The Battle of Bunker Hill

The American Revolution kicked off with the skirmishes at Lexington and Concord, but the first real battle between the colonials and the British Army took place on this day in 1775 with the Battle of Bunker Hill (which was mostly fought on Breed’s Hill). British forces in Boston were besieged by colonial troops on the hills around the city. To consolidate their hold on the city, and gain control over the entrance to the harbor, the British sought to occupy the hills. The first two British assaults were bloodily repulsed. The third assault carried the hills mostly because the colonials ran out of ammunition. While the colonial forces were defeated and forced to retreat to Cambridge, the heavy losses of the British, about 200 dead and 800 wounded, sent a signal that the colonial forces were every bit the match for the redcoats.

File:The death of general warren at the battle of bunker hill.jpg

The battle also gives rise to one of my favorite (apocryphal) stories.

An American Marine officer found himself on temporary duty in England, and it came to pass that he was invited to the officer’s mess of one of the regiments that had fought at Bunker Hill. The British Army has a long, proud history, and the messes of the regiments are often repositories of many of the artifacts of that. And the British Army loves to take notice of the long history of many of its regiments, with a fierce unit pride that even the oldest US units can’t quite match.

And so, the British officer is proudly displaying these mementos to the American Marine, and comes across a flag captured from the colonials at the Battle of Bunker Hill. Alluding to the long service of the regiment, the Brit says, “And you’ll notice we still have the flag.”

The American calmly replies, “We still have the hill.”

17 thoughts on “The Battle of Bunker Hill”

  1. I just finished reading “Bunker Hill: A City, A Siege, A Revolution” (bought at a small bookstore in the Outer Banks that I visit on every vacation). The conduct of the militia is stunningly steadfast, until you realize that they’d likely all seen combat before, numerous times. They may have been merchants, farmers and tradesmen, but living on the “frontier” meant you’d probably fought against the Indians and the French. Likely, none of the regulars had.

    [I did check the particulars on the regiments that supplied the troops for Lexington and Concord, and I believe the same is true of the other regiments involved here.]

    The attack on the colonists left flank, along the beach was by light infantry, attacking in column. They were knocked down in droves, such that they had to climb over the dead to continue the assault. The casualties suffered by the regulars in this battle were stunning. They expected the ‘untrained’ militia to run. When they didn’t it destroyed the regiments making the assault.

    1. I was able to find “Now We Are Enemies” in a thrift store for a dollar. It was one of the earliest works by Thomas Fleming. It is actually a very good read.

  2. And bayonets uniformly carried by the British but not the Americans ultimately carried the day for the British. What a wonderful response by the Marine, “…and we still have the hill.” Magnificent.

  3. When I was much younger, I got to intern for a summer at a British defense thinktank in London. One of the researchers there was a Major on loan and his regiment (I forget which one) did not have a very good eerie de in the American Revolution.

    So anyways, on the Fourth of July, I picked up dogs its for the office. Everyone enjoyed them until the Major asked what made me bring them in. I told him. He dropped his doughnut from his mouth and stomped off muttering something about “Damned colonials”. The office manager died laughing and then she explained his background to me.

    1. Bill, you do know you’re celebrating the wrong day, yes?

      Congress declared independence on July 2, 1776. They then voted to publish a statement justifying their reasoning. On July 4, they voted to accept the submitted text, and to publish it.

      John Adams was quite confident that July 2 would become a day of celebration, bonfires, roasts, fireworks, and mass celebrations across the land. Well, he came close. 🙂

    2. Casey, John Adams is my favorite Founding Father, since we are both 5’7″, pudgy, and obnoxious and disliked.

  4. I can’t remember where I read it, but I seem to recall George Washington being appalled at the unsanitary conditions that the militia was living in when he first showed up at their location (the source mentioned a lack of latrines, with the attendant risk of contaminated water). The militia could fight, but their lack of formal training and organization apparently made a bad impression on Washington.

    I wish I could remember the book I read that in. Anyone else come across anything like that?

  5. I read the story of the flag in the officers’ mess in Reader’s Digest, probably in the early 80s. I’ve always remembered it, but seem to recall it as an Army officer. On a similar note, our OPFOR is 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment. One of our UK partners captured 4th Infantry’s colors in the War of 1812 and recently extended the invitation to 1-4 to come and look at them in their museum…

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