The Battle of Bunker Hill
Boom, Bang, Crack! The sounds of muskets being fired, its ammunition
ricocheting off rocks and splintering trees are heard all around. The pungent smell of gun
powder stings the nose, and its taste makes the mouth dry and sticky. The battle is still
young, but blood soaked uniforms and dead or dying men can already be seen, causing the
fear of death to enter many of the soldiers' minds. It is remembered that freedom is what
the fight is for, so we must continue to gain independence. The battle has been going on
for a short time now, although vision is already obscured from all the smoke and dust in
the air. It is becoming increasingly difficult to breathe, with all of these air borne
substances entering my lungs. People are still being struck by musket balls for the cries of
agony rise above the many guns' explosions. This is how the battle to be known as
Bunker Hill began.
On June 17, 1775 the Battle of Bunker Hill took place. It is one of the most
important colonial victories in the U.S. War for Independence. Fought during the Siege of
Boston, it lent considerable encouragement to the revolutionary cause. This battle made
both sides realize that this was not going to be a matter decided on by one quick and
The battle of Bunker Hill was not just an event that happened overnight. The
battle was the result of struggle and hostility between Great Britain and the colonies for
many years. Many of the oppressive feelings came as a result of British laws and
restrictions placed on them. It would not be true to say that the battle was the beginning
of the fight for independence. It is necessary to see that this was not a rash decision that
occurred because of one dispute, but rather that the feelings for the British had been
getting worse for a long time and were finally released.
Perhaps two of the most notable injustices, as perceived by the colonists, were the
Stamp Act and the Intolerable Acts. The Stamp Act was passed by the British Parliament
to raise money for repaying its war debt from the French and Indian War. The Act levied
a tax on printed matter of all kinds including newspapers, advertisements, playing cards,
and legal documents. The British government was expecting protest as result of the tax
but the level of outcry they received. The colonists were so angry because they had no
voice in Parliament which passed the law, thus came the famous cry, "No taxation without
representation!" The colonists would protest these laws with the Boston Tea Party. The
British responded to this open act of rebellion by imposing the Intolerable Acts, four laws
designed to punish Boston and the rest of Massachusetts while strengthening British
control over all the colonies.
These were not the only incidents that caused unrest to exist between the two
countries. There had been friction between British soldiers and colonists for some time
because of the Quartering Act, a law which required townspeople to house soldiers. This
unrest and tension resulted in the Boston Massacre, an event that resulted in colonists
death and both sides being more untrusting of each other. These feelings of discontent
and the growing fear of an uprising would lead the British to proceed to Leton and
Concord and destroy colonial military supplies. This left the colonists with the feeling of
hatred and total malice towards the British. Because of these incidents neither side trusted
the other, and had concerns that the opposition would launch an attack upon them.
When the British planned to occupy Dorchester Heights on the Boston Peninsula,
the colonists became alarmed at the build up of British troops off of the coast. The
colonists decided that action had to be taken so as to stop the threatening British
movement in this territory to protect themselves from an attack. It was because of this
last situation as well as the bad blood that had accumulated over the years, which would
lead the colonies into a confrontation with the British.
The Battle of Bunker Hill started when the colonists learned about the British plan
to occupy Dorchester Heights. The colonists were understandably shaken by this news.
They thought of this as the last straw, and they had to protect their land and freedom. A
crude "army" was made to defend the hill. The army was not a national one, for no nation
existed. Instead, the army was made up of men from Cambridge, New England,
Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island. Also, this hastily
combined force of men had no assigned commander in chief, but did what their revered
Generals instructed them to carry out.
On June 15, 1775 the American colonists heard news that the British planned to
control the Charleston peninsula between the Charles and Mystic Rivers. Bunker's and
Breed's Hill on this peninsula overlooked both Boston and its harbor, thus making the hills
critical vantage points. In order to beat the British to the high ground, General Prescott
took 1,200 of his often times undisciplined, disobedient, and sometimes intoxicated
soldiers to dig into and fortify Bunker Hill with the cover of night on June 16. When
dawn broke, the British were stunned to see Breed's Hill fortified overnight with a
160-by-30-foot earthen structure. The British General, Gage, dispatched 2,300 troops
under the command of Major General Howe to take control of the hill.
So it came to be that General Prescott did not actually fortify Bunker's Hill, but
Breed's Hill instead. How did this happen? One proposed idea is that Colonel William
Prescott, since fortifying the hill in the middle of the night, chose the wrong hill. Another
theory is that the map the Colonel used was incorrect, since many maps during this period
had commonly misidentified the hills. Another suggestion, and probably the most
practical, is that Breed's Hill is closer to where the British ships were positioned allowing
the colonists a better attacking position than at Bunker Hill. Regardless of the reason, the
Battle of Bunker Hill actually took place on Breed's Hill.
The fighting began as soon as the day did. As soon as the men on British frigate
awoke they opened fire on the colonial fortifications. Carol McCabe states that one
soldier wrote there would be firing for about twenty minutes, then a lull, then the ships
would start firing again. At about 3:00 PM Thomas Gage, the British commander,
ordered men to try and take control of the hill. It took Gage this long to issue a command
due to a shortage of boats and an unfavorable tide. Peter Brown, an American soldier,
would later write about this, “There was a matter of 40 barges full of Regulars coming
over to us; it is supposed there were about 3,000 of them and about 700 of us left not
deserted, besides 500 reinforcements. . . the enemy landed and fronted before us and
formed themselves in an oblong square. . . and after they were well formed they advanced
towards us, but they found a choakly [sic] mouthful of us.”
When the British forces were firmly established on the ground at the base of the
hill they proceeded to charge. The British just expected to march up the hill and just scare
the colonists away. The British Regulars advanced with bayonets fixed; many of their
muskets were not even loaded. The British troops, wearing their bright red wool jackets
and weighed down by heavy equipment, marched up hill over farm fields and low stone
walls hidden in the tall grass. As the colonists saw this massive red line approach slowly
and steadily, they remained calm and did not open fire. The fact they waited so long to
commence an attack was that General Prescott has been assumed to have given the
famous order, "Don't shoot until you see the whites of their eyes." If this command was
given it would have been to either help preserve their already low ammunition supplies,
and to help keep the men from shooting out of their capable ranges.
Once the British came within range, the colonists began firing, and the British
soldiers stated to fall rapidly. The British forces were driven back twice, but on their third
and final thrust forward the British were able to break through the colonists' line,
overrunning the tentative American fortifications, thus taking the hill. The colonists had
run out of ammunition and supplies. The colonists fled back up the peninsula since it was
there only escape route. This battle, which lasted for approximately three hours, was one
of the deadliest of the Revolutionary War.
Although the British technically won the battle because they took control of the
hill, they suffered too many losses to fully benefit from it. The British had suffered more
than one thousand casualties out of the 2,300 or so who fought. While the colonists only
suffered 400 to 600 casualties from an estimated 2,500 to 4,000 men. Besides having
fewer deaths than the British, the colonists believe they had won in other ways as well.
The Americans had proved to themselves, and the rest of the world that they could stand
up to the British army in traditional warfare. And only a few days later, George
Washington would lead a group of men up to Dorchester Heights, aiming their cannons at
the British, and then watched the Red Coats retreat from the hill. So even though the
British had won the battle, it was a short lived victory since the colonists took control of
the hill again, but this time with more soldiers to defend it.
The Battle of Bunker Hill was important for a variety of reasons. The first one
being that it was the first battle of the Revolutionary War, and because of the fierce
fighting that defined the battle it foreshadowed that it was going to be a long, close war.
Another important event that came from the battle was that it allowed the American
troops to know that the British army was not invincible, and that they could defeat the
British in traditional warfare. The losses experienced on the British side also helped to
bolster the colonists confidence.
So it came to be that the Battle of Bunker Hill would be the foundation that the
colonists would look back to for the many battles that occurred during the American
Revolution. The first being that the British suffered heavy losses and would no longer
convinced of a victory when they went to battle the colonists.
Fifty years after the battle a movement began to rise in the young United States to
create a memorial to the battle atop Breed's Hill. So, the Bunker Hill Memorial
Association was formed and they bought fifteen acres of land atop of Breed's Hill. Then
in 1825 the cornerstone to the monument was laid.
Chronology of the battle
Time AMERICANS BRITISH
midnight Colonists begin construction of fortifications on Breeds Hill
4am British warships fire on the newly discovered fortification
2pm American reinforcements arrive; rail fence construction Begins. British
soldiers land on Moulton's point
3:30pm First battle is repulsed at the rail fence
4pm Second assault is repulsed at flashes and at redoubt
4:30pm Colonists withdraw. Final assault succeeds at redoubt
5:30pm End of battle
5. Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia 1996
Word Count: 1911