The Battle of Bunker Hill: Part Seven

Bunker_Hill_by_PyleAt the end of the first assault, two things should be noteworthy.  First, the British had to withdraw because their ranks were decimated.  The second thing we need to be aware of was the fact that Putnam tried to bring some reinforcements to Prescott and the men in the redoubt. “There were pitifully few in the redoubt now, no more than a hundred and fifty. Putnam, who had been at the fence, rode back over Bunker’s Hill, where there were hundreds of men, calling on them to reinforce Prescott.

He rode down to the Neck. Ward (the commander of the Massachusetts provincial army) had sent men from Cambridge; but they had halted, fearing to penetrate the feeble barrage still be laid down upon that isthmus.

Putnam rode through it, called on them to follow him, and rode back again, entreating them to come on.  A few did, but only a few.  Not did he get many more from Bunker’s Hill.” [1]

Ted Cruz 2016


Notice here a big problem.  There were hundreds of Americans up on Bunker Hill apparently just watching the battle.  Prescott and his men in the redoubt were in the heat of the battle and were few in number.  They needed help, but the men on Bunker Hill refused to come and help their fellow Americans in fighting for their freedoms.

Because of this, the men in the redoubt didn’t get hardly any help when there were hundreds of men available.  This is one of the disappointing aspects about the American side, especially considering the fact that the battle was not over.  The British were coming again.

“Howe gave the order, the troops formed again, and again advanced to the attack.  The Americans admired them as they approached, preserving unbroken order, and stepping over the bodies of slain as if they had been logs of wood.”[2]

Woodrow Wilcox


“The American lines were silent, until the enemy were    within a hundred feet.  Then came a blast of fire, more devastating than before. An incessant stream of fire poured from the rebel lines;it seemed a continued sheet of fire for nearly thirty minutes.” [3]

“In the smoke the officers were seen urging their men,  striking them with their sword hilts, and even pricking them with the points.  But it was in vain. The officers themselves were shot down in unheard-of proportion, and at the rail fence those who survived out of full companies of thirty-nine were in some cases only three, or four, or five.

Bunker_hill_second_attackNothing could be done under such a fire.  Leaving their dead within a few yards of the American lines, for a second time the British retreated.” [4]

As I consider what I would call “wholesale slaughter,” I wonder what the people who were watching from Boston were thinking.  They had wanted to see the battle, and now here it was.

What about General Gage?  He was the one who approved of the plan. What was he thinking?  Did he understand how bad it was?  Did it grieve him?  Did he care for the men who died before his eyes?

Then there was General Howe.  He was the man who recommended the plan.  And to his credit, he did march up the hill with his men.  But now what would he do?

Howe pulled his men back several hundred yards below the redoubt. “General Howe, exasperated at the repeated repulses of his troops, resolved to make another assault.  Some of his  officers remonstrated against this decision, and averred that it would be downright butchery to lead the men on again; but the British honor was at stake, and other officers preferred any sacrifice rather than suffer defeat from a collection of armed rustics.

He ordered the men to lay aside their knapsacks, to move forward in column, to reserve their fire, to rely on the bayonet, to direct their main attack on the redoubt.”[5]

“The artillery was to be pushed forward into the gap between the east end of the breastwork and the west end of the rail fence, so as to enfilade (a volley of gunfire directed along a line from end to end) the breastwork and drive out its defenders.  Preparations were made accordingly.” [6]

As the preparations were being made, a reinforcement of four hundred Marines arrived to help in Howe’s next assault.  No doubt, Prescott and Putnam saw the four hundred Marines arrive.  While they couldn’t be sure, at least it looked like another attempt was going to be made.  Therefore, the Americans needed to be ready.

This being the situation, Prescott did everything he could think of to be sure they were ready for what he was convinced would be the last time the British would try to take the hill. “He passed around the lines to encourage his men, and assured them that if the  British were once more driven back they could not be rallied again. His men cheered him as they replied, “We are ready for the redcoats again.”

But his worst apprehensions, as to ammunition, were realized, as the report was made to him that a few artillery cartridges constituted the whole stock of powder on hand.  He ordered them to be opened, and the powder to be distributed.  He charged his soldiers  “not to waste a kernel of it, but to make it certain that every shot should tell.”  He directed the few who had bayonets to be stationed at the points most likely to be scaled.” [7]

This almost reminds me of the men in the Alamo waiting for Santa Anna and his Mexicans to make their last assault on the Alamo, except that in the case of Prescott’s men, it wasn’t quite that desperate.  But it was desperate.

Put yourself in Prescott’s shoes. You have not received the reinforcements you need.  Your men are just about out of powder; one shot is all they have.  If that one shot which you have told them to wait until the last moment to fire doesn’t stop the redcoats, it is going to be hand to hand, using your musket as a club, defending your very life with all the strength you have, and hoping you make it out of there alive. Despite the fact that you know this, you haven’t left the redoubt because your sense of duty tells you to hold your position.

[1] Christopher Ward, The War of the Revolution, p. 91.  Reprinted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.

[2] Allen French, The Siege of Boston, p. 72.

[3] Christopher Ward, The War of the Revolution, p. 92.  Reprinted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.

[4] Allen French, The Siege of Boston p. 72.

[5] Richard Frothingham, History of the Siege of Boston, And of the Battles of Lexington, Concord and Bunker Hill p. 148.

[6] Christopher Ward, The War of the Revolution, p. 95.  Reprinted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.

[7] Richard Frothingham,  p. 147-148.

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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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