Bunker Hill, A City, A Siege, A Revolution – By Nathaniel Philbrick

Bunker Hill is one of the most important battles in the War for Independence even though it was fought before the Declaration of Independence was ever signed. The reason it was so important is that from then on, the British generals were always second guessing themselves on whether they could win a particular battle. They were always afraid of the massive causalities that they might suffer if they charged into a well-fortified position.

Even though the British won the battle on Bunker Hill, they eventually lost the war. One example of this can be seen at the Battle of Long Island. The British could have easily swept up most of the Colonial Army including General Washington. However, the British stopped the attack, and Washington was able to escape across the river.

While the battle is called Bunker Hill, most of the fighting occurred on Breeds Hill. Bunker Hill was the location where Colonel William Prescott was ordered to set up the colonials cannons so that they could bomb Boston. However, Colonel Prescott chose to set up the defenses on Bunker Hill. The British woke up the morning of June 17, 1775, and saw that the colonials had set up elaborate defenses on top of Breeds hill.

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The British could not allow the colonials to be so close to Boston so General Gage ordered his men to attack the colonist. The British soldiers climbed up the hill and they thought that the colonist must have retreated because they were not shooting. The colonials were very disciplined because they were low on powder so they waited until the last minute to lose a devastating volley of lead. Wave after wave of British soldiers died trying to take Breeds Hill. 1,054 British were injured or killed compared to only 420 for the colonists. The primary reason the British were able to take the hill was because the colonists eventually ran out of powder.

One of the biggest losses to the colonist in this battle was the death of Dr. Joseph Warren. Dr. Warren was 34 years old. However, just because he was young, it did not mean that he was not an influential member in Boston. Dr. Warren was a member of the important Committee of Correspondence. Dr. Warren had just been named a Major General. Upon General Gage hearing that Dr. Warren was one of the casualties, he stated that Dr. Warren’s life was equal to 500 men.

Two of my favorite quotes from the Revolutionary War come from this battle. First, Nathanael Greene said, “I wish we could sell them [the British] another hill at the same price.” Second, a dispatch rider found General Washington shortly after the battle. Washington asked the dispatch rider one question, “Did the militia fight?” When Washington was told how they had fought, how they stood their ground and fought until they ran out of powder, Washington replied: “Then the liberty of the country are safe.”

I would encourage anyone to read this book who wants to understand the situation leading up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence. This book does a great job laying out the tensions between the British and Boston and how the local politicians were responding.

 

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