Battle Of Bunker Hill The Battle of Bunker Hill – 17 JUN 1775 Following the events in Massachusetts at Lexington and Concord, April 19, 1775, state militiamen from Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Vermont gathered in Cambridge and the area surrounding Boston. British General Gage and 6,500 soldiers and marines were in possession of Boston proper, while the American force consisted of over 16,000 men. Sickness and missing brought the number of available soldiers closer to 9,000. In addition the American force was extremely short of gunpowder, having only some 30 or so half barrels of powder beyond that carried in the horns of the citizen soldiers. In the two months following Concord, efforts were made to bring organization and order to the United States Army.
But the work was difficult and the progress slow. By mid-June the army was still a collection of individual Militia regiments, headed by officers who were viewed more as friends and fellow citizens of the common soldier rather than trained and capable leaders. The Continental Congress was working on legislation to regularize the militia and see that they were paid by the Congress, but by mid-June still had not acted.To make matters worse, militia units were responsible only to their own militia commanders and their own state governments. General Artemus Ward was commanding general of the Massachusetts militia, leading the largest contingent of troops, and held nominal authority over the non-Massachusetts forces. General Gage considered his force too small to effectively attack the Rebels and hold the countryside outside of Boston. At the same time he became concerned that the surrounding heights of Dorchester and Charlestown provided an excellent opportunity for Rebels to place cannon and threaten Boston.
Consequently, he began to plan measures to secure these strategic positions. But word leaked out and the Boston Committee of Safety recommended to Ward that he beat the British to their own move and seize Bunker Hill above Charlestown.Col. William Prescott supported the plan and was asked to lead a night mission to establish a redoubt (small fort) on Bunkers Hill. Together with 300 men of Prescott’s regiment, and parts of Ebenezer Bridge’s and Colonel James Frye’s regiment were added 200 Connecticut men under Captain Thomas Knowlton from Putnam’s regiment and Captain Samuel Gridley’s artillery company with two light guns. About 5 o’clock in the evening of June 16th this force assembled on the common in Cambridge and after a prayer set off quietly for the Horse’s Neck. Positioned like a drop of ink extending into the harbor just to the north of Boston, the Charlestown peninsula is approximately one and a quarter miles long and lies between the Charles River on the West and the Mystic river on the East.
On the north, the peninsula is joined to the mainland by a narrow stretch of land (called the Neck), which is only thirty feet wide at high tide.Bunker’s Hill rises across the narrow western end of the peninsula and at 100 feet high, dominates the Neck of the peninsula. Any fortifications constructed there would be out of effective range of the British battery on Copp’s Hill in Boston and would be too high to allow elevation of shipboard guns in the harbor. To the south and east of Bunker’s Hill lies Breed’s Hill, some 60 feet high gradually sloping to the harbor and Charlestown to its south and west. Under the cover of darkness, the American force crossed the Neck and mounted Bunker’s Hill. On the far slope the column stopped and a violent argument broke out among the leaders, with Prescott saying that Ward’s verbal orders had been to fortify the lower and more exposed Breed’s Hill.Colonel Gridley, who was serving the role of engineer added to the problem contending that valuable time was being lost. At last the decision was made to make Breed’s Hill the primary fortification and Bunker Hill the secondary fortification, if and when time permitted.
The column moved on the Breed’s Hill where at its farthest point, Gridley staked out the outline of a redoubt approximately 132 feet square. As the clock struck midnight, the men began to dig, throwing up dirt as quickly as they possibly could. Prescott next detailed a company to patrol the shore and another to lie by close to the town.
About 4 o’clock, the lookout on His Majesty’s sloop-of-war Lively, with 20 guns, spotted the work on the redoubt and sounded the alarm. Captain Thomas Bishop immediately beat to quarters and opened fire on the redoubt. Bishop who had recently been found guilty by court-martial for intentional neglect of duty over the disposition of the proceeds of a captured Spanish ship was doubtlessly determined not to be seen being neglectful agaThe Admiral of the fleet, sent a boat to stop the shooting but then seeing the problem for himself in the improving light, ordered his ships and the Copp’s Hill battery to open fire on the redoubt.
Gage called a hasty council of war. After exploring a number of options with Generals Clinton and Howe, Gage decided on an amphibious assault with a landing on Moulton’s Point below Breed’s Hill.In the meantime, Prescott’s men had consumed their one-day’s ration in the course of digging the redoubt and a lucky cannonball had crashed the two barrels of water that had been brought along.
As the cannon bombardment continued, the men in the redoubt began to question the wisdom of remaining under fire. In the light of the full day, British troops could be seen across the harbor assembling in Boston. Colonel Prescott was determined to fight. He had already alleviated the men’s fears by leaping to the parapet after the first man was killed by a cannon shot, and slowly strolling along its exposed top to demonstrate the relative lack of danger from cannon fire.Now with the British preparing operations against them they were ready to leave.
In fact some did leave, heading up and over Bunker’s Hill and on to the Neck and Cambridge. In the meantime, General Issac Putnam had ridden out to confer with Col. Prescott soon after the Lively open …