Robert Tomes.

Battles of America by sea and land. With biographies of naval and military commanders (Volume 01) online

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saw that the struggle was to be on the
hill, and that the day would be a hard
one. The general had consented, some

what unwillingly, and had ordered Stark
and Reed, with the New-Hampshire men,
to reinforce Prescott. These were on
their march when the messenger arrived
from the hill. Ward now refused to send
any more, as he was convinced that the
British attack was to be in his own direc
tion, and not against the American forti
fications on Breed s hill.

As the clay advanced, the British suc
ceeded, by means of the flood-tide, in
floating in toward the Charlestown pen
insula several batteries, by which, in ad
dition to the ships, they were enabled
greatly to increase their fire. The pro
vincials, however, took no further notice
of the cannonade, than by an occasional
return-shot from a single gun in their re
doubt. They went on with their work
until eleven o clock, when they stopped
from their labors, and, having laid aside
their intrenching- tools, anxiously awaited
the arrival of the expected refreshments
and reinfoi cements from Cambridge.

General Putnam now rode up to the
redoubt, and, hurrying to Colonel Pres
cott, told him that the intrenching-tools
must be sent off, or they would be lost.
The colonel replied that, if he sent any
of the men away with the tools, not one
of them would return. To this the gen
eral answered, " They shall every man
return !" A large party was then sent
off with the tools, and not one of them
returned ! Some of the tools, however,
and men to use them, got no farther than
Bunker s hill, where Putnam put them to
irood service in raising; a breastwork.

o <->

At about noon, the British became ac
tive in their preparations for attack. The



June 17.

men-of-war were hauled closer in toward
the Charlestown shore, and their guns
began to play briskly along the low lands
opposite to the north end of Boston,
where the British troops were embarking
in their boats and barges. Under the
cover of this fire from the ships, and a
continued cannonade from the battery
on Copp s hill, the troops left the
Boston side, and began to cross
the river. The barges, twenty-eight in
number, crowded with soldiers, moved
regularly across in parallel lines. It was
a bright summer s day, and the mid-day
sun was pouring down a flood of light,
which glowed brilliantly in the stream,
and upon the flashing accoutrements of
the English officers and soldiers in their
uniforms of scarlet, and with their pol
ished arms and gilded ornaments. The
troops were three thousand of the choi
cest of Gage s army, and were led by
Major-General Howe.

WILLIAM HOWE was a younger brother
of the gallant earl who fell at Ticonder-
oga in 1758. So greatly had that youth
ful nobleman endeared himself, by his
amiable qualities, to the Americans, while
fighting with them in the common cause
against the French, that they now saw
with exceeding pain his brother present
ing himself as their enemy. " America
is amazed to find the name of Howe in
the catalogue of her enemies ; she loved
his brother," were the warm words of an
address of the continental Congress to
the people of Ireland. William Howe
himself, however, was not the man to
sympathize strongly with any sentimen
tal affection. He was a careless, good-

natured man, " the most indolent of mor
tals, and never took further pains to ex
amine the merits or demerits of the cause
in which he was engaged than merely to
recollect that Great Britain was said to
be the mother-country ; George III. king
of Great Britain ; that the king and Par
liament formed the supreme power ; that
a supreme power is absolute and uncon
trollable ; that all resistance must conse
quently be rebellion ; but, above all, that
he was a soldier, and bound to obey in
all cases whatever."* Being a younger
son, he was " provided for" by a commis
sion in the army, and, confidently trustr
ing to the influence of his aristocratic
family for advancement, gave himself lit
tle anxiety about the present or the fu
ture. He was brave, like all his race,
and with his handsome figure, six feet in
height, and his frank, chivalrous air, made
a gallant-looking officer. He had no pre
tensions, however, to the genius which
can conceive great enterprises, and bring
them to triumphant results. He had nei
ther the active sympathy with the good,
of the young lord who fell at Ticonder-
oga, nor the administrative ability and
energy of Admiral Howe (at this time
the earl) ; but, like his two brothers, he
possessed courage, and, as that was all
that was required in the present emer
gency, he had the spirit equal to the oc
casion. Lee dashes off his character thus :
" He is naturally good-humored, complai
sant, but illiterate and indolent to the last
degree, unless as an executive soldier, in
which capacity he is all fire and activity,
brave and cool as Julius Cassar. His un-

* General Charles Lee.




derstanding is rather good than other
wise ; but was totally confounded and
stupefied by the immensity of the task
imposed upon him. He shut his eyes,
fought his battles, drank his bottle, had

his little advised with his counsellors,

received his orders, shut his eyes, fought

Howe succeeded in landing his men
in admirable order on the Charlestown

shore, and drew them up in three
June 17,

lines. Covered as they were by

the British men-of-war and batteries, no
attempt was made by the patriots to dis
pute their landing; and they quietly took
up their position at the bottom of Breed s
hill at the north, without even a musketr
shot being fired. Howe now reconnoi
tred the American fortifications, and, find
ing them more formidable than he had
supposed, thought it would be necessary
to have reinforcements before he could
effectually perform the duty of the day,
which was, " to drive the rebels from their
works." He accordingly sent to Gage
for more troops and ammunition, as, by
a stupid blunder, the cartridges he had
brought with him were too big for his
fieldpieces ! In the meantime, refresh
ments were plentifully distributed to the
men, who were allowed to stack their
arms, and gather in groups upon the
grass, while they ate and drank to their

The landing, however, of the British
troops at Charlestown, though unresisted,
created a great commotion in Cambridge,
where General Ward had his headquar
ters, and where were gathered, not only
the main body of the provincial troops,

but large numbers of old men, women,
and children, whose sons, husbands, and
sires, had shouldered their muskets, and
were awaiting a struggle which, brought
it victory or defeat, would certainly bring
death and sorrow to many a loving heart.
The bells of the churches and college at
Cambridge were ringing ; drums beat in
the American camp ; and horses clattered
through the streets, bearing messengers
with orders for the commanders to assem
ble their regiments and prepare to march.
Adjutants were seen riding fast from point
to point. One comes by at full gallop.
"What is the matter?" shouts a youth,
coming quietly out of his lodgings after
dinner. " Have you not heard ?" " No."
"Why, the regulars are landing at
Charlestown, and we are all to meet and
march immediately to Bunker s hill, to
oppose the enemy." The adjutant puts
spurs to his horse, and is away, shouting,
" Turn out ! turn out !" The youth waits
not, but runs, gets his arms and ammuni
tion, and hastens to his company in the
church where it has its barrack, and finds
his comrades almost ready for the inarch.
They are soon equipped with their frocks
and trousers of "blue turned up with red,"
drawn over their other clothes ; for they
are loth, with a rising martial pride, to
expose themselves in other than a mili
tary trim. Thus prepared, off they start.
General Putnam, who seemed to be ev
erywhere that day (riding hurriedly now
to Bunker s hill and urging on his favor
ite work there, now to Breed s, and then
to Cambridge), at this moment came gal
loping his horse to headquarters, and, or
dering out those of the Connecticut men




that were left, led them forward to the
aid of Prescott on the heights. General
Ward, retaining two or three regiments
to protect Cambridge, sent on the remain
der of the Massachusetts troops to Charles-

The patriots on the hill, still without
reinforcements, and with but a scanty
supply of refreshments, looked down from
their intrenchments upon the brilliant
array of the enemy below them with re
spectful awe, and almost with envy, as,
half famished themselves, they beheld the
"red-coats" making jolly over their abun
dant food and " bucketfuls of grog." The
patriots became irritable and suspicious,
and even charged their leaders with wan
tonly exposing them to destruction. The
men were almost exhausted by fatigue
and hunger ; they were conscious of their
inexperience as soldiers ; they saw a for
midable British force, with its immense
resources of art, threatening them. It

was natural that a raw militia, under such
circumstances, should be disheartened,
and, wanting self-confidence, should tem
porarily lose trust in their leaders. A
the reinforcements did not come, as the
supply of provisions failed them, they not
unnaturally became disaffected. They
were, however, now cheered by the time
ly arrival of Generals Warren and Pome-
roy, who as they came in were welcomed
with loud hurrahs. These were true pa
triots, whom none, the most suspicious,
ever doubted. Their assurances of ap
proaching aid, and their own resolute dec
laration to share as volunteers in the dan
gers of the day, soon dispelled all suspi
cion, and encouraged the men to renewed
hope and confidence. The ever-active
Putnam, too, came riding in, cheering all
by his hearty words and his undaunted
bearing, and then galloping away again,
to hurry on the approaching reinforce


The Works on Bunker s Hill described. The Approach of the British Troops. Arrival of Warren. Howe s Address
to his Soldiers. The Struggle. The British repulsed. "Old Put" at the Guns. Cheers of Victory. The British
again driven back. Charlestown set on Fire. General Clinton volunteers. Another Attack and Repulse. The Sub
limity of the Scene. A Final Rally of the British. The Last Struggle, and Retreat of the Provincials. Howe does
not pursue. The Dead and Wounded. The Moral Victory of the Provincials at Bunker s Hill. Death of Warren,
and the Public Grief. His History. The English Loss.


THE patriots, with renewed spirit,
indulged less in despairing reflec
tions about the formidable aspect of the
enemy which threatened them, and set
to work in making further preparations
for defence. Although it was as late as

June 17.

three o clock in the afternoon,

and the British might be expectr

ed at any moment, the fortifications on

Bunker s hill were by no means complete.

The redoubt which had been built was

small, being only eight rods square ; and




although tolerably strong in front, with
its projecting angles, it was weaker on
the other sides. On the east was a large
field, which was commanded by the guns
of the redoubt on that side. Continuous
with this eastern side of the redoubt, a
breastwork extended a hundred yards
north, to what was called " The Slough."
Beyond this slough there was a space of
some three hundred feet entirely unpro
tected ; while, still farther on, there was
a rail-fence. The redoubt and the breast
work were cannon-proof The rail-fence
merely offered a partial cover to a marks
man, and could not be styled a defence,
though it might slightly obstruct the ap
proach of the enemy. Thus, to the north
of the breastwork from the ridge of the
hill down to the water s edge of the Mys
tic river, there was nothing but a rail-
fence ; and in this direction there offered
an opportunity for the British to approach
in security.

Howe began now to move his troops ;
and, as his right wing seemed to be ta
king a direction along the shore, which
was thought to indicate the design of
making a flank movement through the
unprotected approach at the north, Pres-
cott ordered Captain Knowlton, with his
Connecticut men, to go down the hill and
prepare to oppose the British advance in
that direction. Knowlton marched and
took up his position to the rear of the
redoubt, on the low ground which sepa
rated like a shallow valley the two hills
of Bunker and Breed. Here he found a
rail-fence, which topped a foot-wall of
stone, and, with ready Yankee ingenuity,
turned it into a very tolerable breast

work. Having gathered together a num
ber of rails, he erected another fence, be
hind the original one, and filled in the
space between them with new-mown hay
which he found ready to his hand in the
neighboring fields.

While the Connecticut men were thus
engaged in their novel style of construct
ing a fortification, Stark came to their
aid with his New-Hampshire men. He
had been long in crossing from Medford,
whence he had set out early by the or
ders of General Ward. As he was com
ing deliberately along Charlestown neck,
and the British man-of-war which com
manded that point was blazing at him
and his troops, an officer suggested to
Stark that it might be well to quicken
their march. But the veteran shook his
head, and replied, " One fresh man in ac
tion is worth ten fatigued ones." His
troops continued their slow and regular
step as before. When Stark reached the
ground, he addressed a few pithy words
to his men, and, after sending some of
them to aid General Putnam at the works
upon Bunker s hill, set the rest, to labor
with Knowlton s party at the rail-and-
hay battery.

When the struggle was about to com
mence, Warren stationed himself in the
redoubt. As he came in, he was offered
by Prescott the chief command, but de
clined, saying, "I am come to fight as a
volunteer, and feel honored in being al
lowed to serve under so able a command
er." Pomeroy went down to do duty at
the rail-fence, and here Warren had also
gone and remained momentarily, when
the command there was likewise offered




him. " No," he replied ; " I only wish to
know where I can be of most service as
a private soldier." "The redoubt," said
General Putnam, who also remarked that
he would be there under cover. " Do n t
think I seek a place of safety ! where will
the attack be the hottest?" sharply re
joined Warren. Putnam again replied :
" The redoubt, for that is the enemy s ob
ject ; and, if that can be maintained, the
day is ours." This decided Warren, and
he returned to the redoubt ; but nothing
would induce him to take the command,
as, although he had been chosen general,
he had not yet received his commission.

This was now the disposition of the
American force at the moment of acting.
Colonel Prescott was at the redoubt- and
breastwork, with the Massachusetts part
of the detachment which had arrived on
the ground the evening before, and had
raised the fortifications. The Connecti
cut troops, under Knowlton, together with
the New-Hampshire men, commanded by
Stark, were at the rail-fence battery ; and
here also, for a time, was General Putnam.
Captains Gridley and Callender had their
artillery-company and fieldpieces posted
at the exposed space between the breast
work and the rail-fence. As a reinforce
ment of Massachusetts troops came up at
the last moment, some of them entered
the redoubt, while others planted them
selves on the outside, to the right.

The British forces having remained at
Moulton s point, where they landed, un
til they had received the reinforcements
and ammunition which had been sent for
to Boston, now prepared, at three o clock
in the afternoon, to make the assault on

the American works upon Breed s hill.
His troops being drawn up, General Howe
rode in front and addressed them:

" Gentlemen, I am very happy in hav
ing the honor of commanding so fine a
body of men. I do not in the least doubt
but that you will behave like English
men, and as becometh good soldiers.

" If the enemy will not come from their
intrenchments, we must drive them out,
at all events ; otherwise the town of Bos
ton will be set on fire by them !

" I shall not desire one of you to go a
step farther than where I go myself at
your head !

"Remember, gentlemen, we have no
recourse to any resources, if we lose Bos
ton, but to go on board our ships, which
will be very disagreeable to us all !"

These spirited words were received by
the soldiers with a hearty cheer, and then
the army began to move. The left wing,
under General Pigot, was to advance up
the hill in face of the redoubt, and at
tempt to take it by assault. Howe him
self was to lead the right wing against
the American lines at the rail-fence, and
thus endeavor, by a flank movement, to
surround the rear and cut off the retreat
from the works.

This disposition having been made, the
march began. Howe orders his artillery
on the flank to fire ; and simultaneously
the English ships, the floating batteries,
and Copp s hill, join in w r ith a furious can
nonade, in order to cover the British ad
vance. The people in Boston, crowding
the tops of the houses and churches, are
listening to the thundering cannon with
stifled hearts ; and watching, at every


break in the thick smoke, with eager
glance, to catch a sight of the slightest
movement. On Copp s hill stand the two
British generals Clinton and Burgoyne,
coolly contemplating with professional
interest the military manoeuvres, and not
for a moment doubting the success of the
British regulars.

Howe s artillery soon ceased its fire ;
not, however, before it had silenced the
guns of Gridley and Callender on the
hill. The latter even withdrew to Bun
ker s hill, declaring that his cartridges
were useless from being too large. Here
he was confronted by the ubiquitous Put
nam, who would listen to no excuses, and
ordered him back to his post on Breed s.
The panic-stricken Callender, however,
did not return, and his men abandoned
him in contempt. His fieldpieces were
then, by the order of Putnam, dragged
by some of his own men to the rail-fence,
and there posted for its defence. Howe s
artillery had ceased its fire, on account
of another stupid blunder, twelve-pound
balls having been for the most part sup
plied in lieu of six-pound, which the guns
required. They were then ordered to be
charged with grape. The artillery-wag
ons, however, got mired at the base of
the hill, and became fixed in a position
where the guns were of little service

General Pigot was now advancing up
the hill, at a deliberate and regular pace.
His men began at once to fire, although
they were at a great distance, and con
tinued to discharge their muskets as fast
as they could load them, and at every
step forward. The Americans had been
ordered not to return a shot until the


[PART n.

British were within thirty or forty paces.
" Powder is scarce, and must not be wast
ed !" "Fire low: aim at the waistbands!"
" Wait until you see the white of their
eyes!" "Aim at the handsome coats!"
"Pick off the commanders !" Such were
the expedient but rather un military or
ders hurriedly given by raw officers to
raw men. Some of the provincials, how
ever, lost patience, and began to return
the British fire. Colonel Prescott angrily
rebuked them for their disobedience ; and
some of his officers sprang on the top of
the parapet of the redoubt, and kicked
up the muskets which the men were lev
elling, and about to let off!

Pigot had now brought his grenadiers
quite close to the works, wlien Prescott
ordered his whole line to fire. The effect
of the volley was murderous, for, as each
American was a marksman, hardly a gun
missed its aim. The British, however,
quickly filled in the empty places of their
dead, and, firmly holding their ground,
returned the fire, but with little damage
to the Americans, who were protected by
their redoubt and breastwork. The sec
ond volley, which is even more effective
than the first, is so terrible, that the ene
my are staggered, confused, and driven
back in flight. The officers run down
after their men, and, brandishing their
swords, passionately urge them back.
They succeed in rallying them again to
face the redoubt, but are once more re
pulsed ; and Pigot, agonized by the car
nage, and hopeless of success, orders a
retreat. The Americans shouted out a
loud and triumphant hurrah as the ene
my retired.




While Pigot was thus repulsed in front,
Howe was marching his right wing in
confidence against the left of the Ameri
cans. These latter were ready for the en
emy ; and as soon as the British showed
themselves, General Putnam ordered the
artillery abandoned by the inefficient Cal-
lender to fire, which was done with ex
cellent effect, " Old Put" himself pointing
the pieces. As the enemy advanced, but
when still at some distance, several of the
provincials, contrary to orders, began to
fire. Putnam, however, soon put a stop
to this, declaring he would strike down
the next man who dared to disobey. The
premature musket- balls succeeded in
drawing the fire of the British lines, which
then began a regular succession of vol
leys ; but their shots were too high, and
passed over the heads of the Americans.

The eager provincial marksmen were
now permitted to return the enemy s fire,
which they did with the usual efficacy of
such good shots. Each man rested his
musket upon the fence, and, deliberately
taking aim, did not fail to bring down his
victim. The officers were here, as at the
redoubt, picked off the first. " There !
see that officer!" "Let us have a shot
at him !" they cried, in their eager rival
ry to shoot. The execution was as ter
rible as it was sure ; and the British ranks
were so affrighted by the carnage, that
they began to retreat in disorder, after
the very first volley. The Americans
were in high spirits, to which they gave
vent in cheers of victory.

When these repulses, so disheartening
to the British, were observed by Gage,
he determined to fulfil a purpose which

he had resolved upon before the strug
gle. This purpose Avas, to burn Charles-
town. Orders were now given to the
battery at Copp s hill to shower shells
upon the town ; and soon, as the houses
and buildings were of wood, the whole
place was in a blaze. Simultaneously,
Howe and Pigot had rallied their troops,
and were commencing a second assault.
General Clinton, who had been so coolly
looking on from the heights of Copp s
hill in the beginning, no sooner observed
the repulse of his boasted regulars, than,
without awaiting orders, he jumped into
a boat, crossed the river, and hurried to
the aid of his comrades.

The Americans, too, in confident en
thusiasm, were spiritedly preparing for
the renewed struggle. Colonel Prescott
was encouraging his troops with well-
deserved praise, and urging them to obe
dience in regard to the reserve of their
fire. The busy Putnam had galloped off
for reinforcements, and was back with a
few stragglers only. He inspirited his
men, however, who had done their duty
so well before, with promises of the same
success on the same good conduct in the
corning action.

The struggle again began. The Britr
ish troops seemed resolved on victory,
but did not alter their plans of attack.
As before, Pigot was moving up the hill
in front of the redoubt, and Howe was
renewing his flank movement. The well-
disciplined regulars marched slowly and
steadily to their work.

To the beholder, the whole scene of
action was terrific. General Burgoyne,
who was a looker-on from the battery at



|_PART n.

Copp s hill, said : " Sure I am, nothing
ever has been or can be more dreadfully
terrible than what was to be seen or
heard at this time. The most incessant
discharge that ever was heard by mortal
ears ! . . . Terrible indeed was that scene/
he repeats, " even at our distance. The
western horizon was one huge body of
smoke, and in the evening a continued
blaze ; and the perpetual sound of can
non and volleys of musketry worked up
our imaginations to a high degree of
fright," The scene was no doubt terrific,
but the patriots beheld it without dismay,
though not without indignation. The

Online LibraryRobert TomesBattles of America by sea and land. With biographies of naval and military commanders (Volume 01) → online text (page 22 of 126)