Lossing's Field Book of the Revolution, Vol. I., Chapter XXIII.







Preparations for Raising an Army in Massachusetts. – Zeal of the Committee of Safety. – Circular of the Provincial Congress. – Army collected at Boston. – Organization of the Troops. – Preparations to Besiege the City. – Issue of Paper Money. – Gage’s Restrictions. – Gloomy Prospects of the People of Boston. – Arrangements with the Selectmen. – Perfidy of Gage. – Benevolence of the Provincial Congress of Massachusetts. – Efforts of other Colonies. – Organization of the Army. – Increase of British Troops in Boston. – Arrival of experienced Officers. – Operations in the Vicinity. – American Military Works. – Disposition of the American Troops. – Preparations for Blockading Boston. – Charlestown and adjacent Grounds. – Night March to Bunker and Breed’s Hill. – A Fortification planned on Bunker Hill. – British Vessels in Boston Harbor. – Construction of the Redoubt on Breed’s Hill. – Discovery of the Works by the Enemy. – Surprise of the People of Boston. – Cowardice of the Tories. – Crossing of a British Force from Boston to Charlestown. – Bravery of Prescott. – New England Flag. – Excitement in Cambridge. – Re-enforcements for both Parties. – Sufferings of the Provincials. – Warren and Pomeroy. – March of the British toward the Redoubt. – Position of the American Troops. – Cannonade of the Redoubt. – The British Artillery. – Silence of the Americans. – Terrible Volleys from the Redoubt. – Flight of the Enemy. – Burning of Charlestown. – Second Repulse of the British. – Re-enforced by Clinton. – Ammunition of the Americans exhausted. – Death of Colonel Gardner. – Third Attack of the British. – Storming of the Redoubt. – Death of Warren and Pitcairn. – Confusion of the Americans. – Efforts of Putnam to Rally them. – Cessation of the Battle. – The Loss. – Spectators of the Battle. – Reflections on the Battle. – Burgoyne’s Opinion of the Conflict. – The Character of Warren. – The Energy, Boldness, and Patriotism of Warren. – Masonic Honors to his Memory. – The old Monument on Breed’s Hill. – Character of the Troops engaged in the Battle on Breed’s Hill. – Monument to Warren ordered by Congress.


"A viceroy, I, like monarchs, stay
Safe in the town; let others guide the fray.
A life like mine is of no common worth;
’Twere wrong, by Heaven! that I should sally forth.
A random bullet, from a RIFLE sent,
Might pierce my heart, and ruin NORTH’S intent.
* * * * * * *
Ye souls of fire, who burn for chief command,
Come! take my place in this disastrous land.
To wars like these I bid a long good night;
Let NORTH and GEORGE themselves such battles fight."


"In their ragged regimentals
Stood the old Continentals,
Yielding not,
When the grenadiers were lunging,
And like hail fell the plunging
Cannon shot;
Where the files
Of the isles
From the smoky night encampment bore the banner of the rampant unicorn,
And grummer, grummer, grummer rolled the roll of the drummer, through the morn."


The events of the 19th of April, like an electric shock, thrilled every nerve through the heart-confederated American colonies, and all over the land there was a cry to arms! In Massachusetts there was no more hesitation. Who shall be the aggressor? was an answered question. Who shall be the conqueror? was the great problem before them. It was for Massachusetts to lead the van in the contest, and her people readily stepped forth to the duty, knowing that the warm sympathy and generous aid of the sister colonies were enlisted for the war. The reassembled Provincial Congress voted to raise an army of thirteen thousand six hundred men. The Committee of Safety labored day and night, with a zeal worthy of the glorious cause in which they were engaged. Circulars were sent out by both bodies, calling upon the people to form an army as speedily as possible; and the other New England colonies were solicited to forward as many troops as they could spare, 1 in order to make up a united force of thirty thousand men. These official appeals were scarcely necessary, for as soon as the intelligence of bloodshed went abroad, the people had rushed toward Boston from all quarters, and by the 21st [April, 1775.] it was estimated that twenty thousand men were collected in the neighborhood of that city. General Ward, by virtue of a previous appointment, took command on the 20th, and in the afternoon held a council of war with the officers present. 2 Of course all was confusion; for the people came, some with arms in their hands, and some having none, with the inquiry marked on every countenance, What can I do? A partial organization was effected, and preparations were made to besiege Boston. Among those who hastened thither was the veteran Putnam, then an old man of sixty years, who, it is said, left his plow in the furrow, and in his working dress, mounted one of his horses, and hastened toward Cambridge at the head of a large body of Connecticut volunteers. Colonel (afterward general) John Stark was also there, with a crowd of New Hampshire volunteers, and all were active and ardent. In the course of a few days the troops were tolerably well officered, their pay was agreed upon, and thirty thousand were enrolled. But great numbers returned home; some to attend to pressing private affairs, and others to make permanent arrangements to join the army. The number was thus suddenly much reduced, and the important pass of Boston Neck was defended for nine consecutive days and nights by only six or seven hundred men under Colonel Robinson, of Dorchester. The ranks were soon afterward well filled, and preparations for a regular siege of the city commenced. Cambridge was made the head-quarters, and a line of cantonments was formed nearly twenty miles in extent, the left leaning upon the River Mystic and the right upon Roxbury, thus completely inclosing the town.


On the 5th of May [1775.], the Provincial Congress resolved "that General Gage has, by the late transactions and many other means, utterly disqualified himself from serving this colony as governor, or in any other capacity; and that, therefore, no obedience is in future due to him but that, on the contrary, he ought to be considered and guarded against as an unnatural and inveterate enemy to the country." Previous to this renunciation of allegiance, they had prepared for the payment of the army, by authorizing the issue of bills of credit, or paper money, to the amount of three hundred and seventy-five thousand dollars, in sums small enough to be used as a circulating currency, and directed the receiver general to borrow that amount, upon those notes, bearing an interest of six per cent. They also forwarded dispatches to the general Congress [May 3, 1775.] which was to assemble on the 10th, suggesting the necessity for making provision for a large army, to oppose the expected troops from Great Britain.

While these transactions were taking place without Boston, General Gage was pursuing a course of rigorous surveillance over the people within the city. By his orders all intercourse with the country was cut off [April 19, 1775.], and none were allowed to leave the town without his permission first obtained. This measure exposed the people to great distress, for their accustomed supply of provisions and fuel was thus cut off. They at once felt all the horrors of civil war gathering around them – visions of famine, rapine, and blood clouded their thoughts, and all the miseries which gloomy anticipation delineate began to be felt. Gage himself became uneasy. Boston was surrounded by an exasperated multitude, armed and ready for combat at the least provocation; and he was justly apprehensive that, should an assault commence from without, the patriots within would rise upon his troops. In this exigency he so far receded from his haughty demeanor toward the municipal authorities as to seek an interview with the selectmen. It was obtained, and he assured them that no violence should be done to the town, provided the people would behave peaceably. A town meeting was held on the 22d, and an agreement was entered into between the selectmen and Gage, "That, upon the inhabitants in general lodging their arms in Faneuil Hall, or any other convenient place, under the care of the selectmen, marked with the names of the respective owners, all such inhabitants that are inclined might leave the town, with their families and effects, and those who remained might depend upon the protection of the governor; and that the arms aforesaid, at a suitable time, should be returned to the owners." 4 This measure was sanctioned by the Committee of Safety sitting at Cambridge, and the arrangement was carried out in good faith for a short time, until the removal became so general as to alarm the Tories and the governor himself. 5 The Tories, about this time, were excessively loyal. Two hundred of them were enrolled as a military corps under Timothy Ruggles, and, offering their services to General Gage, were put on duty. They thought the arrangement Gage had agreed to was unwise, for they apprehended that, when the patriots had all left the town with their effects, they would not scruple to burn it. They remonstrated with Gage, and their importunities and his own fears became more potent than his sense of honor. Obstructions were thrown in the way of removals, until, finally, passes were denied, or so framed that families would have to be separated, and property left behind. Gage, finally, would not allow women and children to leave Boston, but kept them there as a sort of hostages, or pledges of good behavior on the part of the patriots. This exhibition of bad faith disgusted and exasperated the people as much as any of his previous acts.

The Provincial Congress of Massachusetts, in the mean time, made provision for five thousand poor people expected from Boston, who were unable to help themselves [May 1, 1775.]. Each town had a proportion allotted to it, and thus much suffering was prevented, while the feelings of the beneficiaries were tenderly respected by the declaration of the resolution that they were not to be numbered with the town paupers. The same provision was also made for the suffering inhabitants who remained in Charlestown, unable to remove from the danger that menaced them. So great were the alarm and distress in that thriving suburban village of Boston, that it was almost deserted. Its population of two thousand seven hundred was reduced to about two hundred.

While Massachusetts was thus exercising its patriotism and humanity, preparatory to the approaching contest, the other colonies were alive with zeal. The Rhode Island Assembly voted [April 25.] an army of observation of fifteen hundred men, and appointed Nathaniel Greene, a young iron master, and a Quaker by birthright, but recently disowned because of his military propensities, commander-in-chief, with the rank of brigadier. His colonels were Varnum, Hitchcock, and Church. The Connecticut Assembly voted [April 26.] to raise six regiments of a thousand men each; and Wooster, Putnam, and Spencer, already commissioned as generals, were each to have a regiment. The others were to be placed under the command of Hinman, Waterbury, and Parsons. Already, as we have noticed, New Hampshire volunteers had flocked to Cambridge, with the gallant Stark, who was commissioned a colonel. Under the direction of the Committee of Safety of that colony, they were supplied with necessaries until the meeting of the Provincial Congress of their own province in May. That body resolved [May 17.] to raise two thousand troops in addition to those already in the field, and Nathan Folsom was appointed commander-in-chief, with the rank of brigadier. They were organized into three regiments; and two additional regiments were placed under the command of Stark and James Reed. The latter, and Enoch Poor, were commissioned colonels. New Hampshire and Rhode Island both also issued bills of credit. Although other colonies did not send soldiers to Boston, all, with the exception of New York, approved of the action of the general Continental Congress, and expressed the warmest sympathy for New England.

On the 19th of May, the Provincial Congress of Massachusetts clothed the Committee of Safety, then sitting at Cambridge, with full power to regulate the movements of the gathering army. 6 General Ward, as we have seen, was appointed captain general; John Thomas was made lieutenant general; and Richard Gridley, the commissioned commander of an artillery corps authorized to be raised, was appointed chief engineer, assisted by Henry Knox, late commander of an artillery corps in Boston. To promote rapid enlistments, a resolution had been previously adopted, promising a captain’s commission to every one who should raise a company of fifty-nine men, and a colonel’s commission to each who should raise a regiment of ten companies. The form of the commissions of the several officers was adopted, the pay of officers and soldiers was fixed, and other provisions for organizing the army were arranged.

At the beginning of June the combined forces amounted to about sixteen thousand men, 7 really united only in respect to the common cause which brought them together, for each colony had absolute control over its respective troops. But by common consent, sanctioned by the several colonial authorities, obedience was rendered to General Ward as captain general. Ward, as well as Putnam, Thomas, Stark, Pomeroy, Prescott, and Gridley, had been educated in the military art in the practical school of the French and Indian war; and the militia that had assembled, familiar with their names and deeds, placed the utmost confidence in their skill and valor.

The British force in Boston had increased, in the mean while, by fresh arrivals from England and Ireland, to ten thousand men. The Cerberus man-of-war arrived on the 25th of May [1775.], with Generals Howe, 8 Clinton, and Burgoyne, three officers experienced in the military tactics of Europe, but little prepared for service here. They were surprised at the aspect of affairs, and Gage was reproached for his apparent supineness. 9 However, unity of action was necessary, and the new-comers heartily co-operated with Gage in his plans, such as they were, for dispersing the rebel host that hemmed him in. He issued a proclamation on the 12th of June, insulting in words and menacing in tone. It declared martial law; pronounced those in arms and their abettors "rebels, parricides of the Constitution," and offered a free pardon to all who would forthwith return to their allegiance, except John Hancock and Samuel Adams, who were outlawed, and for whose apprehension as traitors a reward was offered. 10 This proclamation, so arrogant and insulting, served only to exasperate the people. In the mean while, several skirmishes had occurred between parties of the British regulars and the provincials, upon some of the cultivated islands that dot the harbor of Boston. Each party were employed in carrying off to their respective camps the live stock upon the islands, and on one occasion quite a severe action occurred upon Hog Island, which continued until late at night. One or two armed vessels in the harbor were engaged in the foray. A considerable number of the provincials were killed. Toward morning a British schooner got aground. The Americans boarded her, stripped her of every thing valuable, and returned to camp in triumph [May 28, 1775.]. In the course of these depredations the owners were completely despoiled; several hundred cattle, sheep, and lambs having been carried off by both parties, without leave or remuneration. 11 In the attendant skirmishes the Americans were generally most successful, and they served to initiate the raw militia into the preliminary dangers of a battle.

But little progress had been made at this time, by the Americans, in erecting fortifications. Some breast-works had been thrown up at Cambridge, near the foot of Prospect Hill, and a small redoubt had been formed at Roxbury. The right wing of the besieging army, under General Thomas, was at Roxbury, consisting of four thousand Massachusetts troops, including four artillery companies, with field-pieces and a few heavy cannon. The Rhode Island forces, under Greene, were at Jamaica Plains, and near there was a greater part of General Spencer’s Connecticut regiment. General Ward commanded the left wing at Cambridge, which consisted of fifteen Massachusetts regiments, the battalion of artillery under Gridley, and Putnam’s regiment, with other Connecticut troops. Most of the Connecticut forces were at Inman’s farm. Paterson’s regiment was at the breast-work on Prospect Hill, and a large guard was stationed at Lechmere’s Point. Three companies of Gerrish’s regiment were at Chelsea; Stark’s regiment was at Medford, and Reid’s at Charlestown Neck, with sentinels reaching to Penny Ferry and Bunker Hill.


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.

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 causeway [4] was so low as to be frequently overflowed by the tides. The communication with Boston was by 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 (M‘Lean Asylum), 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, clay-pits, and much sloughy land. On the west side, at the base, was the most settled part of the town [5]. 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 feet, and Moulton’s Hill [3] 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. 12

A portion of the regiments of Prescott, 13 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 [June 16, 1775.]. They were furnished with packs and blankets, and ordered to take provisions for twenty-four hours. Samuel Gridley’s company of artillery 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 College, 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. 14

"No shout disturbed the night,
Before that fearful fight;

There was no boasting high –
No marshaling of men,
Who ne’er might meet again –
No cup was filled and quaffed to Victory!
No plumes were there,
No banners fair,
No trumpets breathed around;
Nor the drum’s startling sound
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 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.


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 front 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 breast-work 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.


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 the city. Gage summoned a council of war early in the morning [June 17, 1775.]. As it was evident 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 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 noon, 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, 16 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
’Gainst the redoubt and formidable foe.
The Lively’s, Falcon’s, Fame’s, and Glasgow’s roar,
Covered their landing on the destined shore."

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. 18 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 British 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 Bridges, 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; 20 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 Breeds 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. 21 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 offered 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 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 22 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 position 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. 23 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, which set the village on fire. 24 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. 25 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 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. 26 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. 27 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. 28 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 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. 29 "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. 30 In contrast with the terrible scene were the cloudless sky and brilliant sun.

"The heavens, the calm pure heavens, were bright on high;

Earth laughed beneath in all its freshening green;
The free, blue streams sang as they wandered by;
And many a sunny glade and flowery scene
Gleamed out, like thoughts of youth, life’s troubled years between,"

while upon the green slopes, where flocks were quietly grazing but a few hours before, WAR had reared its gory altars, and the earth was saturated with the blood of its victims. Fearfully augmented was the terror of the scene, when the black smoke arose from Charlestown on fire, and enveloped the redoubt on the summit of Breed’s Hill, which, like the crater of a volcano, blazed and thundered in the midst of the gloomy curtain that veiled it.

"Amazing scenes! what shuddering prospects rise!
What horrors glare beneath the angry skies!
The rapid flames o’er Charlestown’s heights ascend;
To heaven they reach! urged by the boisterous wind.
The mournful crash of falling domes resound,
And tottering spires with sparkles reach the ground.
One general burst of ruin reigns o’er all;
The burning city thunders to its fall!
O’er mingled noises the vast ruin sounds,
Spectators weep! earth from her center groans!
Beneath prodigious unextinguished fires
Ill-fated Charlestown welters and expires."


It was," said Burgoyne, who, with Gage and other British officers, was looking on from a secure place near Copp’s Hill in Boston, "a complication of horror and importance, beyond any thing that ever came to my lot to witness. Sure I am that nothing ever can or has been more dreadfully terrible than what was to be seen or heard at this time." But it is profitless to dwell upon the gloomy scene. Time hath healed the grief and heart-sickness that were born there; and art, in the hands of busy men, has covered up forever all vestiges of the conflict.

Many gallant, many noble men perished on the peninsula upon that sad day; but none was so widely and deeply lamented, because none was so widely and truly loved, as the self-sacrificing and devoted Warren. 31 He was the impersonation of the spirit of generous and disinterested patriotism that inspired the colonies. In every relation in life he was a model of excellence. "Not all the havoc and devastation they have made has wounded me like the death of Warren," wrote the wife of John Adams [July 5, 1775.], three weeks afterward. "We want him in the Senate; we want him in his profession; we want him in the field. We mourn for the citizen, the senator, the physician, and the warrior." General Howe estimated his influence, when he declared to Dr. Jeffries, who recognized the body of Warren on the field the next day, that his death was worth, to the British, five hundred of the provincial privates. Eulogy and song have aided history in embalming his memory with the immortality that rests upon the spot where he fell. He was a hero in the highest sense of the term, and so were Prescott and other compatriots in the struggle; but all were not heroes who surrounded them. Unused to war; some entirely ignorant of the sound of a cannon; inferior, by two thirds, in number, and vastly so in discipline, to the enemy, the wonder is that the provincials fought so well, not that so many used their heels more expertly than their hands, Many officers, chosen by the men whom they commanded, were totally unfitted in knowledge and spirit for their stations, and a few exhibited the most arrant cowardice. They were tried by court martial, and one was cashiered for disobedience and for being a poltroon. 32 But they have all passed away; let us draw the curtain of charity around their resting-places, remembering that

"Hero motives, placed in judgment’s scale,
Outweigh all actions where the heart is wrong."

Here let us close the volume of history for a time, and while the gentle breeze is sweeping the dust and smoke of battle from Bunker Hill, 33 and the tumult of distress and alarm is subsiding in Boston, let us ride out to Lexington and Concord, to visit those places consecrated by the blood of the first patriot martyrs. We have had a long, but, I trust, profitable consultation of the records of the past. I have endeavored to point out for consideration the most prominent and important links in the chain of events, wherein is remarkably manifested the spirit of true liberty which finally wrought out the independence of these American states. In brief outlines I have delineated the features of those events, and traced the progress of the principles of freedom from the little conventicles of despised and persecuted, but determined men, toward the close of the sixteenth century, who assembled to assert the most undoubted natural right, that of worshiping God as the conscience of the creature shall dictate, to the uprising of nearly two millions of the same people in origin and language, in defiance of the puissance of the mightiest arm upon earth; and the assembling of a council in their midst, of which the great Pitt was constrained to say, "I must declare and avow that in all my reading and study – and it has been my favorite study; I have read Thucydides, and have studied and admired the master states of the world – that for solidity of reasoning, force of sagacity, and wisdom of conclusion, under such a complication of circumstances, no nation or body of men can stand in preference to the general Congress of Philadelphia."



1 The Provincial Congress of Massachusetts sent the following letter to the several committees of safety in the province:


"In Congress at Watertown, April 30th, 1775.

"GENTLEMEN, – The barbarous Murders on our innocent Brethren on Wednesday the 19th Instant, has made it absolutely necessary that we immediately raise an army to defend our Wives and our Children from the butchering Hands of an inhuman Soldiery, who, incensed at the Obstacles they meet with in their bloody progress, and enraged at being repulsed from the Field of Slaughter, will, without the least doubt, take the first Opportunity in their Power to ravage this devoted Country with Fire and Sword. We conjure you, therefore, that you give all Assistance possible in forming an Army. Our all is at Stake. Death and Devastation are the certain Consequences of Delay; every Moment is infinitely precious; an Hour lost may deluge your Country in Blood, and entail perpetual Slavery upon the few of your Posterity who may survive the Carnage. We beg and entreat you, as you will answer it to your Country, to your own Consciences, and, above all, as you will answer to God himself, that you will hasten and encourage, by all possible Means, the Enlistment of Men to form the Army, and send them forward to Head-quarters at Cambridge, with that expedition which the vast Importance and instant Urgency of the affair demands.

"JOSEPH WARREN, President, P. T."


2 The officers who composed the council were Generals Ward, Heath, and Whitcombe; Colonels Bridge, Frye, James Prescott, William Prescott, Bullard, and Barrett; and Lieutenant-colonels Spaulding, Nixon, Whitney, Mansfield and Wheelock. Colonels Learned and Warner arrived the next day.

3 This is a fac simile of the device on the back of one of the first of the Massachusetts treasury notes or bills of credit. The literal translation of the Latin inscription is "He seeks by the Sword calm repose under the auspices of Freedom." In other words, to use a phrase of the present time, they were determined "to conquer a peace." The face of the bill has a neatly-engraved border of scroll-work; and on the left of the brace where the names of the committee are signed, is a circle with a ship within it. The following is a copy of one of the notes:



"Colony of the

Massachusetts Bay,


August 18, 1775.

"The Possessor of this Bill shall be paid by the Treasurer of this colony, TWENTY FOUR SHILLINGS, Lawful Money, by the 18th day of August, 1778, which Bill shall be received for the aforesaid sum, in all payments at the Treasury and in all other Payments by order of the General Assembly.

"Committee, {


4 The following is a copy of one of the passes granted to the inhabitants who left. It is copied from one preserved in the cabinet of the Massachusetts Historical Society.


"Boston, May, 1775.

"Permit _____ __________, together with his family, consisting of _____ persons, and _____ effects, to pass _____ _____, between sunrise and sunset.

By order of his Excellency the Governor.

"No Arms nor Ammunition is allowed to pass."


5 Under this arrangement, 1778 fire-arms, 634 pistols, 273 bayonets, and 38 blunderbusses, were deposited with the selectmen. The same day (April 27th) the Provincial Congress recommended to the inhabitants of the sea-ports the removal of their effects, &c. Gordon, i., 336.

6 The Committee of Safety consisted of John Hancock, Joseph Warren, Benjamin Church, Benjamin White, Joseph Palmer, Richard Devens, Abraham Watson, John Pigeon, Azor Orne, Benjamin Greenleaf, Nathan Cushing, and Samuel Holten. Hancock was necessarily absent, being a delegate to the Continental Congress.

7 Massachusetts furnished 11,500; Connecticut, 2300; New Hampshire, 1200; and Rhode Island, 1000.

8 General Howe was a brother of the young Lord Howe who was killed at Ticonderoga in 1758. In the address of the Continental Congress to the people of Ireland, adopted on the 28th of July, 1775, the addressers say, "America is amazed to find the name of Howe in the catalogue of her enemies. She loved his brother."

9 The newly-arrived generals were so assured, before leaving England, that they would have no occasion to draw the sword in support of ministerial measures, that they had prepared to amuse themselves with fishing and other diversions, instead of engaging in military service. It seems that the whole affair of the 19th of April was kept a profound secret from all his officers by Gage, except those immediately employed in it and Lord Percy, until the skirmish had ensued at Lexington, and a re-enforcement was called for. When General Haldimand, afterward Governor General of Canada, who was with Gage, was asked how the sortie happened, he said that the first he knew of it was from his barber, who came to shave him.

10 It has been related that when John Hancock placed his bold signature to the Declaration of Independence, on the 4th of July, 1776, he remarked, "There! John Bull can read that name without spectacles. Now let him double his reward!"

11 It was in reference to these expeditions on the part of the British, that Freeman, the stirring song-writer of the Revolution, in his "Gage’s Soliloquy," thus wrote:

"Let others combat in the dusty field;
Let petty captains scorn to live or yield;
I’ll send my ships to neighboring isles, where stray
Unnumbered herds, and steal those herds away.
I’ll strike the women in this town with awe,
And make them tremble at my MARTIAL LAW."

12 Frothingham, page 129.

13 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.

14 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 navy-yard; 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.

15 This plan is copied from an English drawing of the time, first published in the London Gentleman’s Magazine for 1775.

16 This is written Morton, Moreton, and Moulton, by different authors. Morton is the proper name.

17 From "The American War," a poem in six books, published in London, 1786.

18 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-in-law, 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.

19 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 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.

20 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.

21 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.

22 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.

23 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."

24 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.

25 Stedman, i., 127.

26 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 personæ, and is made to say, at the moment of receiving the wound,

"A musket ball, death-winged, hath pierced my groin,
And widely oped the swift current of my veins.
Bear me, then, soldiers, to that hollow space
A little hence, just on the hill’s decline.
A surgeon there may stop the gushing wound,
And gain a short respite to life, that yet
I may return, and fight one half hour more.
Then shall I die in peace, and to my GOD
Surrender up the spirit which he gave."

27 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.

28 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.

29 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!"

30 "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."

31 Joseph Warren, son of a Massachusetts farmer, was born in Roxbury in 1740, and graduated at Harvard College in 1759. He studied the science of medicine under Dr. Lloyd, and rapidly rose to the head, or, at least, to the front rank of that profession in Boston. Sentiments of patriotism seemed to form a part of his moral nature, and courage to avow them was always prompting him to action. He became necessarily a politician, at a time when all men were called upon to act in public matters, or be looked upon as drones. He was one of the earliest members of the association in Boston known as the Sons of Liberty, and from 1768 was extremely efficient in fostering the spirit of rational liberty and independence in the wide and influential circle in which he moved. His mind, suggestive and daring, planned many measures, in secret caucus with Adams and others, for resisting the encroachments of British power. In 1771 he delivered the oration on the anniversary of the Boston Massacre. He solicited the honor of performing a like duty on the 5th of March, 1775, in consequence of a threat of some of the British officers that they would take the life of any man who should dare to speak on that occasion. The old South meeting-house was crowded on the appointed day, and the aisles, stairs, and pulpit were filled with armed British soldiers. The intrepid young orator entered a window by a ladder, back of the pulpit, and, in the midst of a profound silence, commenced his exordium in a firm tone of voice. His friends, though determined to avenge any attempt at assassination, trembled for his safety. He dwelt eloquently upon the early struggles of the New England people, their faith and loyalty, and recounted, in sorrowful tones, the oppressions that had been heaped upon them. Gradually he approached the scene on the 5th of March, and then portrayed it in such language and pathos of expression, that even the stern soldiery that came to awe him wept at his words. He stood there in the midst of that multitude, a striking symbol of the revolt which he was leading, firm in the faith of that sentiment, "Resistance to tyrants is obedience to God." Looking at him, it might be said, as Magoon remarks, in classic quotation,

"Thou hast seen Mount Athos;

While storms and tempests thunder at its brows
And oceans beat their billows at its feet,
It stands unmoved, and glories in its height.
Such is that haughty man; his towering soul,
Mid all the shocks and injuries of fortune,
Rises superior, and looks down on Cæsar."

When John Hancock went to the Continental Congress, Warren was elected to fill his place as president of the Provincial Congress. Four days previous to the action on Breed’s Hill, that body gave him the commission of major general, and he was the only officer of that rank engaged in the conflict; yet he was without command, and fought as a volunteer. "He fell," as Everett has beautifully expressed it, "with a numerous hand of kindred spirits – the gray-haired veteran, the stripling in the flower of youth – who had stood side by side on that dreadful day, and fell together, like the beauty of Israel in their high places!" Warren’s body was identified, on the morning after the battle, by Dr. Jeffries, who was his intimate acquaintance. He was buried where he fell, and the place was marked. After the evacuation of Boston in 1776, his remains were disinterred, and, on the 8th of April, were carried in procession from the Representatives’ chamber to King’s Chapel, and buried with military and masonic honors. The Reverend Dr. Cooper offered prayers, and Perez Morton pronounced an oration on the occasion. Warren’s remains now rest beneath St. Paul’s Church. He was Grand Master of Freemasons for North America at the time of his death.


A lodge in Charlestown erected a monument to his memory in 1794, on the spot where he fell. It was composed of a brick pedestal eight feet square, rising ten feet from the ground, and supporting a Tuscan pillar of wood eighteen feet high. This was surmounted by a gilt urn, bearing the inscription "J. W., aged 35," entwined with masonic emblems. On the south side of the pedestal was the following inscription:


"Erected A. D. MDCCXCIV.,
By King Solomon’s Lodge of Free-masons,
constituted in Charlestown, 1783,
In Memory of
and his associates,
who were slain on this memorable spot June 17,
None but they who set a just value upon the blessings of liberty are worthy to enjoy her. In vain we toiled;
in vain we fought; we bled in vain, if you, our offspring, want valor to repel the assault of her invaders.
Charlestown settled, 1628. Burned, 1775. Rebuilt, 1776."


This monument stood forty years, and then was removed to give place to the present granite structure, known as Bunker Hill Monument. A beautiful model of Warren’s monument stands within the colossal obelisk, from which I made the accompanying sketch.

On the 8th of April, 1777, Congress, by resolution, ordered "that a monument be erected to the memory of General Warren, in the town of Boston, with the following inscription:


In honor of
Major General of Massachusetts Bay.
He devoted his life to the liberties
Of his country
And in bravely defending them, fell
An early victim,
In the battle of Bunker Hill,
June 17th, 1775.
The Congress of the United States,
As an acknowledgment of his services,
Have erected this monument to his memory.


Congress also ordered "that his eldest son be educated at the expense of the United States."* The patriotic order for the erection of a monument has never been obeyed.

* Journals of Congress, iii., 98.

32 This was Captain Callender. The court sentenced him to be cashiered, and, in an order of July 7th, Washington declared him to be "dismissed from all further service in the Continental army." Callender felt much aggrieved, and, confronting the charge of cowardice, remained in the army as a volunteer, and fought so bravely at the battle of Long Island, the next year, that Washington commanded his sentence to be erased from the orderly-book.

33 This battle should properly be called the battle of Breed’s Hill, for there the great events of the day occurred. There was much fighting and slaughter upon Bunker Hill, where Putnam chiefly commanded, but it was not the main theater of action.



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