The Battle of Bunker Hill

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The Battle of Bunker Hill was one of the most significant battles of the Siege of Boston and the Revolutionary War. The Siege of Boston began after the Shot Heard Round the World took place in April of 1775 and the British retreated back to Boston where they were trapped inside the city by the rebels.

The following are some facts about the Battle of Bunker Hill:

What Was the Battle of Bunker Hill?

The Battle of Bunker Hill was a military conflict between the American colonists and the British government during the Revolutionary War.

What Year Was the Battle of Bunker Hill?

The Battle of Bunker Hill took place on June 17 in 1775.

Where Was the Battle of Bunker Hill Fought?

The battle was fought on Breed’s Hill in Charlestown, Massachusetts.

 What Caused the Battle of Bunker Hill? Summary:

The battle started after colonists heard of the British army’s plans to take control of the hills of Charlestown and Dorchester and attack rebel posts in Roxbury and Cambridge in an attempt to end the siege, according to the book Decisive Day: The Battle for Bunker Hill:

“[General] Howe outlined the plan in a letter written on June 12 to his brother, the admiral. First, a detachment would move out against Dorchester neck, throw up two redoubts there, and then attack the rebel post in Roxbury. Once Boston was safe from attack in that direction, Howe would take a large force to Charlestown heights and either attack the Americans in Cambridge or outflank that post, which would accomplish the same purpose. ‘I suppose the rebels will move from Cambridge,’ Howe added confidently, ‘and that we shall take and keep possession of it.’ The attack was set for June 18.”

The British troops had been blockaded inside Boston by the American troops since the Siege of Boston began on April 19, 1775. The British army felt that if it could take control of the hills surrounding Boston, they could break the blockade and have complete control of Boston.

The colonists found out about the plan accidentally when an unidentified New Hampshire resident happened to learn of it in a conversation with a British officer and later reported it when he returned home to New Hampshire.

The issue was raised on June 13 at the Committee of Safety meeting in Exeter, New Hampshire, and word was quickly sent to the American troops in Boston.

To prevent the British troops from carrying out the plan, Colonel William Prescott and his men marched to nearby Breed’s Hill, although they were originally ordered to go to Bunker Hill, on the night of June 16 and hastily built a large earthen fortification.

"The Battle of Bunker Hill" oil painting by Howard Pyle, circa 1897

“The Battle of Bunker Hill” oil painting by Howard Pyle, circa 1897

It is not known exactly why the troops ended up on Breed’s hill instead of Bunker hill except that Prescott, Colonel Gridley and the other field officers decided it was a better location for their fortification, according to the book Battle of Bunker Hill:

“The order was explicit as to Bunker Hill; and yet a position in the pastures nearer Boston, now known as Breed’s hill, seemed better adapted to the objects of the expedition, and better suited the daring spirit of the officers.”

Despite the fact that the battle took place on Breed’s Hill, it still came to be known as the Battle of Bunker Hill.

Colonel Prescott troops consisted of somewhere between 1,200-1,500 men, including General Joseph Warren, General Israel Putnam and General Henry Burbeck, who had helped make ammunition for the battle alongside his father Lieutenant-Colonel William Burbeck.

When the British military saw the fortification on the hill in the early morning light, one of their ships anchored in Boston harbor, the “Lively,” opened fire on it but did not cause much damage.

The ship was ordered to cease fire but Prescott’s troops quickly came under fire again from a battery of guns and howitzers on Copp’s hill, to little avail.

At about 3 p.m., over 2,000 British infantry soldiers arrived in Charlestown village and found themselves under sniper fire from the village. In an attempt to clear out the snipers, British troops set fire to the town and burned it to the ground.

British General William Howe ordered the troops to meet at the base of the Breed’s hill, clad in their bright red coats and carrying heavy equipment and bayonets, and charge towards the colonists through the open fields on the hillside.

"Battle of Bunker Hill" oil painting by Edward Percy Moran circa 1909

“Battle of Bunker Hill” oil painting by Edward Percy Moran circa 1909

As the colonists watched their slow advance, Colonel Prescott, realizing his men were low on ammunition, allegedly gave his famous order: “Don’t shoot until you see the whites of their eyes.”

When the soldiers were within 150 feet of the redoubt, the colonists opened fire.

The British took heavy losses from this first round of fire and retreated back down the hill.

After regrouping, the British made a second charge up the hill but were again thwarted by heavy fire and retreat. After waiting an hour, the British received 400 more soldiers from Boston and made a third, and final, attempt at taking the hill, just as the colonists ran out of ammunition.

The battle was then reduced to close combat, during which many soldiers fought with nothing more than rocks and the butts of their guns, and the British finally took control of the hill. Defeated and defenseless, the colonists retreated back up the Charlestown peninsula to Cambridge.

Battle of Bunker Hill Casualties:

The colonists suffered most of their casualties, including the death of patriot leader Joseph Warren, not during the battle but during the retreat.

The exact whereabouts of Warren after the battle was unknown but when he failed to reappear after the retreat, the colonists assumed he was killed in action. Warren had in fact died from a shot through the head and British soldiers buried him on the hill in a shallow grave with another colonist.

After the British left Boston in March of 1776, Warren’s body was dug up and identified by Paul Revere who recognized Warren’s two false teeth, which he had installed with a metal wire earlier in the year.

"View of the attack on Bunker's Hill, with the burning of Charles Town, June 17, 1775" engraving by John Lodge circa 1783

“View of the attack on Bunker’s Hill, with the burning of Charles Town, June 17, 1775” engraving by John Lodge circa 1783

The last colonist to die during the battle was Major Andrew McClary, who was hit by cannon fire from a frigate in the harbor while retreating through Charlestown neck, the narrow land bridge connecting the peninsula to the mainland.

McClary was thrown a few feet in the air by the cannon fire before landing dead, face down on the ground. Fort McClary in Kittery, Maine was later named after him.

By the end of the three-hour battle, 268 British soldiers, including a large number of officers, and 115 American soldiers, lay dead and several hundred more were wounded. About 30 American soldiers, most of whom were mortally wounded and couldn’t physically escape, were captured.

Yet another casualty of the battle was General Thomas Gage‘s military career. Gage was the commander of the British troops in Boston at the time and had ordered the assault on Breed’s Hill. When he later called for more British troops to be sent to Boston after the battle, the British government turned against, according to the book Decisive Day: The Battle for Bunker Hill:

“The public and the government wanted a scapegoat and the first person they thought of was Gage himself. Here he was calling for more troops, implying that the government had been responsible for the failures in America; it was obvious that the man whom George III called ‘the mild general’ had to go. Three days after the news of Bunker Hill reached London the decision was made to dismiss Gage and replace him with William Howe.”

Bunker Hill Day celebration circa 1890-1901

Bunker Hill Day celebration circa 1890-1901

Who Won the Battle of Bunker Hill?

Although the British won the Battle of Bunker Hill, it was only a technical victory. Their heavy losses during the battle bolstered the colonist’s confidence and actually encouraged them to continue fighting the war.

The British were still trapped inside the city but were eventually forced to leave Boston the following year in March of 1776 after the Battle of Dorchester Heights.

Battle of Bunker Hill: Places to Visit:

Bunker Hill Museum:
Address: 43 Monument Square, Charlestown, Mass
Admission Price: Free
Hours: 9am-5pm daily

Bunker Hill Monument:
Address: Monument Square, Charlestown, Mass
Admission Price: Free
Hours: 9am-5pm daily

Battle of Bunker Hill; Richard Frothingham; 1890
Decisive Day: The Battle of Bunker Hill; Richard M. Ketchum; 1962
History of the Siege of Boston; Richard Frothingham; 1849
The Freedom Trail: Bunker Hill:
National Parks Service: The Battle of Bunker Hill:
The Library of Congress: The Battle of Bunker Hill:

About Rebecca Beatrice Brooks

Rebecca Beatrice Brooks is the owner and operator of this website and all the articles are written and researched by her. Rebecca is a freelance writer and history lover who got her start in journalism working for small-town newspapers in Massachusetts and New Hampshire after she graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a B.A. in journalism. Visit this site's About page to find out more about Rebecca.

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