unharmed. This was also due to the fact that the British had attacked the redoubt from both the left and right flanks, rendering them unable to fire their muskets at the Americans, as they might have fired upon their own. Instead, the British troops employed the use of bayonets. Prescott himself, who was one of the last to leave the redoubt, was attacked with bayonets but remained uninjured as he parried them with his sabre, "though his banyan and waistcoat were pierced in several places."21 One man, Peter Brown, also escaped unharmed. He stated, "'I was not suffered to be touched, although I was in the front when the enemy came in...where balls flew like hailstones, and cannon roared like thunder.'"22 The Americans were forced to withdraw from the redoubt and retreat, though some kept fighting. In the instance of the American Major Jackson of Colonel Gardner's regiment, he was accosted by a British officer who had recognized him and said, "What, you damn'd Rebel are you here," as he pointed his musket at him. Both men shot at each other simultaneously, the British officer being mortally wounded and the major with a flesh wound.23 The British soldiers that had survived the assaults were exhausted from hours of combat and carrying heavy equipment on a warm summer day; they had little energy to give chase to the fleeing colonial militiamen. This deleterious victory had cost the British over 200 lives, nineteen of whom were officers, and more than 800 wounded, sixty-two of whom were officers.24 As one British regular would write in a letter home, the American rifles were "peculiarly adapted to take off the officers of a whole line as it advances to an attack."25 Amongst the dead were Major Pitcairn, who was one of the first men to scale the redoubt walls and exclaim, "The day is ours!" before being gunned down by a black soldier by the name of Salem;26 Colonel Abercrombie, who , with his dying breath, told his comrades, "'If you take General Putnam alive, don't hang him, for he's a brave fellow,'";27 and Majors Williams and Spendlove. General Howe himself was wounded in the ankle, "...where only like Achilles he seemed to be vulnerable."28 Nevertheless, the British had finally taken their objective; they had truly followed General Howe's motto: "to conquer or die."29The American colonists were not without losses. The entirety of Charlestown was destroyed by fires started by British artillery, including its docks and wharves. The Americans lost 139 soldiers, had 278 wounded, and 36 that were either captured or missing. By the time General Ward had made the decision to send supplies and reinforcements, the battle was nigh over. One of the major losses that the colonists suffered was the loss of Joseph Warren, who had been recently commissioned as a Major General but enlisted as a private and fought in the front. Warren was the president of Massachusetts Provincial Congress and played an important role in the Battle of Lexington and Concord two months prior. While defending his position, Warren was instantly killed by a musket ball through the head. His death is immortalized in the oil painting The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker's Hill, June 17, 1775 by John Trumbull, who painted it with the help of the spared British Major Small. Lieutenant Prescott, Colonel Prescott's nephew, was struck by a cannonball and killed as he passed a sally port, reloading his musket.30 The chief engineer Colonel Gridley was shot in the leg; he had toiled all night building the fortifications and spent the day defending them. A Lieutenant Colonel by the name of Parker also caught a ball in his leg, but was mortally wounded and left in the redoubt.31 When the British took the redoubt and the hill, they fired once again at the Americans, severely wounding four of Colonel Prescott's Captains, and killing one. Major Moore, who, along with his men, had gone in search of drinking water, returned to a scene of chaos and destruction. Moore ordered for his men to find safety, but he himself perished.32 The outcome of this bloody battle was clear: the British had taken their objective, and therefore could claim victory. However, as historian Allen French put it, " had all the moral effect of a British defeat."33 Many British soldiers were angered and surprised that the "rebels" and "farmers" could muster the strength to defend and succeed against the powerful British Army. The historian Samuel Swett stated in his book, "...the British gained a nominal victory, but the Americans the only prize contended for; they destroyed entirely the physical and moral force of the British army, imprisoned them within their narrow limits..."35 The colonists, though at first discouraged at the loss, came to see this battle as a victory. It was "the first signal proof of American courage..."34 Unlike the conflict that arose two months before, the Battle of Lexington and Concord where the militiamen had fought the British Army in a spur-of-the-moment skirmish, the Battle of Bunker Hill was a pitched, formal battle. This conflict empowered the colonists, allowing them to endure the Siege of Boston and continue fighting for their liberty and independence. The Battle of Bunker Hill is an epitome of the durable American spirit of resistance and determination, and will always be remembered as this.</p> <p>Notes</p> <p>1. Richard Frothingham, History of the siege of Boston, and of the battles of Lexington, Concord, and Bunker Hill, Also an account of the Bunker Hill monument. With illustrative documents (Boston: C. C. Little &amp; J. Brown, 1851), 122.</p> <p>2. Frothingham, History of the siege of Boston, 123.</p> <p>3. Frothingham, History of the siege of Boston, 125.4. Samuel Adams Drake, Bunker Hill: the story told in letters from the battle field by British officers engaged (Nichols and Hall, 1875), 16.</p> <p>5. Frothingham, History of the siege of Boston, 132.</p> <p>6. Allen French, The siege of Boston (London: The MacMillan Company, 1911), 265.7. French, The siege of Boston, 269.8. French, The siege of Boston, 283.</p> <p>9. Frothingham, History of the siege of Boston, 142.10. Frothingham, History of the siege of Boston, 145.</p> <p>11. Frothingham, History of the siege of Boston, 145.</p> <p>12. French, The siege of Boston, 274.</p> <p>13. French, The siege of Boston, 275.14. French, The siege of Boston, 276.15. Frothingham, History of the siege of Boston, 146.</p> <p>16. French, The siege of Boston, 275.</p> <p>17. French, The siege of Boston, 275.</p> <p>18. Frothingham, History of the siege of Boston, 147.19. French, The siege of Boston, 279.20. Frothingham, History of the siege of Boston, 150.21. Frothingham, History of the siege of Boston, 150.</p> <p>22. French, The siege of Boston, 280.</p> <p>23. Samuel Swett, History of Bunker Hill battle, with a plan (Boston: Munroe and Francis, 1827), 46.</p> <p>24. French, The siege of Boston, 284.</p> <p>25. French, The siege of Boston, 285.</p> <p>26. Frothingham, History of the siege of Boston, 150.</p> <p>27. Swett, History of Bunker Hill, 42.</p> <p>28. Swett, History of Bunker Hill, 42.</p> <p>29. Swett, History of Bunker Hill, 41.</p> <p>30. Swett, History of Bunker Hill, 42.</p> <p>31. Swett, History of Bunker Hill, 45.</p> <p>32. Swett, History of Bunker Hill, 45.</p> <p>33. French, The siege of Boston, 285.</p> <p>34. French, The siege of Boston, 287.</p> <p>35. Swett, History of Bunker Hill, 52.</p>


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