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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 was considerable encouragement to the revolutionary war. This battle made both sides realize that this was not going to be a matter decided on by one battle.
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 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 decision that occurred because of one fight, this had been going on for a long time.(Encyclopedia Britanica 1990)
Two of the most notable injustices, as shown 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 put 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 protest they received. The colonists were so angry because they had no voice in Parliament which passed the law, then came the famous cry, “No taxation without representation!(Here’s to the Losers: page 1) The colonists would protest these laws with the Boston Tea Party. The British responded to this open act of rebellion by making 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 confusion to exist between the two
countries. There had been fighting between British soldiers and colonists for some time because of the Quartering Act, a law which required towns people to house soldiers. This law 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 Lexington and Concord and destroy colonial military supplies.(Here’s to the Losers: page 4) This left the colonists with the feeling of hatred and total hatred towards the British. Because of these incidents neither side trusted the other, and had concerns that the opposition would 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 arguing that had accumulated over the years, which would lead the colonies into a confrontation with the British.
Bunker Hill started when the colonists learned about the British plan to occupy Dorchester Heights. The colonists were alarmed 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 made up of men from Cambridge, New England, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island. Also, this 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 Charlestown 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 drunk 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 carrying weapons 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 (Encyclopedia Britannica 1990).
General Prescott did not actually fortify Bunker’s Hill, but Breed’s Hill instead. How did this happen? One proposed idea is that 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 mixed up the hills. Another suggestion, 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 defenses. 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. The enemy landed and fronted before them and formed themselves in a square , but they found a bunch of us. (Here’s to the Losers: page 2).
When the British forces were established on the ground at the bottom of the hill they proceeded to charge. The British 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 grass. As the colonists saw the 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 (or) to help keep the men from shooting out of their capable ranges.(Encyclopedia Britanica 1990)
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 move forward the British were able to break through the colonists’ line, overrunning the careful American defenses, taking the hill. The colonists ran 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 . The British had suffered more than one thousand deaths out of the 2,300 or so who fought. While the colonists only suffered 400 to 600
deaths from an estimated 2,500 to 4,000 men (The Henderson Island Website). 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 canons 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 Henderson Island Website)
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