Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Battle of Bunker Hill

The Battle of Bunker Hill was an early battle in the American Revolutionary War fought during the siege of Boston on June 17, 1775. On June 13th, Israel Putnam, given charge of fortifying the peninsula, sent Wiliam Prescott along with 1200 troops to fortify the hills outside Boston before the British could do the same.

The British noticed and decided to attack. General Howe was of the opinion that the hill would be easily taken. The British used longboats to ferry 1500 men to the eastern end of the peninsula. Prescott, seeing the British preparations called for reinforcements and received approximately 200 more men.

While preparing for the assault, the British were harassed by sniper fire from Charlestown (southeast end of the peninsula). They set fire to the town. the assault began at 3 p.m. as Pigot made a feint against the main hill. Howe's men moved against the colonials left flank. The militia inflicted heavy losses on the British regulars, who retreated.

The British reformed for a second attack with much the same result. Howe called to General Clinton in Boston for more troops. Clinton dispatched 400 troops, ferried across as the wounded were brought into Boston. All was not well on the American side as Putnam struggled to organize his troops and resorted to threatening to shoot deserting soldiers.

The third assault was successful despite more heavy losses. The militia defenders ran out of ammunition and were at a severe disadvantage in hand-to-hand combat as the British had bayonets and few colonists did. the retreat of the colonists is described as orderly, most of the wounded were successfully evacuated and the defenders avoiding being eveloped by the British.

The British took 1,054 casualties (226 dead and 828 wounded), the most of any engagement in the war. Colonial losses were about 450, of which 140 were killed.

The famous order "Don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes" is usually associated with the battle of Bunker Hill. It is uncertain who first uttered the phrase that day. Regardless, it was not original, similar quotes had been used by European commanders before that time.

This map is from the G.A. Henty fiction book True to the Old Flag: A Tale of the American War of Independence.  Apparently the mapmaker confused the two hills as the main hill should be Breed's hill and the one north of it the Bunker hill. I have added color to the map to make the positions stand out.

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