Chapter 40:

The result of Bunker Hill battle.

June 17, 1775.

The royal army, exasperated at retreating before an
Chap. XL.} 1775. June 17.
enemy whom they had professed to despise, and by the sight of many hundreds of their men who lay dead or bleeding on the ground, prepared to renew the engagement. While the light infantry and a part of the grenadiers were left to continue the attack at the rail-fence, Howe concentrated the rest of his forces upon the redoubt. Cannon were brought to bear in such a manner as to rake the inside of the breastwork, from one end of it to the other, so that the Americans were obliged to crowd within their fort. Then the British troops, having disencumbered themselves of their knapsacks, advanced in column with fixed bayonets. Clinton, who from Copp's Hill had watched the battle, at this critical moment, and without orders, pushed off in a boat, and put himself at the head of two battalions, the marines and the forty-seventh, which seemed to hesitate on the beach as if uncertain what to do. These formed the extreme [429] left of the British, and advanced from the south; the
Chap. XL.} 1775. June 17.
fifth, the thirty-eighth, and forty-third battalions formed the centre, and attacked from the east; on their right was the fifty-second with grenadiers, who 17. forced the now deserted intrenchments.

The Americans within the redoubt, attacked at once on three sides by six battalions, at that time numbered less than seven hundred men. Of these some had no more than one, none more than three or four rounds of ammunition left. But Prescott's self-possession increased with danger. He directed his men to wait till the enemy were within twenty yards, when they poured upon them a deadly volley. The British wavered for an instant, and then sprang forward without returning the fire. The American fire slackened, and began to die away. The British reached the rampart on the southern side. Those who first scaled the parapet were shot down as they mounted. Major Pitcairn fell mortally wounded, just as he was entering the redoubt. A single artillery cartridge furnished powder for the last muskets which the Americans fired. For some time longer they kept the enemy at bay, confronting them with the butt end of their guns, and striking them with the barrels after the stocks were broken. The breastwork being abandoned, the ammunition all expended, the redoubt half filled with regulars and on the point of being surrounded, and no other reinforcements having arrived, at a little before four, Prescott gave the word to retreat. He himself was among the last to leave the fort; escaping unhurt, though with coat and waistcoat rent and pierced by bayonets, which he parried with his sword. The men, retiring through [430] the sallyport or leaping over the walls, made their

Chap. XL.} 1775. June 17.
way through their enemies, each for himself, without much order, and the dust which rose from the dry earth now powdered in the sun, and the smoke of the engagement, gave them some covering. The British, who had turned the north-eastern end of the breastwork, and had likewise come round the angle of the redoubt, were too much exhausted to use the bayonet against them with vigor, and at first the parties were so closely intermingled as to interrupt the firing; it also appeared that a supply of ball for the artillery, sent from Boston during the battle, was too large for the field-pieces which accompanied the detachment.

The little handful of brave men would have been effectually cut off, but for the unfailing courage of the provincials at the rail fence and the bank of the Mystic. They had repulsed the enemy twice; they now held them in check, till the main body had left the hill. Not till then did the Connecticut companies under Knowlton, and the New Hampshire soldiers under Stark quit the station, which they had ‘nobly defended.’ The retreat was made with more regularity than could have been expected of troops, who had been for so short a time under discipline, and many of whom had never before seen an engagement. Trevett and his men drew off the only field-piece that was saved. Pomeroy walked backwards, facing the enemy and brandishing his musket till it was struck and marked by a ball. The redoubt, the brow of Bunker Hill, and the passage across the Charlestown causeway, were the principal places of slaughter.

Putnam, at the third onset, was absent, ‘employed [431] in collecting men’ for a reenforcement, and was encoun-

Chap. XL.} 1775. June 17.
tered by the retreating party on the northern declivity of Bunker Hill. Acting on his own responsibility, he now for the first time during the day assumed the 17. supreme direction. Without orders from any person, he rallied such of the fugitives as would obey him, joined them to a detachment which had not arrived in season to share in the combat, and took possession of Prospect Hill, where he encamped that very night.

Repairing to Headquarters, Prescott offered with three fresh regiments to recover his post. But for himself he sought neither advancement, nor reward, nor praise, and having performed the best service, never thought that he had done more than his duty. It is the contemporary record, that during the battle ‘no one appeared to have any command but Colonel Prescott,’ and that ‘his bravery could never be enough acknowledged and applauded.’ The camp long repeated the story of his self-collected valor, and a historian of the war, who best knew the judgments of the army, has rightly awarded the ‘highest prize of glory to Prescott and his companions.’

The British were unable to continue the pursuit beyond the isthmus. They had already brought their best forces into the field; more than a third of those engaged lay dead or bleeding, and the survivors were fatigued, and overawed by the courage of their adversaries. The battle put an end to all offensive operations on the part of Gage.

The number of the killed and wounded in his army was, by his own account, at least one thousand and fifty-four. Seventy commissioned officers were wounded, and thirteen were slain. Of these, there [432] were one lieutenant colonel, two majors, and seven

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captains. For near half an hour there had been a continued sheet of fire from the provincials; and the action was hot for double that period. The oldest soldiers had never seen the like. The battle of Quebec, which won half a continent, did not cost the lives of so many officers as the battle of Bunker Hill, which gained nothing but a place of encampment.

Sir William Howe who was thought to have been wounded was untouched; though his white silk stockings were stained from his walking through the tall grass, red with the blood of his soldiers. That he did not fall was a marvel. The praises bestowed on his apathetic valor, on the gallantry of Pigot, on the conduct of Clinton, reflected honor on the untrained farmers, who though inferior in numbers, had required the display of the most strenuous exertions of their assailants, before they could be dislodged from the defenses which they had had but four hours to prepare.

The whole loss of the Americans amounted to one hundred and forty-five killed and missing, and three hundred and four wounded. The brave Moses Parker, of Chelmsford, was wounded and taken prisoner; he died in Boston jail. Major Willard Moore received one severe wound at the second attack, and soon after another, which he felt to be mortal; so bidding farewell to those who would have borne him off, he insisted on their saving themselves, and remained to die for the good cause, which he had served in council and in arms. Buckminster was dangerously wounded, but recovered. The injury to Nixon was so great that he suffered for many months, and narrowly escaped [433] with his life. Thomas Gardner, a member of con-

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gress from Cambridge, was hastening with some part of his regiment to the redoubt, but as he was descending Bunker Hill, he was mortally wounded by a random shot. His townsmen mourned for the rural statesman, to whom they had unanimously shown their confidence; and Washington gave him the funeral honors due to a gallant officer. Andrew McClary, on that day unsurpassed in bravery, returning to reconnoitre, perished by a chance cannon ball on the isthmus.

Just at the moment of the retreat, fell Joseph Warren, the last in the trenches. In him were combined celerity, courage, endurance, and manners which won universal love. He opposed the British government, not from interested motives, nor from resentment. A guileless and intrepid advocate of the rights of mankind, he sought not to appear a patriot; he was one in truth. As the moment for the appeal to arms approached, he watched with joy the revival of the generous spirit of New England's ancestors; and where peril was greatest, he was present, animating not by words alone, but ever by his example. His integrity, the soundness of his judgment, his ability to write readily and well, his fervid eloquence, his exact acquaintance with American rights and the infringements of them, gave authority to his advice in private, and in the provincial congress. Had he lived, the future seemed burdened with his honors; he cheerfully sacrificed all for his country, and for freedom. Sorrow could now no more come nigh him, and he went to dwell in men's memories with Hampden.

His enemies recognised his worth by their exultation [434] at his fall. By his countrymen, he was

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‘most sincerely and universally lamented;’ his mother would not be consoled. His death, preceded by that of his wife, left his children altogether orphans, till the continent, at the motion of Samuel Adams, adopted them in part at least as its own. The congress of his native state, that knew him well, and had chosen him to guide their debates, and recently to high command in their army, proclaimed to the world their ‘veneration for Joseph Warren, whose memory is endeared to his countrymen, and to the worthy in every part and age of the world, so long as virtue and valor shall be esteemed among men.’

The reports of the generals show the opinions in the two camps after the battle. ‘The success,’ wrote Gage to Dartmouth, ‘which was very necessary in our present condition, cost us dear. The number of killed and wounded is greater than our forces can afford to lose. We have lost some extremely good officers. The trials we have had, show the rebels are not the despicable rabble too many have supposed them to be, and I find it owing to a military spirit encouraged among them for a few years past, joined with uncommon zeal and enthusiasm. They intrench, and raise batteries; they have engineers. They have fortified all the heights and passes around this town; which it is not impossible for them to annoy. The conquest of this country is not easy; you have to cope with vast numbers. In all their wars against the French, they never showed so much conduct, attention, and perseverance, as they do now. I think it my duty to let your lordship know the true situation of affairs.’ [435]

On the other hand, Ward, in a general order, ex-

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pressed thanks to ‘the officers and soldiers who behaved so gallantly at the late action in Charlestown;’ and in words which expressed the conviction of the American camp, he added, ‘we shall finally come off victorious, and triumph over the enemies of freedom and America.’ Washington, as he heard the narrative of the events of the day, was confirmed in his habitual belief that the liberties of America would be preserved. ‘Americans will fight,’ wrote Franklin on the occasion, to his English friends; ‘England has lost her colonies for ever.’

end of Vol. VII.

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