Battle of Bunker Hill

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Battle of Bunker Hill
The death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker Hill.  Painting by John Trumbull
The death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker Hill. Painting by John Trumbull
date June 17, 1775
place Bunker Hill, Boston, Massachusetts, colony of the Kingdom of Great Britain, now the USA
output British Army Pyrrhic Victory
Parties to the conflict

British Army

American militias


William Howe

William Prescott

Troop strength
2,600 1,400

1,054 (226 dead, 828 wounded)

441 (140 dead, 271 wounded, 30 prisoners [of which 20 died as prisoners of war])

Bunker Hill was a battle in the American Revolutionary War . It took place on June 17, 1775 during the Siege of Boston . Although it is known under the name "Bunker Hill" ("Bunker Hill"), it took place for the most part on Breed's Hill ("Breeds Hill"). The British army under William Howe drove the American militias from the fortified positions at Bunker Hill and Breed's Hill. The battle was a Pyrrhic victory for Howe. Its immediate aim was achieved, but the attack demonstrated American perseverance, caused considerable British casualties, and did not alter the status of the siege.


Boston had been occupied by the British Army since 1768 . In May 1774, General Thomas Gage had declared martial law in Massachusetts . Since April 19, 1775, his armed forces in Boston were besieged by 8,000 to 12,000 militiamen, chiefly led by General Artemas Ward . In May the British garrison was reinforced by the arrival of over 4,500 additional troops and Major General William Howe . Admiral Samuel Graves commanded the naval units in the port.

General Gage and his new generals began working on a plan to break the hold of the siege troops. They wanted to carry out an attack on land and water to drive the Americans from the Dorchester Heights or to take their headquarters in Cambridge . To thwart these plans, General Ward ordered General Israel Putnam to fortify Bunker Hill.

The battlefield

The Charlestown Peninsula extends about 1,600 meters to the southwest into the Boston harbor basin. At their narrowest point, they are only 1,600 meters separating them from the Boston Peninsula. Bunker Hill is a bump in the back of the peninsula, and Breed's Hill is near the Boston end while the city of Charlestown occupies the plains of the south end.

Sketch of the battlefield on the Charleston Peninsula and the formation of troops on June 17th. George E. Ellis (1875)

Description of the battle

View from Beacon Hill. The landscape, colored with watercolors, shows the view from a British fortification on Beacon Hill with a cannon and a soldier in the foreground. A legend identifies the main points: (1) Mystic River , (2) Charlestown Point, where British forces landed on June 17th, (3) Rebel positions, (4) Noodles Island, (5) Hog Island (Hog Island), (6) Boston Harbor, (7) The Dykes, (8) North Boston, (9) Kops Hill and battery of guns that attacked the rebel positions on June 17th, (10) Beacon Hills (Beacon Hill) and (11) The HMS Somerset. Published between 1775 and 1780.

On the night of June 16, Colonel William Prescott led 1,500 men to the peninsula. At first Putnam, Prescott, and their engineering officer, Captain Richard Gridley, disagreed on where to set up their defenses. Breed's Hill looked better to defend and they decided to build their main entrenchments here. Prescott and his men began digging fortifications with trenches and earthworks 50 meters long and 80 meters wide, following Gridley's instructions. They added trenches and ramparts towards the Charles River on their right and began reinforcing a fence on their left.

Just before dawn, around four o'clock, a guard on board HMS Lively was the first to see the new fortification. The Lively opened fire and temporarily interrupted the work of the Americans. Admiral Graves woke up on his flagship, HMS Somerset , confused by the gunfire he hadn't ordered. He ordered the fire to be stopped, only to have that order withdrawn as soon as he stepped on deck and seen the work. He ordered all 128 cannons in the port to open fire on the American position. The broadsides proved largely ineffective because the ships could not raise their cannons far enough to reach the top of the hill.

It took six hours to organize an infantry force , pull together, and inspect the men at a parade. General Howe was to lead the main attack, bypassing the American left flank and taking it from behind. Brigadier General Robert Pigot on the British left flank was to lead the direct attack on the entrenchments. Major John Pitcairn led the flank or reserve forces. It took several long boat trips to gather Howe's forces on the northeast corner of the peninsula. On a warm day in full combat gear weighing over 30 kg, the British were finally ready around two in the afternoon.

The Americans, who were now watching the activity, had also called in reinforcements. The only troops that could move into the front positions were two regiments from New Hampshire with 200 men under John Stark . Stark's people took up positions along the fence on the north left end of the Americans' position. Because the low tide had opened a breach along the Mystic River, they quickly widened the fence to the north with a short stone wall. Gridley or Stark placed a post 30 meters in front of the fence and ordered that no one should fire before the British regulars passed it.

The Battle of Bunker Hill. History painting by E. Percy Moran.
Bird's eye view 1790 from Bunker Hill onto the "Malden Bridge" over the Mystic River, with Medford in the background

Prescott had lost men consistently, however, few to the bombardment, but there were always ten volunteers to bring each wounded man back. Others took advantage of the confusion to break away. Prescott's troops were joined by two generals, but both refused a command and fought as riflemen. One of them was Dr. Joseph Warren , President of the Revolutionary Council and head of the Revolutionary Government of Massachusetts. The second was Seth Pomeroy . At the start of the battle, 1,400 defenders faced 2,600 regulars.

The first attacks on the fence and the entrenchments met with massive fire at close range and were repulsed with heavy British casualties. The reserve that had accumulated in the north of the city also suffered losses from the gunfire of a company in the city. Howe's men regrouped on the field and began a second unsuccessful attack on the wall.

The Americans soon lost all fire discipline. In traditional battles of the 18th century, units were fired, reloaded, and moved on special orders as trained. After their first hail of bullets, all Americans fought as individuals, and every man shot as fast as he could reload his gun and find a target. The British withdrew almost to their starting positions on the peninsula in order to regroup. The Navy, along with artillery, shot a hail of fire into Charlestown on Crops Hill. All approximately 400 buildings and the docks were burned down completely, but the snipers were able to safely withdraw.

The third British attack took the entrenchments for several reasons. This was because the reserves were included, both flanks were focused on the entrenchments, and the Americans ran out of ammunition. The battle turned into hand-to-hand combat, in which the American rebels were at a disadvantage because most of them did not have bayonets.

Bunker Hill Monument . Bunker Hill Day, Boston , Charlestown , Massachusetts between 1890 and 1901.


The British had won, but at a high price. There were 1,054 casualties (226 dead and 828 wounded) and a disproportionately high proportion of them were officers. American casualties were around 450 soldiers: 140 dead - including Joseph Warren - and 30 prisoners. Most of the remaining American losses were from desertion .

The British dead and wounded included almost all of their officers, including General Howe's entire staff; he was the only one who wasn't hit. Major John Pitcairn was dead and Colonel James Abercrombie Jr. was fatally wounded. The American fugitives and the British advance swept across the entire peninsula, Bunker Hill as well as Breed's Hill. But the number of Americans who had been hastily regrouped by Putnam in new positions on the mainland, the nightfall and the exhaustion of his troops destroyed Howe had any chance of storming Cambridge and breaking the siege.

In response to the Battle of Bunker Hill, King George III. on August 23, 1775 the Proclamation of Rebellion , in which he called the uprising in the colonies. This document, combined with a speech from the throne before Parliament on October 27, 1775, convinced the delegates of the Continental Congress that no solution to the conflict could be expected from the British King.

Thomas Gage was recalled soon after the battle and replaced by General Howe. Howe himself lost the daring he had shown at Louisbourg and was very hesitant for the remainder of his tenure. Gage's report to the cabinet reiterated his earlier warnings that "a large army must finally be used to decimate these people" and that "the recruiting of foreign troops" will be required.

A famous saying comes from this battle: "Don't fire until you see the white in their eyes." It is not certain who this saying came from. Various authors attribute it to either Stark, Prescott, or Gridley. Another uncertain narration concerns the role of African Americans. Some were certainly involved in the battle, but the exact number is unknown. One of them was Salem Poor , who was recognized for his bravery and saved Prescott's life. However, reports linking him to Pitcairn's or Abercrombie's deaths are incredible.

In memory of the battle, the United States Navy named two ships: the aircraft carrier USS Bunker Hill (CV-17) and the guided missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill (CG-52) .


Web links

Commons : Battle of Bunker Hill  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Coordinates: 42 ° 22 '35 "  N , 71 ° 3' 39"  W.

Individual evidence

  1. Ambition is America's driving force in FAZ from November 7, 2014, page 10.