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March of the British toward the Redoubt. Position of the American Troops. Cannonade of the Redoubt.
position near Bunker Hill, and formed a breast-work seven hundred feet in length, which served an excellent purpose. A little in front of a strong stone and rail fence, Knowlton built another, and between the two was placed a quantity of new-mown grass. This apparently slight breast-work formed a valuable defense to the provincials. It was now three in the afternoon. The provincial troops were placed in an attitude of defense, as the British column moved slowly forward to the attack. Colonel Prescott and the original constructors of the redoubt, except the Connecticut troops, were within the works. General Warren also took post in the redoubt. Gridley and Callender's artillery companies were between the breast-works and rail fence on the eastern side. A few troops, recalled from Charlestown after the British landed, and a part of Warner's company, lined the cart-way on the right of the redoubt. The Connecticut and New Hampshire forces were at the rail fence on the west of the redoubt; and three companies were stationed in the Main Street at the foot of Breed's Hill. Before General Howe moved from his first position, he sent out strong flank guards, and directed his heavy artillery to play upon the American line. At the same time a blue flag was displayed as a signal, and the guns upon Copp's Hill, and the ships and floating batteries in the river, poured a storm of round shot upon the redoubt. A furious cannonade was opened at the same moment upon the right wing of the provincial army at Roxbury, to prevent re-enforcements being sent by General Thomas to Charlestown. Gridley' and Callender, with their field-pieces, returned a feeble response to the heavy guns of the enemy.
Gridley's guns were soon disabled; while Callender, who alleged that his cartridges were too large, withdrew to Bunker Hill. Putnam was there, and ordered him back to his first position. He disobeyed, and nearly all his men, more courageous than he, deserted him. In the mean while, Captain Walker, of Chelmsford, with fifty resolute men, marched down the hill near Charlestown, and greatly annoyed the enemy's left flank. Finding their posi
Captain Samuel Gridley was a son of Richard Gridley, the engineer. He was quite inefficient, and had received his appointment solely in compliment to his father.
The British Artillery. Silence of the Americans. Terrible Volleys from the Redoubt. Flight of the Enemy.
tion very perilous, they marched over to the Mystic, and did great execution upon the right flank. Walker was there wounded and made prisoner, but the greater part of his men succeeded in gaining the redoubt. Under cover of the discharges of artillery, the British army moved up the slope of Breed's Hill toward the American works, in two divisions, General Howe with the right wing, and General Pigot with the left. The former was to penetrate the American lines at the rail fence; the latter to storm the redoubt. They had not proceeded far before the firing of their artillery ceased, in consequence of discovering that balls too large for the field-pieces had been sent over from Boston. Howe ordered the pieces to be loaded with grape; but they soon became useless, on account of the miry ground at the base of the hill. Small arms and bayonets now became their reliance. Silently the British troops, burdened with heavy knapsacks, toiled up the ascent toward the redoubt, in the heat of a bright summer's sun. All was silent within the American intrenchments, and very few provincials were to be seen by the approaching battalions; but within those breast-works, and in reserve behind the hills, crouched fifteen hundred determined men, ready, at a prescribed signal, to fall upon the foe. The provincials had but a scanty supply of ammunition, and, to avoid wasting it by ineffectual shots, Prescott gave orders not to fire until the enemy were so near that the whites of their eyes could be seen. “Then,” he said, “aim at their waistbands; and be sure to pick off the commanders, known by their handsome coats!” The enemy were not so sparing of their powder and ball, but when within gunshot of the apparently deserted works, commenced a random firing. Prescott could hardly restrain his men from responding, and a few did disobey his orders and returned the fire. Putnam hastened to the spot, and threatened to cut down the first man who should again disobey orders, and quiet was restored. At length the enemy reached the prescribed distance, when, waving his sword over his head, Prescott shouted “FIRE " Terrible was the effect of the volley that ensued. Whole platoons of the British regulars were laid upon the earth, like grass by the mower's scythe. Other deadly volleys succeeded, and the enemy, disconcerted, broke, and fled toward the water. The provincials, joyed at seeing the regulars fly, wished to pursue them, and many leaped the rail fence for the purpose: but the prudence of the American officers kept them in check, and in a few minutes they were again within their works, prepared to receive a second attack from the British troops, that were quickly rallied by Howe. Colonel Prescott praised and encouraged his men, while General Putnam rode to Bunker Hill to urge on re-enforcements. Many had arrived at Charlestown Neck, but were deterred from crossing by the enfilading fire of the Glasgow and two armed gondolas near the causeway. Portions of regiments were scattered upon Bunker Hill and its vicinity, and these General Putnam, by entreaties and commands, endeavored to rally. Colonel Gerrish, who was very corpulent, became completely exhausted by fatigue; and other officers, wholly unused to warfare, coward-like kept at a respectful distance from danger. Few additional troops could be brought to Breed's Hill before the second attack was made. The British troops, re-enforced by four hundred marines from Boston, under Major Small, accompanied by Dr. Jeffries, the army surgeon, advanced toward the redoubt in the same order as at first, General Howe boldly leading the van, as he had promised." It was a mournful march over the dead bodies of scores of their fellow-soldiers; but with true English courage they pressed onward, their artillery doing more damage to the Americans than at the first assault. It had moved along the narrow road between the tongue of land and Breed's Hill, and when within a hundred yards of the rail fence, and on a line with the breast-works, opened a galling fire, to cover the advance of the other assailants. In the mean while, a carcass, and some hot shot, were thrown from Copp's Hill into Charlestown,
* Clarke, an officer in the marines, relates that, just before commencing the first march toward the redoubt, General Howe made a short speech, in which he said, “If the enemy will not come out of their intrenchments, we must drive them out, at all events, otherwise the town of Boston will be set on fire by them. I shall not desire one of you to go a step further than where I go myself at your head.”
Burning of Charlestown. Second Repulse of the British. Re-enforced by Clinton. Ammunition of the Americans exhausted.
which set the village on fire." The houses were chiefly of wood, and in a short time nearly two hundred buildings were in flames, shrouding in dense smoke the heights in the rear whereon the provincials were posted. Beneath this veil the British hoped to rush unobserved up to the breast-works, scale them, and drive the Americans out at the point of the bayonet. At that moment a gentle breeze, which appeared to the provincials like the breath of a guardian angel—the first zephyr that had been felt on that sultry day—came from the west, and swept the smoke away seaward, exposing to the full view of the Americans the advancing columns of the enemy, who fired as they approached, but with little execution. Colonels Brener, Nixon, and Buckminster were wounded, and Major Moore was killed. As before, the Americans reserved their fire until the British were within the prescribed distance, when they poured forth their leaden hail with such sure aim and terrible effect that whole ranks of officers and men were slain. General Howe was at the head, and once he was left entirely alone, his aids and all about him having perished. The British line recoiled, and gave way in several parts, and it required the utmost exertion in all the remaining officers, from the generals down to the subalterns, to repair the disorder which this hot and unexpected fire had produced.” All their efforts were at first fruitless, and the troops retreated in great disorder to the shore. General Clinton, who had beheld the progress of the battle with mortified pride, seeing the regulars repulsed a second time, crossed over in a boat, followed by a small re-enforcement, and joined the broken army as a volunteer. Some of the British officers remonstrated against leading the men a third time to certain destruction; but others, who had ridiculed American valor, and boasted loudly of British invincibility, resolved on victory or death. The incautious loudness of speech of a provincial, during the second attack, declaring that the ammunition was nearly exhausted, gave the enemy encouraging and important information. Howe immediately rallied his troops and formed them for a third attack, but in a different way. The weakness of the point between the breast-work and the rail fence had been discovered by Howe, and thitherward he determined to lead the left wing with the artillery, while a show of attack should be made at the rail fence on the other side. His men were ordered to stand the fire of the provincials, and then make a furious charge with bayonets. So long were the enemy making preparations for a third attack, that the provincials began to imagine that the second repulse was to be final. They had time to refresh themselves a little, and recover from that complete exhaustion which the labor of the day had produced. It was too true that their ammunition was almost exhausted, and being obliged to rely upon that for defense, as comparatively few of the muskets were furnished with bayonets, they began to despair. The few remaining cartridges within the redoubt were distributed by Prescott, and those soldiers who were destitute of bayonets resolved to club their arms, and use the breeches of their guns when their powder should be gone. The loose stones in the redoubt were collected for use as missiles if necessary, and all resolved to fight as long as a ray of hope appeared. During this preparation on Breed's Hill, all was confusion elsewhere. General Ward was at Cambridge, without sufficient staff officers to convey his orders. Henry (afterward general) Knox was in the reconnoitering service, as a volunteer, during the day, and upon his reports Ward issued his orders. Late in the afternoon, the commanding general dispatched his own, with Paterson's and Gardner's regiments, to the field of action; but to the raw recruits the aspect of the narrow Neck was terrible, swept as it was by the British
* A carcass is a hollow case formed of ribs of iron, covered with cloth, or sometimes iron, with holes in it. Being filled with combustible materials, it is thrown from a mortar into a besieged place, by which means buildings are set on fire. The burning of Charlestown had been resolved upon by Gage some time before, in the event of the Americans taking possession of any of the hills belonging to it. “This resolution was assigned by a near female relative of the general to a gentlewoman with whom she had become acquainted at school, as a reason why the other, upon obtaining a pass to quit Boston, should not tarry at her father's (Mr. Cary's) house in Charlestown.”—Dr. Gordon, i., 352.
* Stedman, i., 127.
Death of Colonel Gardner. Third Attack of the British. Storming of the Redoubt. Death of Warren and Pitcairn.
cannon. Colonel Gardner succeeded in leading three hundred men to Bunker Hill, where Putnam set them intrenching, but soon ordered them to the lines. Gardner was advancing boldly at their head, when a musket ball entered his groin and wounded him mortally." His men were thrown into confusion, and very few of them engaged in the combat that followed, until the retreat commenced. Other regiments failed to reach the lines. A part of Gerrish's regiment, led by Adjutant Christian Febiger, a Danish officer, who afterward accompanied Arnold to Quebec, and was distinguished at Stony Point, reached the lines just as the action commenced, and effectually galled the British left wing. Putnam, in the mean time, was using his utmost exertions to form the confused troops on Bunker Hill, and get fresh corps with bayonets across the Neck. All was order and firmness at the redoubt on Breed's Hill, as the enemy advanced. The artillery of the British swept the interior of the breast-work from end to end, destroying many of the provincials, among whom was Lieutenant Prescott, a nephew of the colonel commanding. The remainder were driven within the redoubt, and the breast-work was abandoned. Each shot of the provincials was true to its aim, and Colonel Abercrombie, and Majors Williams and Speedlove fell. Howe was wounded in the foot, but continued fighting at the head of his men. His boats were at Boston, and retreat he could not. His troops pressed forward to the redoubt, now nearly silent, for the provincials' last grains of powder were in their guns. Only a ridge of earth separated the combatants, and the assailants scaled it. The first that reached the parapet were repulsed by a shower of stones. Major Pitcairn, who led the troops at Lexington, ascending the parapet, cried out, “Now for the glory of the marines" and was immediately shot by a negro soldier.” Again numbers of the enemy leaped upon the parapet, while others assailed the redoubt on three sides. Hand to hand the belligerents struggled, and the gun-stocks of many of the provincials were shivered to pieces by the heavy blows they were made to give. The enemy poured into the redoubt in such numbers that Prescott, perceiving the folly of longer resistance, ordered a retreat. Through the enemy's ranks the Americans hewed their way, many of them walking backward, and dealing deadly blows with their musket-stocks. Prescott and Warren were the last to leave the redoubt. Colonel Gridley, the engineer, was wounded, and borne off safely.” Prescott received several thrusts from bayonets and rapiers in his clothing, but escaped unhurt. Warren was the last man that left the works. He was a short distance from the redoubt, on his way toward Bunker Hill, when a musket ball passed through his head, killing him instantly. He was left on the field, for all were flying in the greatest confusion, pursued by the victors, who remorselessly bayoneted those who fell in their way. Major Jackson had rallied Gardner's men upon Bunker Hill, and pressing forward with
* I have before me a drama, bearing the autograph of General James Abercrombie, entitled “THE BATTLE of BUNKER HILL; a dramatic piece in five acts, in heroic measure: by a gentleman of Maryland.” Printed at Philadelphia, by Robert Bell, in 1776. Colonel Gardner is one of the dramatis personae, and is made to say, at the moment of receiving the wound,
“A musketball, death-winged, hath pierced my groin,
* Major Pitcairn was carried by his son to a boat, and conveyed to Boston, where he soon died. He left eleven children. The British government settled a pension of one thousand dollars a year upon his widow.
* Colonel Richard Gridley, the able engineer and brave soldier in this battle, was born in Boston in 1721. He served as an engineer in the reduction of Louisberg in 1745, and entered the British army as colonel and chief engineer in 1755. He was engaged in the expedition to Ticonderoga in 1756, and constructed Fort George, on Lake George. He served under Amherst in 1758, and was with Wolfe, on the Plains of Abraham, the following year. He was appointed chief engineer of the provincial army near Boston in 1775 He died at Stoughton, on the 20th of June, 1796, aged seventy-five years.—Curwen.
Confusion of the Americans. Efforts of Putnam to Rally them. Cessation of the Battle. The Loss. Spectators of the Battle.
three companies of Ward's, and Febiger's party of Gerrish's regiment, poured a destructive fire upon the enemy between Breed's and Bunker Hill, and bravely covered the retreat from the redoubt. The Americans at the rail fence, under Stark, Reed, and Knowlton, re-enforced by Clark's, Coit's, and Chester's Connecticut companies, and a few other troops, maintained their ground, in the mean while, with great firmness, and successfully resisted every attempt of the enemy to turn their flank. This service was very valuable, for it saved the main body, retreating from the redoubt, from being cut off. But when these saw their brethren, with the chief commander, flying before the enemy, they too fled. Putnam used every exertion to keep them firm. He commanded, pleaded, cursed and swore like a madman, and was seen at every point in the van, trying to rally the scattered corps, swearing that victory should crown the Americans.” “Make a stand here,” he exclaimed; “we can stop them yet! In God's name, fire, and give them one shot more ” The gallant old Pomeroy, also, with his shattered musket in his hand, implored them to rally, but in vain. The whole body retreated across the Neck, where the fire from the Glasgow and gondolas slew many of them. They left five of their six field-pieces, and all their intrenching tools, upon Bunker Hill, and they retreated to Winter Hill, Prospect Hill, and to Cambridge. The British, greatly exhausted, and properly cautious, did not follow, but contented themselves with taking possession of the peninsula. Clinton advised an immediate attack upon Cambridge, but Howe was too cautious or too timid to make the attempt. His troops lay upon their arms all night on Bunker Hill, and the Americans did the same on Prospect Hill, a mile distant. Two British field-pieces played upon them, but without effect, and both sides feeling unwilling to renew the action, hostilities ceased. The loss of the Americans in this engagement was one hundred and fifteen killed and missing, three hundred and five wounded, and thirty who were taken prisoners; in all four hundred and fifty. The British loss is not positively known. Gage reported two hundred and twenty-six killed, and eight hundred and twenty-eight wounded ; in all ten hundred and fifty-four. In this number are included eighty-nine officers. The Provincial Congress of Massachusetts, from the best information they could obtain, reported the British loss at about fifteen hundred. The battle, from Howe's first attack until the retreat, occupied nearly two hours. The number of buildings consumed in Charlestown, before midnight, was about four hundred ; and the estimated loss of property (most of the families, with their effects, having moved out) was nearly six hundred thousand dollars. The number engaged in this battle was small, yet cotemporary writers and eye-witnesses represent it as one of the most determined and severe on record. There was absolutely no victory in the case. The most indomitable courage was displayed on both sides; and when the provincials had retired but a short distance, so wearied and exhausted were all that neither party desired more fighting, if we except Colonel Prescott, who earnestly petitioned to be allowed to lead a fresh corps that evening and retake Breed's Hill. It was a terrible day for Boston and its vicinity, for almost every family had a representative in one of the two armies. Fathers, husbands, sons, and brothers were in the affray, and deep was the mental anguish of the women of the city, who, from roofs, and steeples, and every elevation, gazed with streaming eyes upon the carnage, for the battle raged in full view of thousands of interested spectators in the town and upon the adjoining hills.” In contrast with the terrible scene were the cloudless sky and brilliant sun.
* It is said that, for the foul profanity in which the brave old general indulged on that occasion, he made a sincere confession, after the war, before the church of which he was a member. “It was almost enough to make an angel swear,” he said, “to see the cowards refuse to secure a victory so nearly won 1"
* “In other battles,” said Daniel Webster, in an article published in the North American Review for October, 1818, “the recollection of wives and children has been used as an excitement to animate the warrior's breast and to nerve his arm. Here was not a mere recollection, but an actual presence of them, and other dear connections, hanging on the skirts of the battle, anxious and agitated, feeling almost as if wounded themselves by every blow of the enemy, and putting forth, as it were, their own strength, and all the energy of their own throbbing bosoms, into every gallant effort of their warring friends.”