The Battle of Bunker Hill: Part Three

Battle_of_bunker_hill_percy_moranIn the second article of this series, the patriots sent 1200 men to take Bunker Hill and prepare to defend it. The Americans worked through the night to construct the redoubt and the breastworks that they would need to defend Breed’s Hill and Bunker Hill. But the peace of that night was not going to last for long: “The entrenchments, by the well-directed labor of the night were raised about six feet high, and were first seen at early dawn, on the seventeenth of June, by the sailors on board the men of war.

The Captain of the Lively, without waiting for orders, put a spring in her cable,  (And here Ward says: “swung her about so as to bring her guns to bear,”[1]) and opened fire on the American works; and the sound of the guns, breaking the calmness of a fine summer’s morning, alarmed the British camp, and summoned the population of Boston and vicinity to gaze upon the novel  spectacle.”[2]

Imagine yourself sleeping soundly in your house in Boston.  If you woke up at all during the night, you heard virtually nothing, for it was a quiet night.

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Then suddenly, the booming of the Lively’s cannons woke you up out of a dead sleep.  You bolt upright.  You focus on the sound to try to determine what is making the sound, for, at first, you are not fully awake.

And then it hits you.  Cannons are firing at something.  You open the window and you can see it is early dawn.  You can’t see much, but you can tell the firing is coming from the Charles River.

Now, if you are a British soldier, especially a British officer, the next thing you would do is put on your pants and the rest of your uniform. For all the British officers and soldiers would know the firing of those guns meant the time for fighting had come.

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If you were a British general, it would not be long before there was a knock at the door, requesting your presence at a council of war.  This was how the British response would begin, with a council of war. And this was true, for when the firing started, it wasn’t long before General Gage was calling for his generals to join him.

Boston_mapAllen French makes an interesting comment which applies to General Gage at that moment.  Consider what French says and look at the map.  Particularly notice the very narrow Charlestown Neck which French refers to as the isthmus.  He says: “And now was a chance for a display of military science on the part of Gage and his three major generals.  There stood the little low redoubt, unflanked and unsupported by any other fortifications, easily cut off from its own line of relief or retreat.

If now Gage had promptly seized the isthmus, drawn his ships up close, and dragged a battery to the top of Bunker Hill, the American force could very soon have been driven to surrender.” [3]

Actually French was not far off the mark in considering that to be a good plan.  When Gage summoned his generals together to discuss what to do, General Henry Clinton, one of the major generals under Gage, argued in favor of taking the neck and closing in the rebels from behind, and then bombarding Bunker Hill and Breed’s Hill. This would have involved the loss of very few British soldiers.

But Clinton’s plan wasn’t the only plan that was presented. It was General Howe’s recommendation that they make a frontal assault on the hill. Why a frontal assault?  Wouldn’t that be suicide?  One would think so, but the agreement to do this had to do with the attitude of the British officers:  “They regarded the idea that such a body of British veterans could be successfully resisted, to be as preposterous as the idea was that they were really besieged.”[4]

So, despite the obvious dangers of a frontal assault, General Gage approved of General Howe’s plan and gave him the responsibility for the attack.

[1] Christopher Ward, The War of the Revolution, p. 79.  Reprinted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.

[2] Richard Frothingham, p. 125.

[3] Allen French, The Siege of Boston, p. 69.

[4] Richard Frothingham, History of the Siege of Boston, And of the Battles of Lexington, Concord and Bunker Hill p. 115

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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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