Tuesday, June 17, 2008

On this day in History...

Battle of Bunker Hill
June 17, 1775
Charlestown, Mass.

On the evening of June 16, 1775 colonial militia under Col. William Prescott left their camps surrounding Boston and marched out onto the peninsula of Charlestown. Boston was under siege and each side was looking for an advantage. The American plan was to take the high ground by fortifying Bunker Hill. As it turned out, a redoubt was built on Breeds Hill and that was where the majority of the fighting would take place.

In the early morning of the 17th sharp eyes on board the HMS Lively spotted the new earthworks overlooking Boston harbor. The British command staff had been making their own plans to occupy Charlestown and knew the precarious situation they were in if the fortified position was allowed to remain. Major General Howe began to plan his attack and the necessary forces, to include Marines and artillery, were ordered to begin their preparations.

Calling out, organizing and then ferrying them across the harbor all took time. Unfortunately for the British soldiers who had this bit of work ahead of them, the elapsed time had given the colonial forces more time to prepare. New Hampshire militia, under the command of John Stark, along with other reinforcements, had taken up fixed positions and had extended the lines of defense. It would no longer be easy to bypass or flank the American forces.

In fact it would turn out to be a very bloody business for everyone concerned. The small town of Charlestown was burned to the ground. British infantry were mowed down in rows as the advanced up the sloping hill. First one and then another assault were repulsed with heavy casualties. With the arrival of fresh soldiers under the command of General Clinton a third and final attack was launched. By this time the militia was running out of powder and ball and their redoubt was overrun. It was while covering the the retreat that Dr. Joseph Warren, President of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, was killed. The death of Dr. Warren was a great loss to Massachusetts and to the rebellion.

General Howe had accomplished what he had set out to do, but only at great cost. British casualties approached 50% with over 1100 men killed or wounded. The officer corp was especially hard hit. American casualties were in the range of 450, to include those who were captured. Although the British won the battle of Bunker Hill, it was an especially costly victory.

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