The Battle of Bunker Hill: Part Four

Battle_Bunker_HillWith General Howe’s plan approved, preparations began for their attack on the redoubt on Breed’s Hill.  Troop transport boats were readied.  Troops were brought to the docks for loading, and as the British prepared, those in Boston who watched were focused on the redoubt where Colonel Prescott was standing.  Not only were individuals in Boston focused on that redoubt, but the men on the British ships in the bay:

“From Copp’s Hill (which can be seen on the map), from Barton’s Point, from five ships of war (Somerset, Lively and Falcon are pictured on the map , and from a couple of floating batteries (pictured as gondolas on the map), such a storm of roundshot was poured upon the redoubt that its defenders were amazed, and on the death of a comrade were ready to stop work.

But Prescott, coolly insisting—against the protest of a horrified chaplain—that the body be immediately buried, took his stand upon the parapet and from there directed the finishing of the redoubt.

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In this position he was seen from Boston.  Gage, handing his field glasses to a Tory who stood near him, asked if he recognized the rebel.  The Tory was Willard of Lancaster…who well knew Prescott’s declared intention never to be taken alive. “He is my brother-in-law,” he replied.  “Will he fight?” asked Gage.  “I cannot answer for his men,” Willard replied, “but Prescott will fight you to the gates of hell.” At the redoubt one of  Prescott’s aides followed his example, and walking back and forth on the parapet, the two gave courage to their men.” [1]

Clearly, what Prescott did was a bold move.  Prescott was much like Putnam who had made the recommendation to man the hill in the first place, for they were both brave men.

As to what role these brave men would play that warm June day, Prescott was the one who had been given the orders to build the redoubt and the defend it until relieved. Therefore “it seems to be beyond doubt…that Prescott from the first was in command at the redoubt, and that Putnam assumed, and tried to execute, general oversight of the field of contest outside the redoubt and beyond the breastwork.” [2]

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Putnam did his job very well.  Speaking of Putnam, Christopher Ward says: “His particular post was on Bunker’s Hill, where he had planned to erect defenses to cover a possibly necessary retreat from Breed’s. But while waiting for the completion of the redoubt, so as to get the entrenching tools, he was never idle; “burning with zeal and intrepidity,” he was riding about here, there, and everywhere. Twice he had ridden to Cambridge, crossing the Neck through the ships’ fire there, fearless and unhurt, to demand reinforcements. He was now at Breed’s, now at Bunker’s, now at the Neck or at any other place on the peninsula.” [3]

Regarding the work at the redoubt, French tells us how the men reacted after Prescott got upon the parapet: “These fell to and completed the work.  The rampart (a defensive wall with a broad top with a walkway and a parapet) was raised to a considerable height, platforms of earth or wood were made inside for the defenders, and at about eleven o’clock the men stacked their tools and were ready.” [4]

When the work was done, the men finally settled down in the fort.  But that did not continue for long: “Cooped up in this little fort, inadequately protected against flanking with shot continually striking on the sides of the redoubt, Prescott’s men waited.

They had worked all night and most of the morning, had little food and water, saw as yet nothing of the relief that had been promised them, and could tell by the fever of activity visible in Boston’s streets that the redcoats would soon come against them.

There was no wonder that when Putnam rode up and asked for the entrenching tools (proposing with the best military good sense, to make a supporting redoubt on Bunker Hill), many of Prescott’s men were glad of the excuse to remove themselves from so dangerous a neighborhood.  Of those who carried back the tools, few returned.  But Prescott’s remainder was staunch.  The men were already veterans, having endured the work and the cannonade.”

Waiting in the fort, some of them could appreciate the marvel of the scene: a great stretch of intermingled land and water, the shipping spread below, close at hand the town of Charlestown, and across the narrow river the larger town of Boston with its heights and house-tops already crowded by non-combatants, viewing the field that was prepared for the slaughter.  It was all in bright and warm weather, under a cloudless sky.[5]

About twelve o’clock, the several regiments marched through the streets of Boston to their places of  embarkation, and two ships of war moved up the Charles River to join the others in firing on the works.

Suddenly the redoubled roar of the cannon announced that the crisis was at hand.  The Falcon and the Lively swept the low grounds in front of Breed’s Hill, to dislodge any parties of troops that might be posted there to oppose a landing;  (see lines of fire on map.) the Somerset and two floating batteries at the ferry, and the battery at Copps Hill, poured shot upon the American works; the Glasgow frigate, and the  Symmetry transport, moored further up the Charles River, raked the Neck.”[6]

“From the wharves pushed out into the placid water the boats of the fleet, loaded to the gunwales with soldiers in full equipment.[7]

This force was put under the command of General Howe, who had under him Brigadier General Pigot, and some of the most distinguished officers in Boston. He was ordered to drive the Americans from their works.”[8]

It was to be General William Howe, “the expert on amphibious operations, the authority on light infantry, the student of American fighting methods”[9] who was in charge of the British troops.

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

[2] Ibid. p. 70.

[3] Christopher Ward, The War of the Revolution, p. 81-82. Reprinted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.

[4] Allen French, The Siege of Boston, p. 69-70.

[5] Allen French, The Siege of Boston, p. 70.

[6] Richard Frothingham, History of the Siege of Boston, And of the Battles of Lexington, Concord and Bunker Hill p. 131.

[7] Allen French, The Siege of Boston, p. 70.

[8] Richard Frothingham, p. 131.

[9] Don Higginbotham, The War of American Independence, p. 72.

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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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