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The Battle of Bunker Hill

by Jennifer Bryan on 2019-06-17T18:31:17-04:00 in Special Collections & Archives, Naval & Military Studies, History | Comments

The Battle of Bunker Hill, the first major battle of the American Revolution, occurred on June 17, 1775.  In April, colonial militia and British regulars had clashed at Lexington and Concord, bringing Great Britain and her American colonies into open conflict.  Having chased the British troops into Boston, the Americans moved to envelop the city and force the British to evacuate.  Through the night of June 16 and pre-dawn hours of June 17, soldiers from Massachusetts and Connecticut constructed a redoubt and breastwork atop Breed’s Hill on the Charlestown peninsula opposite Boston.  Although General Artemas Ward (1727-1800), commanding the nascent American army, had ordered Bunker Hill to be fortified, Colonel William Prescott (1726-1795) and General Israel Putnam (1718-1790) chose to construct their defenses on Breed's Hill, lower than Bunker Hill and closer to Boston.  

The British had to dislodge the Americans from the hill to avoid being trapped in the city.  In the morning, ships of the Royal Navy bombarded the American fortifications and set fire to Charlestown.  In mid-afternoon, the serried ranks of redcoats that had arrived on Charlestown Peninsula began their attack.  The colonists repulsed them twice, but on the third assault, the British breached the defenses and fierce hand-to-hand combat ensued.  The Americans had run out of ammunition and were forced to retreat to Cambridge. 

Among those killed was thirty-four year old Dr. Joseph Warren of Boston, a leader of the revolutionary movement with Samuel Adams (1722-1803) and John Hancock (1737-1793).  Warren, elected a major general on June 14, was serving as a volunteer, having not yet received his commission.  He was shot in the head and died instantly, the first martyr of the Patriot cause.  

The British were victorious but at the cost of 1,054 casualties, almost half the number of troops engaged in the battle.  A disproportionate number of those killed or wounded were officers.  American casualties were about 450.  The battle proved that colonial militia could stand up to regular troops.  It also dispelled any notion that the conflict could be ended quickly.  













Detail of Plan of the Town of Boston with the Attack on Bunkers'-Hill in the Peninsula of Charlestown, the 17th of June 1775 from Murray, James. An Impartial History Of The Present War in America; Containing An Account of its Rise and Progress, The Political Springs thereof, With Its Various Successes and Disappointments On Both Sides. 2 vols. Newcastle-upon-Tyne: T. Robson, 1779?-1780?  Call Number: E208.M98 1779-1780  

Engraving after the painting The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker's Hill, 17 June, 1775 by John Trumbull (1756-1843) in Spencer, J.A. History of the United States. 3 vols. New York: Johnson, Fry and Co., 1858.  Call Number:  E178.S739 1858  


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