The Battle of Bunker Hill was important for a variety of reasons. The first reason is it was the first major battle of the American Revolutionary War, a war that began on April 19, 1775 and lasted through October 19, 1781. The Battle of Bunker hill followed the deadly engagements in Lexington and Concord. Another reason this battle was important is it informed the colonial (American) troops that the British were not invincible, and that they could be defeated. The loss experienced by the British helped boost the Colonial’s confidence and this battle would be the foundation they could look back on for the many battles that occurred during the American Revolution.
Surviving the skirmish in Lexington, the British’s hopes were high in Boston harbor. The arrival of Generals Howe, Clinton, and Burgoyne and their forces raised the British to ten thousand men. General Gage seemed no longer in doubt of his ability to stop the rebellion after his first engagements with the Colonials in Lexington. Soon after their arrival a secret order was given to seize or destroy all the supplies that were being stored by the Colonials in Concord. They were unsuccessful due to effective intelligence gathered by the Colonials. They received the information weeks before that their supplies would be at risk and moved most of them to other locations.
General Gage had possession of Boston, a city that was situated on a peninsula extending to the north, while even farther north, across a narrow channel of water, was the Charlestown peninsula. This peninsula was connected to the mainland by an isthmus known as Charlestown Neck. Located on the point of this peninsula was the village of Charlestown. Just beyond the village were two hills. The closest was Breed’s Hill, and further back was a higher elevation known as Bunker Hill which connected the only route of retreat, the roadway back to Cambridge. Even with Boston was in his control General Gage felt couscous of these two surrounding hilltops that he believed were unattended. He felt if by securing the hills he would take total command of the peninsula.
The Colonials, under General Ward, occupied the mainland from Cambridge to the Mystic River. General Ward’s headquarters was located in Cambridge. Hearing of General Gage’s plan to occupy the hills above Charlestown, General Ward sent a force of twelve hundred men on the night of June 16th to secure and fortify Bunker Hill. Colonel William Prescott was appointed command of the group of men and marched them silently across the peninsula. Passing Bunker Hill, they reached Breed’s Hill at midnight and began quickly building embankments. Faithfully they continued constructing till sunrise. Breed’s Hill was chosen for fortification because small cannon fire could threaten Boston and its shipping process.
The fortification of Breed’s Hill
At sunrise of June17th, gazing through the morning fog British General Howe was astonished to see a six-foot high man made fortress that seemingly appeared overnight. “The rebels,” he exclaimed, “have done more work in one night than my whole army would have done in one month.” The British cannons immediately fired on the fortress, but the Colonials on the hill continued to work, and by noon they were well entrenched behind a strong fortification.
Not only did the Colonials work all night and half of the next day in building entrenchments on Breed’s Hill, they were not relieved of duty and had to continue to fight. Colonel Prescott did not believe the British would attack his entrenchments and when he saw their movements he felt assured that he could easily defend against the British. It wasn’t until nine o’clock before he requested reinforcements from General Ward. General Putnam had urged, early in the morning, for more troops but General Ward, believing Cambridge to be the main point of attack, and would not consent to send more than a part of the rear regiment at first. After quick analysis of the battle front the remainder was sent also all of Colonel Reed’s regiment on the Charlestown Neck was ordered to help reinforce Breed’s Hill.
By three in the afternoon the British landed three thousand more on the peninsula, led by General Howe. Once the British forces were firmly established on the peninsula they preceded to charge up the hill. Although, the initial mentality of the British was to just march up the hill and scare the colonists away.
Advancing British troops
The advancing British troops with bayonets fixed and many of their muskets not even loaded marched confidently up the Breed’s Hill. Dressed in their bright red wool jackets and weighed down by heavy equipment, marched up the hill, over farm fields and low stone walls that were hidden in the tall grass, the British troops remained steady. Although their plan was just to scare the Colonials out, one strategy went unnoticed. It was to circle around to Charlestown Neck and cut Colonel Prescott off from supplies and reinforcements. That would have forced the Colonials to surrender due to lack of resupply. But up they marched, in line of battle, with unyielding courage.
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As the Colonials noticed the massive red line approaching, slowly and steadily, they reserved their fire, not a shot came from the top of the hill. General Putnam rode along the lines and ordered the men not to fire until they could see the whites of their enemy’s eyes. It is assumed this command was given to either help preserve their already low ammunition supplies, and to help keep the men from shooting out of their capable ranges. But when that moment came, and the order “FIRE!” was given, the British front lines were mowed down, shattered and sent retreating to the foot of the hill.
Map of the peninsula
Another volley followed, and another, until the British fell back in disorder, leaving the hillside filled with dead and wounded. But only a short period elapsed before they would re-form their lines and make another dash up the hill, only to receive again, murderous fire from the Colonials above. Steady blast kept the British stunned and confused. Again they retreated back down the hill flustered and. This battle, which lasted for approximately three hours, was considered one of the deadliest of the American Revolutionary War. The British technically won this battle, because they eventually took control of the hill but, they suffered too many losses to feel victorious.
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