Bunker Hill Table of Contents:

Details about the Battle
  1. American Officers
  2. British Officers
  3. The Battle
  4. Geography of the Battle
Main Points
Bunker Hill Today


The Battle of Bunker (or Breed's) Hill on June 16, 1775 was one of the first major battles of the American Revolution. Bunker Hill itself, located in Charleston, Massachusetts had an easy slope to the isthmus but the other sides were quite steep- whoever acquired this geographical landmark would have a major advantage in the battle. The strategic value of this summit was very decided for either army, yet it had been overlooked or neglected by the British commander. On June 15, the Massachusetts Committee of Safety and Council of War voted to take immediate possession of Bunker Hill.

Colonel Prescott was summoned by the Committee of Safety in Cambridge to lead the operation to march 850 men to with about forty artillery gunners with their weapons up to Bunker Hill where they would construct a fort. The men made the fort throughout the night trying not to alarm the British forces that were waiting in the harbor. By 3:30 a.m. the fort was completed with ramparts (defensive walls) five to six feet tall and one hundred and thirty six feet long. The only flaw was there were no openings for shooting off the guns or building bases for the artillery to stand upon.

The British initially planned to attack at Rocksbury and Cambridge. However, due to the shortage of boats, poor navigational maps, and poorly timed tides, the British strategies and operation was affected.

Details about the Battle

American Officers

Although the colonists were ill equipped to fight against the British troops they had three extremely capable colonels to lead them in the battle. Colonel William Prescott. Colonel John Stark and General Israel Putnam all fought with the British troops during the French and Indian war.

William Prescott is probably the most famous of these men to lead the Minute Men in the Battle of Bunker Hill. He was chosen to lead 1,200 men onto the Charlestown peninsula and erect defenses on Bunker Hill. He is well known for his order “Do not fire until you see the whites of their eyes", such that the rebel troops may shoot at the enemy at shorter ranges, and therefore more accurately and lethally, and so conserve their limited stocks of ammunition. Prescott's men twice threw back British assaults on the fort. When the British made a third attempt, his men were almost out of ammunition. Prescott ordered his troops to abandon Bunker Hill, and Prescott himself was among the last to leave. The poorly organized colonists suffered significant casualties, but Prescott is known for keeping his soldiers well disciplined.

British Officers

On the British side, both Thomas Gage and General William Howe were well known leaders in the Battle. Thomas Gage, however, was highly criticized for the heavy British casualties that resulted. The costly battle resulted only in the British being shut up in Boston under siege. With no further campaign in sight for that year Gage was called home in August and sailed in October. The command was then split between Howe and Carleton.

General Howe also played a key role on the side of the British. Howe had the responsibility of breaking up the American left wing, to envelope it, take the redoubt (fort) in the rear, and cute off retreat to Bunker Hill and the main land. Howe decided to land his troops at Moulton's (or Charlestown) Point near the mouth of the Mystic River where they could press westward along the peninsula.

The Battle
Around three o’clock General Howe led a force of 3,000 men to fight. The British launched two uphill assaults upon the colonists. This resulted in heavy casualties for the British soldiers. The battle ceased for an hour as Howe called in an additional 400 men.

Once the British reinforcements arrived Howe led a third charge upon the colonists. During this time American supplies were running low causing the Americans to fight unequally to the British. As the British fired with muskets and charged with bayonets the Americans threw rocks and shot the last of their ammunition. Prescott realized this extreme struggle would cause Americans a loss and therefore decided to retreat from the battle. The Americans fled down the north slope of Breeds Hill to escape across the neck. During the escape many men were shot and killed instantly by British soldiers; causing many American casualties to occur during the escape from the battle.

external image 6-17-1775-Bunker-Hill-Battle-1.jpg

Geography of the Battle

The Battle of Bunker Hill took place mostly on and around Breed's Hill. The battle is named after the adjacent Bunker Hill, which was peripherally involved in the battle and was the original objective of both colonial and British troops, and is occasionally referred to as the "Battle of Breed's Hill."

Boston, situated on a peninsula, was largely protected from close approach by the expanses of water surrounding it, which were dominated by British warships. However, the land across the water from Boston contained a number of hills, which could be used to advantage. If the militia could obtain enough artillery pieces, these could be placed on the hills and used to bombard the city until the occupying army evacuated it or surrendered.

The Charlestown Peninsula, lying to the north of Boston, started from a short, narrow isthmus (known as the Charlestown Neck) at its northwest, extending about 1 mile (1.6 km) southeastward into Boston Harbor.

File:Map of the Battle of Bunker Hill area.jpg
File:Map of the Battle of Bunker Hill area.jpg

Main Points

  • Although the British had far more casualties than the colonist troops they still won due to the fact that the colonists left the battle site first.
  • Colonel Prescott was given command of the forces at Charlestown by the Committee of Safety in Massachusetts.
  • Even though the American forces were driven out, our casualties were substantially lower. The rebel casualties were estimated at 441 killed and wounded, with the British casualties at 1,150 killed and wounded.
  • In this one battle alone, one-eighth of the British officers in the entire war were killed and one-sixth were wounded.
  • General Dr. Joseph Warren, who had been a volunteer soldier for the colonists, was one of the last to retreat down the hill and was shot in the head as he left the battle. His loss of life was on of the single most important deaths of the battle.
  • Bunker Hill showed the Americans that the British were not invincible, and It showed the British Government that the "rebels" were a serious opponent.

Bunker Hill Today
The first monument on the site was an 18-foot wooden pillar with an urn erected in 1794 by King Solomon's Lodge of Masons to honor patriot and mason, Dr. Joseph Warren. In 1823, a group of prominent citizens formed the Bunker Hill Monument Association to construct a more permanent and significant monument to commemorate the famous battle. The existing monument was finally completed in 1842 and dedicated on June 17, 1843, in a major national ceremony. The exhibit lodge was built in the late nineteenth century to house a statue of Dr. Warren.

Today, a 221-foot granite obelisk marks the site of the first major battle of the American Revolution. The inside of the monument contains 294 steps to the top where you can view the surrounding battlefield. The monument is currently located in Monument Square, Charlestown, MA.

external image Bunker_Hill_Monument

There is currently a statue of colonel William Prescott located right in front of the granite obelisk as well. The statue of Prescott was dedicated in 1881 and was made by William Wetmore Story, a famous sculptor. The statue shows Prescott in the moment before he calls fire with his sword in hand ready to fight.

William Prescott Statue Boston
William Prescott Statue Boston

William Prescott Statue