« PreviousContinue »
Disposition of the American Troops.
Preparations for Blockading Boston.
Charlestown and adjacent Grounds.
ment were at Chelsea; Stark's regiment was at Medford, and Reid's at Charlestown Neck,
with sentinels reaching to Penny Ferry and Bunker Hill. It was made known to the Committee of Safety that General Gage had fixed upon the night of the 18th of June to take possession of and fortify Bunker Hill and Dorchester Heights. This brought matters to a crisis, and measures were taken to perfect the blockade of Boston. The Committee of Safety ordered Colonel Prescott, with a detachment of one thousand men, including a company of artillery, with two field-pieces, to march at night and throw up intrenchments upon Bunker Hill, an eminence just within the peninsula of Charlestown, and commanding the great northern road from Boston, as well as a considerable portion of the town. To make the relative position of the eminences upon the Charlestown peninsula and the Neck, to Boston, more intelligible to the reader, I have copied from Frothingham's History of the Siege of Boston, by permission of the author, the annexed sketch, communicated to him, in a manuscript of 1775, from Henry Stevens, Esq. I also quote from Mr. Frothingham's work a description of the localities about Bunker Hill. The peninsula of Charlestown is opposite the north part of Boston, and is about a mile in length from north to south. Its greatest breadth, next to Boston, is about half a mile. It is connected with the main land by a narrow isthmus or neck. The Mystic River, half a mile wide, is on the east, and the Charles River, here formed into a large bay, is on the west, a part of which, by a dam stretching in the direction of Cobble Hill, is a mill-pond. [See map, page 543.] In 1775, an artificial cause. way  was so low as to be frequently overflowed by the tides. communication with Boston was by
The Charulestown in 1775.1
a ferry, where Charles River bridge is, and with Malden by another, called Penny Ferry, where Malden Bridge now is. Near the Neck, on the main land, was a large green, known as the Common. Two roads ran by it: one in a westerly direction, as now, by Cobble Hill (MLean Asy. lum), Prospect Hill, and Inman's Woods, to Cambridge Common; the other in a northerly direction, by Plowed Hill (Mount Benedict) and Winter Hill, to Medford—the direct road to West Cambridge not having been laid out in 1775. Bunker Hill begins at the isthmus, and rises gradually for about three hundred yards, forming a round, smooth hill, sloping on two sides toward the water, and connected by a ridge of ground on the south with the heights now known as Breed's Hill. This was a well-known public place, the name, “Bunker Hill,” being found in the town records and in deeds from an early period. Not so with “Breed's Hill,” for it was not named in any description of streets previous to 1775, and appears to have been called after the owners of the pastures into which it was divided, rather than by the common name of Breed's Hill. Thus, Monument Square was called Russell's Pasture ; Breed's Pasture lay further south, and Green's Pasture was at the head of Green Street. The easterly and westerly sides of this height were steep. On the east, at its base, were brick-kilns, claypits, and much sloughy land. On the west side, at the base, was the most settled part of the town . Moulton's Point, a name coeval with the settlement of the town, constituted the southeastern corner of the peninsula. A part of this tract formed what is called Morton's Hill. Bunker Hill was one hundred and ten feet high, Breed's Hill sixty-two
' No. 1 is Bunker Hill; 2, Breed's Hill; 3, Moulton's Point; 4, a causeway near the Neck, at the foot of Bunker Hill; 5, Charlestown, at the foot of Breed's Hill.
Charlestown Neck is on the extreme left.
night March to Bunker and Breed's Hill. A Fortification planned on Bunker Hill. British Wessels in Boston Haroor,
feet, and Moulton's Hill  thirty-five feet. The principal street of the peninsula was Main Street, which extended from the Neck to the ferry. A road ran over Bunker Hill, around Breed's Hill, to Moulton's Point. The westerly portions of these eminences contained fine orchards.”
A portion of the regiments of Prescott,” Frye, and Bridge, and a fatigue party of two hundred Connecticut troops with intrenching tools, paraded in the Cambridge camp at six o'clock in the evening. They were furnished with packs and blankets, and ordered June is to take provisions for twenty-four hours. Samuel Gridley's company of artillery 177% joined them, and the Connecticut troops were placed under the command of Thomas Knowlton, a captain in Putnam's regiment, who was afterward killed in the battle on Harlem Heights. After an impressive prayer from the lips of President Langdon, of Harvard Col. lege, Colonel Prescott and Richard Gridley, preceded by two servants with dark lanterns, commenced their march, at the head of the troops, for Charlestown. It was about nine o'clock at night, the sky clear and starry, and the weather very warm. Strict silence was enjoined, and the object of the expedition was not known to the troops until they arrived at Charlestown Neck, where they were joined by Major Brooks, of Bridge's regiment, and General Putnam. A guard of ten men was placed in Charlestown, and the main body marched over Bunker Hill. A council was held, to select the best place for the proposed fortification. The order was explicit, to fortify Bunker Hill; but Breed's Hill being nearer Boston, and appearing to be a more eligible place, it was concluded to proceed to fortify it, and to throw up works, also, on Bunker Hill, to cover a retreat, if necessary, across Charlestown Neck. Colonel Gridley marked out the lines of the proposed fortifications, and, at about midnight, the men, having thrown off their packs and stacked their arms, began their perilous work—perilous, because British sentinels and British ships-of-war were almost within sound of their picks.”
“No shout disturbed the night,
* Frothingham, page 129.
* William Prescott was born at Groton, Massachusetts, in 1726. His father was for some years a counselor of Massachusetts, and his mother was a daughter of another counselor. He was a lieutenant of foot under General Winslow, at the capture of Cape Breton, where he was distinguished for his bravery. He inherited a large estate, and resided at Pepperell while the Revolution was ripening. He had command of a regiment of minute men, and when the news of the affair at Lexington reached him, promptly marched thither at the head of as many as he could collect. His known military talents caused him to be selected by General Ward for the important duty of fortifying Bunker Hill; and in the memorable engagement that occurred there on the 17th of June, 1775, he was the chief in command, and was greatly distinguished by his bravery and skill. That evening, although repulsed, and his troops greatly fatigued and much dispirited, he solicited from the Committee of Safety permission to make an attempt to retake the peninsula of Charlestown. It was a movement too perilous, and the gallant soldier was obliged to rest. He continued in the service through 1776, and served as a volunteer under Gates until the surrender of Burgoyne in 1777. From 1786 until his death he was an acting magistrate in his native town. He died in Pepperell on the 13th of October, 1795, aged sixty-nine. William H. Prescott, of Boston, the eminent historian, is a grandson of Colonel Prescott. He married a grand-daughter of Captain Linzee, who commanded the sloop of war Falcon, that cannonaded the works on Breed's Hill on the 17th of June, 1775. The swords then used by Colonel Prescott and Captain Linzee, the respective grandfathers of the historian and his wife, are now in Mr. Prescott's possession, and are crossed, in a conspicuous place, in his valuable library at Boston.
* The following are the names of the British vessels then in the harbor of Boston, which took part in the battle that ensued: Somerset, 68 guns, 520 men, Captain Edward Le Cras; Cerberus, 36 guns, Captain Chads; Glasgow, 24 guns, 130 men, Captain William Maltby; Lively, 20 guns, 130 men, Captain Thomas Bishop; Falcon, Captain Linzee; Symmetry, transport, 18 nine pounders. See the British Annual Register for 1775. The Falcon lay off Moulton's, or Morton's, Point; the Lively lay opposite the present navyyard; the Somerset was at the ferry; the Glasgow was near Cragie's Bridge; and the Cerberus and several floating batteries were within gunshot of the American works.--Frothingham.
Construction of the Redoubt on Breed's Hill. Discovery of the Works by the Enemy. Surprise of the People of Boston
No plumes were there,
No banners fair,
Broke on the midnight air.”—John NEAL.
Officers and men labored together with all their might, with pickaxes and spades, and were cheered on in their work by the distant signals of safety—“All's well!”—that came from the shipping, and the sentinels at the foot of Copp's Hill. It proclaimed that they were still undiscovered; and at every cry of “All's well!” they plied their tools with increased vigor. When the day dawned, at about four o'clock, they had thrown up intrenchments six feet high; and a strong redoubt, which was afterward the admiration of the enemy, loomed up on the green height before the wondering eyes of the astonished Britons like a work of magic. The British officers could hardly be convinced that it was the result of a few hours' labor only, but deemed it the work of days. Gage Plas or rue Repover os paren's hit. saw at once how foolish he had been in not taking possession of this strong point, as advised, while it was in his power to do so. The fortification was first discovered at dawn, by the watchmen on board the Lively. Without waiting for orders, the captain put springs upon his cables, and opened a fire on the American works. The noise of the cannon aroused the sleepers in Boston, and when the sun arose on that bright morning, every eminence and roof in the city swarmed with people, astonished at the strange apparition upon Breed's Hill. The shots from the Lively did no harm, and, defended by their intrenchments, the Americans plied their labor in strengthening their works within, until called to lay aside the pick and shovel for gun and knapsack. Admiral Graves, the naval commander at Boston, ordered the firing to cease; but it was soon renewed, not only by the shipping, but from a battery of six guns upon Copp's Hill in June 17, the city. Gage summoned a council of war early in the morning. As it was ev” ident that the Americans were rapidly gaining strength, and that the safety of the town was endangered, it was unanimously resolved to send out a force to drive them from the peninsula of Charlestown and destroy their works on the heights. It was decided, also, to make the attack in front, and preparations were made accordingly. The drums beat to arms, and Boston was soon in a tumult. Dragoons galloping, artillery trains rumbling, and the marching and countermarching of the regulars and loyalists, together with the clangor
* This plan is copied from an English drawing of the time, first published in the London Gentleman's Magazine for 1775.
Explanation.—A A represents the situation of two strong fences, composed-of stones and rails; a and b, two well-contrived flanks, so arranged that their fires crossed within twenty yards of the face of the redoubt; c, another well-arranged flank; d, a bastion, with its flanks e and b; m, a small portion of a trench, that extended from the eastern side of the redoubt to a slough at the foot of the hill toward the Mystic River. On the southeast side of the redoubt was a deep hollow. Two cannons were placed in embrasures at the front of the redoubt, in the two salient angles of which were large apple-trees.
This redoubt was eight rods square. The Bunker Hill Monument now occupies its center. The eastern side commanded an extensive field. On the north side was an open passage-way, and the breastwork upon the eastern side extended about one hundred yards north. This trench was incomplete when the battle began. Between the south end of the breast-work and the redoubt was a sally-port, protected by a blind, and on the inside of the parapet were steps of wood and earth for the men to mount and fire. Between the slough and the rail fence on the east was an open space, and this was the weakest part of the lines. Such were the American works of defense when the battle of the 17th of June commenced.
Cowardice of the Tories. Crossing of a British Force from Boston to Charlestown. Bravery of Prescott. New England Flag.
of the church bells, struck dismay into many a heart before stout in the presence of British protectors. It is said that the danger which surrounded the city converted many Tories into patriots; and the selectmen, in the midst of that fearful commotion, received large accessions to their list of professed friends from the ranks of the timid loyalists.
Toward moon, between two and three thousand picked men, from the British army, under the command of General Sir William Howe and General Pigot, embarked in twenty-eight barges, part from the Long Wharf and some from the North Battery, in Boston, and landed at Morton's, or Moulton's Point,' beyond the eastern foot of Breed's Hill, covered by the guns of the Falcon and other vessels.
“About two thousand were embarked to go
The Americans had worked faithfully on their intrenchments all the morning, and were greatly encouraged by the voice and example of Prescott, who exposed himself, without care, to the random shots of the battery on Copp's Hill.” He supposed, at first, that the enemy would not attack him, but, seeing the movements in the city, he was convinced to the contrary, and comforted his toiling troops with assurances of certain victory. Confident of such a result himself, he would not at first send to General Ward for a re-enforcement; but between nine and ten o'clock, by advice of his officers, Major Brooks was dispatched to head-quarters for that purpose. General Putnam had urged Ward early in the morning to send fresh troops to relieve those on duty; but only a portion of Stark's regiment was allowed to go, as the general apprehended that Cambridge would be the principal point of attack. Convinced otherwise, by certain intelligence, the remainder of Stark's regiment, and the whole of Reed's corps, on the Neck, were ordered to re-enforce Prescott. At twelve o'clock the men in the redoubt ceased work, sent off their intrenching tools, took some refreshments, hoisted the New England flag, and prepared to fight. The intrenching tools were sent to Bunker Hill, where, under the direction of General Putnam, the men began to throw up a breast-work. Some of the more timid soldiers made the removal of the tools a pretext for leaving the redoubt, and never returned.
It was between twelve and one o'clock when the Brit
The NEw England Flag.”
* This is written Morton, Moreton, and Moulton, by different authors. Morton is the proper name. * From “The American War,” a poem in six books, published in London, 1786. * A soldier (Asa Pollard, of Billerica) who had ventured outside of the redoubt, was killed by a cannon ball. The circumstance so alarmed those within, that some of them left the hill. Prescott, to inspire his men with confidence, walked leisurely around the works upon the parapet, in full view of the British officers in Boston. Gage, who was reconnoitering the works through a glass, saw his tall and commanding form, and asked Counselor Willard, who stood near him, who it was. Willard, recognizing his brother-inlaw, said, “That is Colonel Prescott.” “Will he fight?” inquired Gage. “Yes, sir,” replied Willard; “he is an old soldier, and will fight as long as a drop of blood remains in his veins.” “The works must be carried immediately,” responded Gage, as he turned upon his heel to give orders. * This is copied from an old Dutch work, preserved in the library of the New York Historical Society, containing pictures of the flags of all nations. In the original, a divided sphere, representing the earth, is in the quarter where I have placed the pine-tree. I have made the alteration in the device, because in the flag raised upon the bastion of the redoubt on Breed's Hill, the pine-tree occupied the place of the sphere, the more ancient device. The question has been unsettled respecting the flag used on that occasion, as cotemporary writers are silent on the subject. An intelligent old lady (Mrs. Manning) whom I saw between the Brandywine and Kennet Square, in Pennsylvania, informed me that her father, who was in the battle, assisted in hoisting the standard, and she had heard him speak of it as a “noble flag.” The ground was blue, and one corner was quartered by the red cross of St. George, in one section of which was the pine-tree. This was the New England flag, as given in the sketch. Doubtless there were many other flags belonging to the several regiments. Botta says of Dr. Warren, during the retreat, “Finding the corps
Excitement in Cambridge. Re-enforcements for both Parties. Sufferings of the Provincials. Warren and Pomeroy.
ish troops, consisting of the fifth, thirty-eighth, forty-third, and fifty-second battalions of infantry, two companies of grenadiers, and two of light-infantry, landed, their rich uniforms and arms flashing and glittering in the noonday sun, making an imposing and formidable display. General Howe reconnoitered the American works, and, while waiting for re-enforcements, which he had solicited from Gage, allowed his troops to dine. When the intelligence of the landing of the enemy reached Cambridge, two miles distant, there was great excitement in the camp and throughout the town. The drums beat to arms, the bells were rung, and the people and military were speedily hurrying in every direction. General Ward used his own regiment, and those of Paterson and Gardner and a part of Bridge's, for the defense of Cambridge. The remainder of the Massachusetts troops were ordered to Charlestown, and thither General Putnam conducted those of Connecticut. At about two o'clock the re-enforcement for Howe arrived, and landed at the present navy-yard. It consisted of the forty-seventh battalion of infantry, a battalion of marines. and some grenadiers and light infantry. The whole force (about four thousand men) was commanded and directed by the most skillful British officers then in Boston;' and every man preparing to attack the undisciplined provincials was a drilled soldier, and quite perfect in the art of war. It was an hour of the deepest anxiety among the patriots on Breed's Hill. They had observed the whole martial display, from the time of the embarkation until the forming of the enemy's line for battle. For the Americans, as yet, very little succor had arrived. Hunger and thirst annoyed them, while the labors of the night and morning weighed them down with excessive fatigue. Added to this was the dreadful suspicion that took possession of their minds, when only feeble re-enforcements arrived, that treachery had placed them there for the purpose of sacrifice. Yet they could not doubt the patriotism of their principal officers, and before the action commenced their suspicions were scattered to the winds by the arrival of their beloved Dr. Warren and General Pomeroy.” Warren. who was president of the Provincial Congress, then sitting at Watertown, seven miles distant, informed of the landing of the enemy, hastened toward Charlestown, though suffering from sickness and exhaustion. He had been commissioned a major general four days before. Putnam, who was at Cambridge, forwarding provisions and re-enforcements to Charlestown, tried to dissuade him from going into the battle. Warren was not to be diverted from his purpose, and mounting a horse, he sped across the Neck and entered the redoubt, amid the loud cheers of the provincials, just as Howe gave orders to advance. Colonel Prescott of: fered the command to Warren, as his superior, when the latter replied, “I am come to fight as a volunteer, and feel honored in being allowed to serve under so brave an officer.” While the British troops were forming, and preparing to march along the Mystic River for the purpose of flanking the Americans and gaining their rear, the artillery, with two field-pieces, and Captain Knowlton, with the Connecticut troops, left the redoubt, took a
he commanded hotly pursued by the enemy, despising all danger, he stood alone before the ranks, endeavoring to rally his troops, and encouraging them by his own example. He reminded them of the mottoes inscribed on their ensigns, on one side of which were these words, “..An appeal to Heaven,” and on the other, ‘Qui transtulit, sustinet;’ meaning, that the same providence that brought their ancestors through so many perils to a place of refuge, would also deign to support their descendants.” Botta often exhibits more poetry than truth in his brilliant narrative. After the battle under consideration, and while Putnam commanded on Prospect Hill, a flag with the inscription above given was presented to him, and was first unfurled on the 18th of July ensuing. The author of “The Veil Removed” properly treats the assertion of Botta as a fiction, and sarcastically remarks that, “instead of such a sentimental allusion to Latin mottoes. the only command, when their ammunition was spent, must have been Sauve qui peut, ‘Save himself who can.’” Qui transtulit, sustinet, is the motto in the seal of Connecticut. * The most distinguished British officers that accompanied General Howe were General Pigot; Colonels Nesbit, Abercrombie, and Clark; Majors Butler, Williams, Bruce, Spendlove, Smelt, Mitchell, Pitcairn, Short, Small, and Lord Rawdon. * General Pomeroy left Cambridge when he heard the first sound of the cannon. The veteran borrowed a horse from General Ward, to ride to Charlestown, but, observing that the guns of the Glasgow raked the Neck by an enfilading fire, he was afraid to risk the borrowed animal. Leaving him in charge of a sentry, he walked across the Neck, and, with a borrowed musket, joined the troops at the rail fence as a volunteer. He was well known, and a loud huzza welcomed him to the post of danger.