The Battle of Bunker Hill: Part Eight

1832.1Apparently, six pound balls had by then arrived so the cannons could be used. According to Frothingham, the artillery soon reached its appointed station between the east end of the breastwork and the rail fence.  “(And it) enfiladed the line of the breastwork, drove its defenders into the redoubt for protection, and did much execution within it by sending its balls through the passage way.”[1]

So here the British were coming again, except this time you only had one bullet left, and the same with the man next to you and the man next to him, on down the line.  So, you waited, determined to make sure your one bullet found its mark and hoping that everyone else’s bullet did the same.  And you waited, knowing this time it was more serious. You sensed your pulse quickening as you focused on the redcoats coming toward you and heard their artillery raking the American line on your left. You checked your sight.  You picked out one of the redcoats in the front and  just focused on him now, waiting for Colonel Prescott to say the word. Closer and closer they came. “NOW,” Colonel Prescott shouted. You and everyone next to you down the line pulled the trigger, praying their bullet would find its mark.

“At this distance a deadly volley was poured upon the  advancing columns, which made them waver for an instant, but they sprang forward without returning it.”[2]

Ted Cruz 2016


The redcoats were running towards you now, and there was little to stop them. For “the American fire soon slackened for want of  means.”[3]  The tide of battle was turning, and you knew it.  And they vastly outnumbered you.  And you could see their bayonets being held forward, and the earnestness in their faces. This was going to be a fight to the death.

“The columns of Clinton and Pigot reached a position on the southern and eastern sides of the redoubt, where they were protected by its walls.”[4] No doubt they did that because they weren’t sure how many bullets you had left. And, no doubt, the pause was temporary while they marshaled their forces for the next move. It was time for a man like Colonel Prescott.

Historians report that Prescott was cool, self-possessed in danger.  That was the kind of man he was.  And because he was cool and self-possessed in danger, he knew what to do. “Prescott ordered those who had no bayonets to retire to the back of it, and fire on the enemy as they showed themselves on the parapet. A soldier…mounted the southern side, and had barely shouted, ‘The day is ours!’ when he was shot down, and the whole front rank shared his fate.”[5]

Woodrow Wilcox


So far, so good. “But the defenders had spent their ammunition, another cannon cartridge furnishing the powder for the last muskets that were fired; and its substitute, stones, revealed their weakness, and filled the enemy with hope.”[6]

Knowing the situation, you did the only thing you could do. You stood shoulder to shoulder with your friends and got ready for hand to hand combat.  Hand to hand it was.  “Many…received wounds with swords and bayonets.”[7]

The British kept coming, now from three sides. More and more redcoats were entering the redoubt “and were advancing toward the Americans when Colonel Prescott gave the order to retreat.”[8]

It must have been awful scary at that moment with redcoats entering from three sides. “For a few moments the fighting was fierce….It might be supposed that the slaughter was great.”[9]  But then something happened the British did not plan on, for they thought they were about to slaughter the rebels. “But the British, for the very reason that they had entered from three sides, were afraid to fire on the farmers for the sake of their own men; the dust rose up in clouds, and so in the confusion most of the defenders escaped.”[10]

Think of it! You think you are about to die.  But the British suddenly are afraid to fire for fear of hitting their own men and all of that dirt that had been dug up during the night which had been used to make the redoubt got dusted up with all of the redcoats and Americans moving around in the midst of their fighting.  You saw your opportunity to escape.

It was something the redcoats did not foresee. But God who declares the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things not yet done, did foresee it, and it was part of his plan. Many patriots escaped, including their leader.

“Prescott came off unhurt.  Those who saw him said that he ‘stepped along, with his sword up.’ He saved his life by parrying the bayonets which were thrust at him, although some of them pierced his clothes.”[11]

Here you were, safe, amazingly safe. After you stopped running, you looked back, and you recalled the last moments in the redoubt to mind.  Maybe you were now standing where you could see the redoubt and the panorama of everyone running with the British halting and letting your comrades go.  It was an incredible sight.  Incredible that is in view of the fact that five minutes ago, you knew you would be dead by now.  But you weren’t.

“That more were not killed in the pursuit was due to two factors.  The first was the exhaustion of the soldiers, who, tired with carrying heavy loads in the unwonted heat, were winded with their last charge up the hill.  They were therefore in no good condition to follow up their victory, and the fugitives were soon away beyond Bunker Hill.

Yet that the pursuit was so poor was due partly to the defenders of the rail fence.  These men, more like veteran regiments than fragments of many commands, withdrew in a body, continually threatening those who offered to close in from beyond.  The end of the fight was as honorable to them as its beginning.” [12]

Think about these men for a moment.  These men were quite different from the ones who stayed up on Bunker Hill and refused to reinforce the redoubt.  These were men of honor.  They understood their mission and carried it out to the very end.  They weren’t afraid to come across the Neck.  They weren’t afraid to put themselves in harm’s way and face the oncoming British.

This should cause us to do some reflection.  What has been the Charlestown Neck in our life that we have been willing to cross?  What mission has been so important to us that we have been willing to put ourselves in harm’s way?  Can you think of times in your life when duty was that important to you?

For some people in New England, that day was May 19, 1780.  “The place was Hartford, Connecticut.  The day has gone down in New England history as a terrible foretaste of Judgment Day.  For at noon the skies turned from blue to gray and by mid-afternoon had blackened over so densely that, in that religious age, men fell on their knees and begged a final blessing before the end came.

The Connecticut House of Representatives was in session.  As some of the men fell down and others clamored for an immediate adjournment, the Speaker of the House, one Colonel Davenport, came to his feet.

He silenced them and said these words: “The day of  Judgment is either approaching or it is not.  If it is not. there is no cause for adjournment.  If it is, I choose to be found doing my duty.  I wish, therefore, that candles may be brought.”[13]

Obviously, the men up on Bunker Hill watching the fighting below did not agree with Colonel Davenport. They were not willing to be found doing their duty.   They were not willing to accept the mission and purpose in life God would give them.

Friends, we need to learn from history.  One thing we learn from history is the way forward is the way of faith, living for a great Cause that honors God.  This is why in Joshua 1:9, the Lord says to Joshua, “Have I not commanded you?  “Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the  Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”Therefore, find a great cause that honors God.  Whether it is Samaritan’s Purse or Doctors without Borders or something else, find a cause that honors God and go for it.  For if you do, the work of God will be enhanced by your presence. However, if you do not, the work of God will be diminished.

Consider the effect of the men on the hill being unwilling to help Prescott’s men in the redoubt.  Some of Prescott’s men were killed because they ran out of ammunition and didn’t have someone step into the redoubt  alongside them and start firing away when they were no longer able.

How cool would it have been to be heroes of the moment?  If only the men on the hill would have come down before the third assault started, if only they would have stepped alongside their brothers in the Cause, said, “Step aside brother. I will take it from here,” and starting blasting away, the battle would have ended differently.

But they didn’t help.  And because they didn’t help, some brothers in the cause died and the peninsula was lost to the British. It did not need to happen, and there are things that don’t need to happen today. But they do happen because there are too many people who refuse to get involved.

This series on the Battle of Bunker Hill comes from Bob Wittstruck’s book, The Forgotten Factor of History God Rules, which, God willing, will be printed in March.

[1] Ibid., p. 149.

[2] Richard Frothingham, History of the Siege of Boston, And of the Battles of Lexington, Concord and Bunker Hill p. 149

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., p. 149-150.

[6] Ibid., p. 150.

[7] Richard Frothingham, History of the Siege of Boston, And of the Battles of Lexington, Concord and Bunker Hill, p. 150

[8] Ibid.

[9] Allen French, The Siege of Boston, p. 74

[10] Ibid.

[11] Allen French, p. 74.

[12] Allen French, The Siege of Boston, p. 74.

[13] Robert P. Dugan, Jr. Winning the New Civil War (Portland, OR: Multnomah Publishing, 1991) p. 183.

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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]
Bob Wittstruck
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