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The history of the battle of bunker hill

The patriotic obelisk atop the hill also confuses visitors. Which makes the 1775 battle a natural topic for Nathaniel Philbrick, an author drawn to iconic and misunderstood episodes in American history. In his new book, Bunker Hill, he revisits the beginnings of the American Revolution, a subject freighted with more myth, pride and politics than any other in our national narrative.

Gazing out from the Bunker Hill Monument—not at charging redcoats but at skyscrapers and clotted traffic—he adds: The Back Bay was still a bay and the South End was likewise underwater; hills were later leveled to fill in almost 1,000 acres. Boston was virtually an island, reachable by land only via a narrow neck. That began to change once blood was shed, which is why the Bunker Hill battle is pivotal.

But it remained unclear whether the ill-equipped rebels were willing or able to engage the British Army in pitched battle.

  • While visiting archives in England, he called on Lord Gage, a direct descendant of Gen;
  • The Charles River was not largely filled in then, as it is today, and British warships could lie between Boston and the site of the battle.

Leaders on both sides also thought the conflict might yet be settled without full-scale war. Over a thousand colonials marched east from Cambridge with orders to fortify Bunker Hill, a 110-foot rise on the Charlestown peninsula jutting into Boston Harbor. The reasons for this maneuver are murky. But their threatening position, on high ground just across the water from Boston, forced the British to try to dislodge the Americans before they were reinforced or fully entrenched. On the morning of June 17, as the rebels frantically threw up breastworks of earth, fence posts and stone, the British bombarded the hill.

By contrast, the British, who at midday began disembarking from boats near the American position, were among the best-trained troops in Europe. And they were led by seasoned commanders, one of whom marched confidently at the head of his men accompanied by a servant carrying a bottle of wine. Another observer was British Gen. However, the seemingly open pasture proved to be an obstacle course.

The high, unmown hay obscured rocks, holes and other hazards.

  1. As a result of this information, the Americans secretly moved their troops onto Bunker and Breed's Hill, two unoccupied hills just outside of Boston in Charlestown, Massachusetts.
  2. The British were trying to keep control of the city and control its valuable seaport. By the middle of June, hearing that British general Thomas Gage was about to occupy Dorchester Heights, the colonists decided to fortify the hills.
  3. British General William Howe was astonished at the American defenses saying "The rebels have done more work in one night than my whole army would have done in one month.
  4. They entrenched themselves on a rise located on Charleston Peninsula overlooking Boston. Almost 11 months after the shots at Bunker Hill were fired, Howe departed Boston and moved north to Nova Scotia to wait and plan.
  5. By the time the third wave of British charged the hill, the Americans were running low on ammunition. In 1786 , Bean Town began the tradition of throwing an annual parade in honor of the patriots who saw action on the Charlestown Peninsula.

Fences and stone walls also slowed the British. The Americans, meanwhile, were ordered to hold their fire until the attackers closed to 50 yards or less. In some spots, the British lines became jumbled, making them even easier targets. The Americans added to the chaos by aiming at officers, distinguished by their fine uniforms.

The attackers, repulsed at every point, were forced to withdraw.

Battle of Bunker Hill

The disciplined British quickly re-formed their ranks and advanced again, with much the same result. One British officer was moved to quote Falstaff: And the British, having failed twice, devised a new plan. They repositioned their artillery and raked the rebel defenses with grapeshot. And when the infantrymen marched forward, a third time, they came in well-spaced columns rather than a broad line. His men resorted to throwing rocks, then swung their muskets at the bayonet-wielding British pouring over the rampart.

In just two hours of fighting, 1,054 British soldiers—almost half of all those engaged—had been killed or wounded, including many officers. American losses totaled over 400.

  • This seems like the easiest question ever, doesn't it?
  • The Battle of Bunker Hill and the patriots' retreat took place on a small peninsula north of Boston;
  • Toiling through the night, the militia men dug a wide trench surrounded by 6-foot dirt walls;
  • Activities Take a ten question quiz about this page;
  • Howe might have believed that the Americans would retreat in the face of a smashing, head-on attack;
  • The British were trying to keep control of the city and control its valuable seaport.

The first true battle of the Revolutionary War was to prove the bloodiest of the entire conflict. Though the British had achieved their aim in capturing the hill, it was a truly Pyrrhic victory. William Howe, who lost every member of his staff as well as the bottle of wine his servant carried into battle.

Badly depleted, the besieged British abandoned plans to seize another high point near the city and ultimately evacuated Boston. The battle also demonstrated American resolve and dispelled hopes that the rebels might relent without a protracted conflict.

11d. Bunker Hill

At the Bunker Hill Museum, Philbrick studies a diorama of the battle alongside Patrick Jennings, a park ranger who served as an infantryman and combat historian for the U. Army in Iraq and Afghanistan. The writer Parson Weems invented this incident decades later, along with other fictions such as George Washington chopping down a cherry tree.

One colonel did tell his men to wait until they could see the splash guards—called half-gaiters—that British soldiers wore around their calves. The Bunker Hill Monument also has an odd history. The cornerstone was laid in 1825, with Daniel Webster addressing a crowd of 100,000. Backers built one of the first railways in the nation to tote eight-ton granite blocks from a quarry south of Boston. But money ran out. The monument was finally dedicated in 1843, with the now-aged Daniel Webster returning to speak again.

But today the obelisk stands amid renovated townhouses, and the small park surrounding it is popular with exercise classes and leisure-seekers. Philbrick is drawn to a different feature of the park: The physician led the rebel underground and became major general of the colonial army in the lead-up to Bunker Hill.

But what of the hill that originally bore that name? After 15 minutes of circling his destination he finally finds a way up.

10 Facts About the Battle of Bunker Hill

To Philbrick, this enduring confusion is emblematic of the Bunker Hill story. Though he was mostly raised in Pittsburgh, his forebears were among the first English settlers of the Boston area in the 1630s. One Philbrick served in the Revolution. As a championship sailor, Philbrick competed on the Charles River in college and later moved to Boston.

The True Story of the Battle of Bunker Hill

He still has an apartment there, but mostly lives on the echt-Yankee island of Nantucket, the setting for his book about whaling, In the Heart of the Sea.

While visiting archives in England, he called on Lord Gage, a direct descendant of Gen. Thomas Gage, overall commander of the British military at the Bunker Hill battle.