Battle of Bunker Hill: Part Five

Battle_Bunker_HillNow look at the map of Charlestown peninsula.  Notice the place where the British landed on the southeast corner of the peninsula and notice the British ships in the Charles River: the Falcon, the Lively, and the Somerset, all well within range and able to give Howe and his troops cover when they landed.

It is easy to see that the 2,300 British soldiers Howe brought with him had no trouble landing.

With this in mind, it should come as no surprise to you that even after the Redcoats did land, they were unopposed. In fact, after they landed, while General Howe looked over the terrain, the American redoubt and breastworks on Breed’s Hill and the rail fence, Howe had his troops eat their lunch while he put the final touches on his strategy.

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What did General Howe see when he looked over the terrain? The march to the redoubt would be upgrade, about five hundred yards. It was farmland. There were low stone walls but no trees. The weakest part of the American line was the rail fence on the American left.  And the march along the beach would give Howe and his men the opportunity to turn the American flank.  He would need more troops, he must have concluded, for he sent that message back to General Gage.

Howe’s plan was to move along the beach, smash through the rail fence, and hit the redoubt from the rear.[1]  Howe’s first objective was the rebel left flank. This is why Allen French says, “Howe had those who marched at the rail fence,”[2]

In order to carry out his objective, Howe kept 1,100 men for himself. The remainder he gave to Pigot who was charged with attacking the redoubt from the front. This would leave Pigot with 1,200 men who would be positioned on the British left at the bottom of Breed’s Hill.  As you look at the map, please keep in mind, that the widest part of the peninsula, which would be the part directly across Charles River from Boston, was only a half mile wide.  And this would mean Pigot’s men on the British left flank would not be that far from Charlestown.

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This created a problem, for there were some American soldiers in Charlestown firing at Pigot’s men.  When Admiral Graves came ashore to find out what the fleet could do to help, Pigot told him what was going on.  “Graves send orders to burn the place….And soon the entire town was in flames.”[3]

Howe should have attacked as soon as he landed, but he didn’t. This gave Prescott time to see potential weaknesses in his defenses and relocate some of his men. Prescott had a good view of the Redcoats and could evaluate their intentions based on what he could see: “Since the enemy overlapped the shoreline on his left, Prescott became concerned about the gap between the far end of his breastwork (for his men had only constructed the breastwork to run east for a hundred yards) and the edge of the peninsula, which might become an avenue for flanking his main entrenchments.[4]

He stationed his artillery company and his Connecticut troops (This would be the two hundred men drafted  from Putnam’s Connecticut regiment under the leadership of Captain Knowlton.) behind a stone-and-rail fence to the rear of the redoubt and stretching toward the Mystic River.”[5]

Allen French, in his book, The Siege of Boston, takes it from there: “Avoiding a marshy spot of ground, Knowlton chose a position some two hundred yards to the rear of the redoubt and its breastwork.” [6] Knowlton formed his men behind “a post and rail fence set in a low stone wall which extended some fifteen hundred feet,” and Knowlton was told to “oppose any movement of the enemy in that direction.”[7]

This fence, the “rail fence” mentioned in all accounts of the battle, was their sole protection. [8] (This rail fence is shown on the map by a squiggly line above the word “Redoubt.”  This was the American left flank.) But Knowlton and his men from Connecticut were not the only men who were going to help Prescott out between the end of his breastwork and the Mystic River: “Now began slowly to come across the isthmus the first of the reinforcements that strengthened the hands of the provincials.

By this time, a lively hail of shot was falling on Charlestown Neck, and to cross it was a test of courage. Brigadier General Seth Pomeroy came on a borrowed horse…Others, alone, in groups or in semi-military formation, followed him, to be directed by Putnam to the rail fence, which needed defenders.” [9]

At last came John Stark. And who was John Stark?  He was a man from New Hampshire who had led 1,200 men to Cambridge to help in the fight against the British. The best way to understand Stark was to see him as a man who knew what he was doing and who wasn’t afraid of battle.

Notice how he reacted to the firing of British ships when crossing Charlestown Neck. While many of those who crossed the Neck under fire needed direction, it was not the same with him. “At last came one who needed no directions—Stark at the head of his New Hampshire regiment.  Although requested to hurry his men across the Neck, Stark replied, “One fresh man in action is worth ten fatigued ones,” and would not change his step.

Marching down the slope of Bunker Hill, he quickly noted that between the rail fence and the water the beach was unguarded.  “I saw there,” he said afterward, “the way so plain that the enemy could not miss it.” Before the attack could begin, Stark’s men threw up a rude breastwork of cobbles behind which they could find a little shelter.” [10]

Notice, Stark was a tough man, a very focused man who when approaching the ground of the coming battle looked for where he and his troops would do the most good. The Americans were now ready.

[1] Don Higginbotham, The War of American Independence p. 73.

[2] Allen French, p. 71-72

[3] Christopher Ward, The War of the Revolution, p. 88. Reprinted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.

[4] Don Higginbotham, The War of American Independence p. 73.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Allen French, The Siege of Boston, p. 71.

[7] Charles S. Hall, Samuel Holden Parsons (Binghampton, NY: Otseningo Publishing Company, 1905) p. 30.

[8] Allen French, The Siege of Boston,  p. 71

[9] Ibid., p. 70-71.

[10] Allen French, The Siege of Boston, p. 71.

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Bob Wittstruck was a pastor for 33 years, was the associate director of the Black Hills Creation Science Association, and is a supporter of both Christian schooling and home schooling. His latest book, The Forgotten Factor of History God Rules, is being printed in February or March of 2016. His email address is [email protected]
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