The Battle of Bunker Hill

BUNKER HILL, BATTLE OF (1775). The Battle of Bunker Hill, fought on 17 June 1775, helped to dispel the British view that rebellious American colonists would flee when faced with British army professionals. After the engagements at Lexington and Concord, volunteer forces assembled around Boston, headquarters of the British army. Fearing that the British would fortify strategic locations adjoining the city, Boston's Committee of Safety on 16 June ordered New England troops into the Charlestown peninsula north of Boston, to fortify Bunker Hill. This promontory, overlooking the narrow neck joining the peninsula to the mainland, constituted a protected yet strategic location. Instead of fortifying Bunker Hill, however, the party dug entrenchments on nearby Breed's Hill, farther south and closer to Boston.

When the British command discovered the works, General William Gage insisted on a frontal assault. On the afternoon of the seventeenth, General William Howe led 2,200 Redcoats against a colonial force of equal number. During two consecutive British attacks up Breed's Hill, the Americans held their fire until the last moment. Although the devastating patriot barrages forced the Redcoats to retreat with heavy losses, Howe re-formed his decimated ranks for a third attack. With their ammunition exhausted, the Americans withdrew. However, this British "victory" so depleted the Redcoat ranks that they could not pursue the fleeing colonials. British casualties reached 1,054, while the Americans lost about 440.

Bunker Hill, arguably the bloodiest battle of the Revolutionary War, showed the courage and tenacity of the citizen-soldier and left a lasting impression on the British command. It also, however, undermined future efforts to build a more professionalized Continental Army based on long-term commitments.

Bibliography

Richard M. Ketchum, Decisive Day: The Battle of Bunker Hill, 1974. W.J. Wood, Battles of the Revolutionary War, 1775-1781, 1990.


Lucie LeBlanc Consentino
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