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Battle of Bunker Hill

Battle of Bunker Hill

Overview
The Battle of Bunker Hill took place on June 17, 1775, mostly on and around Breed's Hill
Breed's Hill
Breed's Hill is a glacial drumlin located in the Charlestown section of Boston, Massachusetts. It is best known as the location where in 1775, early in the American Revolutionary War, most of the fighting in the Battle of Bunker Hill took place...

, during the Siege of Boston
Siege of Boston
The Siege of Boston was the opening phase of the American Revolutionary War, in which New England militiamen—who later became part of the Continental Army—surrounded the town of Boston, Massachusetts, to prevent movement by the British Army garrisoned within...

 early in the American Revolutionary War
American Revolutionary War
The American Revolutionary War , the American War of Independence, or simply the Revolutionary War, began as a war between the Kingdom of Great Britain and thirteen British colonies in North America, and ended in a global war between several European great powers.The war was the result of the...

. The battle is named after the adjacent Bunker Hill, which was peripherally involved in the battle and was the original objective of both colonial and British troops, and is occasionally referred to as the "Battle of Breed's Hill."

On June 13, 1775, the leaders of the colonial forces besieging Boston
Boston
Boston is the capital of and largest city in Massachusetts, and is one of the oldest cities in the United States. The largest city in New England, Boston is regarded as the unofficial "Capital of New England" for its economic and cultural impact on the entire New England region. The city proper had...

 learned that the British generals were planning to send troops out from the city to occupy the unoccupied hills surrounding the city.
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Encyclopedia
The Battle of Bunker Hill took place on June 17, 1775, mostly on and around Breed's Hill
Breed's Hill
Breed's Hill is a glacial drumlin located in the Charlestown section of Boston, Massachusetts. It is best known as the location where in 1775, early in the American Revolutionary War, most of the fighting in the Battle of Bunker Hill took place...

, during the Siege of Boston
Siege of Boston
The Siege of Boston was the opening phase of the American Revolutionary War, in which New England militiamen—who later became part of the Continental Army—surrounded the town of Boston, Massachusetts, to prevent movement by the British Army garrisoned within...

 early in the American Revolutionary War
American Revolutionary War
The American Revolutionary War , the American War of Independence, or simply the Revolutionary War, began as a war between the Kingdom of Great Britain and thirteen British colonies in North America, and ended in a global war between several European great powers.The war was the result of the...

. The battle is named after the adjacent Bunker Hill, which was peripherally involved in the battle and was the original objective of both colonial and British troops, and is occasionally referred to as the "Battle of Breed's Hill."

On June 13, 1775, the leaders of the colonial forces besieging Boston
Boston
Boston is the capital of and largest city in Massachusetts, and is one of the oldest cities in the United States. The largest city in New England, Boston is regarded as the unofficial "Capital of New England" for its economic and cultural impact on the entire New England region. The city proper had...

 learned that the British generals were planning to send troops out from the city to occupy the unoccupied hills surrounding the city. In response to this intelligence, 1,200 colonial troops under the command of William Prescott
William Prescott
William Prescott was an American colonel in the Revolutionary War who commanded the rebel forces in the Battle of Bunker Hill...

 stealthily occupied Bunker Hill and Breed's Hill, constructed an earthen redoubt
Redoubt
A redoubt is a fort or fort system usually consisting of an enclosed defensive emplacement outside a larger fort, usually relying on earthworks, though others are constructed of stone or brick. It is meant to protect soldiers outside the main defensive line and can be a permanent structure or a...

 on Breed's Hill, and built lightly fortified lines across most of the Charlestown Peninsula.

When the British were alerted to the presence of the new position the next day, they mounted an attack against them. After two assaults on the colonial lines were repulsed with significant British casualties, the British finally captured the positions on the third assault, after the defenders in the redoubt ran out of ammunition. The colonial forces retreated to Cambridge over Bunker Hill, suffering their most significant losses on Bunker Hill.

While the result was a victory for the British, they suffered heavy losses: over 800 wounded and 226 killed, including a notably large number of officers. The battle is seen as an example of a Pyrrhic victory
Pyrrhic victory
A Pyrrhic victory is a victory with such a devastating cost to the victor that it carries the implication that another such victory will ultimately cause defeat.-Origin:...

, because the immediate gain (the capture of Bunker Hill) was modest and did not significantly change the state of the siege, while the cost (the loss of nearly a third of the deployed forces) was high. Meanwhile, colonial forces were able to retreat and regroup in good order having suffered few casualties. Furthermore, the battle demonstrated that relatively inexperienced colonial forces were willing and able to stand up to regular army
Regular army
A regular army consists of the permanent force of a country's army that is maintained under arms during peacetime.Countries that use the term include:*Australian Army*British Army*Canadian Forces, specifically "Regular Force"*Egyptian army*Indian Army...

 troops in a pitched battle
Pitched battle
A pitched battle is a battle where both sides choose to fight at a chosen location and time and where either side has the option to disengage either before the battle starts, or shortly after the first armed exchanges....

.

Geography


Boston
Boston
Boston is the capital of and largest city in Massachusetts, and is one of the oldest cities in the United States. The largest city in New England, Boston is regarded as the unofficial "Capital of New England" for its economic and cultural impact on the entire New England region. The city proper had...

, situated on a peninsula, was largely protected from close approach by the expanses of water surrounding it, which were dominated by British warships. In the aftermath of the battles of Lexington and Concord
Battles of Lexington and Concord
The Battles of Lexington and Concord were the first military engagements of the American Revolutionary War. They were fought on April 19, 1775, in Middlesex County, Province of Massachusetts Bay, within the towns of Lexington, Concord, Lincoln, Menotomy , and Cambridge, near Boston...

 on April 19, 1775, the colonial militia, a force of about 15,000 men had surrounded the town, and effectively besieged it. Under the command of Artemas Ward
Artemas Ward
Artemas Ward was an American major general in the American Revolutionary War and a Congressman from Massachusetts...

, they controlled the only land access to Boston itself (the Roxbury Neck), but, lacking a navy, were unable to control or even contest British domination of the waters of the harbor. The British troops, a force of about 6,000 under the command of General Thomas Gage
Thomas Gage
Thomas Gage was a British general, best known for his many years of service in North America, including his role as military commander in the early days of the American War of Independence....

, occupied the city, and were able to be resupplied and reinforced by sea. They were thus able to remain in Boston indefinitely.

However, the land across the water from Boston contained a number of hills, which could be used to advantage. If the militia could obtain enough artillery pieces, these could be placed on the hills and used to bombard the city until the occupying army evacuated it or surrendered. It was with this in mind that the Knox Expedition
Noble train of artillery
The noble train of artillery, also known as the Knox Expedition, was an expedition led by Continental Army Colonel Henry Knox to transport heavy weaponry that had been captured at Fort Ticonderoga to the Continental Army camps outside Boston, Massachusetts during the winter of 1775–1776.Knox went...

, led by Henry Knox
Henry Knox
Henry Knox was a military officer of the Continental Army and later the United States Army, and also served as the first United States Secretary of War....

, later transported cannon from Fort Ticonderoga
Fort Ticonderoga
Fort Ticonderoga, formerly Fort Carillon, is a large 18th-century fort built by the Canadians and the French at a narrows near the south end of Lake Champlain in upstate New York in the United States...

 to the Boston area.

The Charlestown Peninsula
Peninsula
A peninsula is a piece of land that is bordered by water on three sides but connected to mainland. In many Germanic and Celtic languages and also in Baltic, Slavic and Hungarian, peninsulas are called "half-islands"....

, lying to the north of Boston, started from a short, narrow isthmus
Isthmus
An isthmus is a narrow strip of land connecting two larger land areas usually with waterforms on either side.Canals are often built through isthmuses where they may be particularly advantageous to create a shortcut for marine transportation...

 (known as the Charlestown Neck) at its northwest, extending about 1 miles (1.6 km) southeastward into Boston Harbor. Bunker Hill, with an elevation of 110 feet (34 m), lay at the northern end of the peninsula. Breed's Hill, at a height of 62 feet (19 m), was more southerly and nearer to Boston. The town of Charlestown
Charlestown, Massachusetts
Charlestown is a neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts, United States, and is located on a peninsula north of downtown Boston. Charlestown was originally a separate town and the first capital of the Massachusetts Bay Colony; it became a city in 1847 and was annexed by Boston on January 5, 1874...

 occupied flats at the southern end of the peninsula. At its closest approach, less than 1000 feet (305 m) separated the Charlestown Peninsula from the Boston Peninsula, where Copp's Hill
Copp's Hill
Copp's Hill is an elevation in the historic North End of Boston, Massachusetts. It is bordered by Hull Street, Charter Street and Snow Hill Street. The hill takes its name from William Copp, a shoemaker who once owned the land...

 was at about the same height as Breed's Hill. While the British retreat from Concord had ended in Charlestown, General Gage, rather than immediately fortifying the hills on the peninsula, had withdrawn those troops to Boston the day after that battle, turning the entire Charlestown Peninsula into a no man's land
No man's land
No man's land is a term for land that is unoccupied or is under dispute between parties that leave it unoccupied due to fear or uncertainty. The term was originally used to define a contested territory or a dumping ground for refuse between fiefdoms...

.

British planning



Throughout May, in response to orders from Gage requesting support, the British received reinforcements, until they reached a strength of about 6,000 men. On May 25, three Generals arrived on : William Howe
William Howe, 5th Viscount Howe
William Howe, 5th Viscount Howe, KB, PC was a British army officer who rose to become Commander-in-Chief of British forces during the American War of Independence...

, John Burgoyne
John Burgoyne
General John Burgoyne was a British army officer, politician and dramatist. He first saw action during the Seven Years' War when he participated in several battles, mostly notably during the Portugal Campaign of 1762....

, and Henry Clinton
Henry Clinton (American War of Independence)
General Sir Henry Clinton KB was a British army officer and politician, best known for his service as a general during the American War of Independence. First arriving in Boston in May 1775, from 1778 to 1782 he was the British Commander-in-Chief in North America...

. Gage began planning with them to break out of the city, finalizing a plan on June 12. This plan began with the taking of the Dorchester Neck, fortifying the Dorchester Heights
Dorchester Heights
Dorchester Heights is the central area of South Boston. It is the highest area in the neighborhood and commands a view of both Boston Harbor and downtown.-History:...

, and then marching on the colonial forces stationed in Roxbury. Once the southern flank had been secured, the Charlestown heights would be taken, and the forces in Cambridge driven away. The attack was set for June 18.

On June 13, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress
Massachusetts Provincial Congress
The Massachusetts Provincial Congress was a provisional government created in the Province of Massachusetts Bay early in the American Revolution....

 was notified, by express messenger from the Committee of Safety
Committee of Safety (American Revolution)
Many Committees of Safety were established throughout Colonial America at the start of the American Revolution. These committees started to appear in the 1760s as means to discuss the concerns of the time, and often consisted of every male adult in the community...

 in Exeter, New Hampshire
Exeter, New Hampshire
Exeter is a town in Rockingham County, New Hampshire, United States. The town's population was 14,306 at the 2010 census. Exeter was the county seat until 1997, when county offices were moved to neighboring Brentwood...

, that a New Hampshire gentleman "of undoubted veracity" had, while visiting Boston, overheard the British commanders making plans to capture Dorchester and Charlestown. On June 15, the Massachusetts Committee of Safety decided that additional defenses needed to be erected. General Ward directed General Israel Putnam
Israel Putnam
Israel Putnam was an American army general and Freemason who fought with distinction at the Battle of Bunker Hill during the American Revolutionary War...

 to set up defenses on the Charlestown Peninsula, specifically on Bunker Hill.

Prelude to battle



Fortification of Breed's Hill


On the night of June 16, colonial Colonel William Prescott
William Prescott
William Prescott was an American colonel in the Revolutionary War who commanded the rebel forces in the Battle of Bunker Hill...

 led about 1,200 men onto the peninsula in order to set up positions from which artillery fire could be directed into Boston. This force was made up of men from the regiments of Prescott, Putnam (the unit was commanded by Thomas Knowlton
Thomas Knowlton
Thomas Knowlton was an American patriot who served in the French and Indian War and was a Colonel during the American Revolution. Knowlton is considered America's first Intelligence professional, and his unit, Knowlton's Rangers, made a significant contribution to intelligence gathering during...

), James Frye
James Frye
James Frye was a colonial soldier. He filled several local offices, served at the capture of Louisburg in 1745, and commanded the Essex regiment at the beginning of the Revolution, taking an active part in the battle of Bunker Hill. He afterward commanded the 6th brigade of the army investing...

, and Ebenezer Bridge. At first, Putnam, Prescott, and their engineer, Captain Richard Gridley
Richard Gridley
Richard Gridley was born in Boston, Massachusetts. He was the son of Richard Gridley and Rebecca Scarborough. He was a soldier and engineer who served for the British Army during the French and Indian Wars and for the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War.He married Hannah Deming...

, disagreed as to where they should locate their defense. Some work was performed on Bunker Hill, but Breed's Hill was closer to Boston and viewed as being more defensible. Arguably against orders, they decided to build their primary redoubt
Redoubt
A redoubt is a fort or fort system usually consisting of an enclosed defensive emplacement outside a larger fort, usually relying on earthworks, though others are constructed of stone or brick. It is meant to protect soldiers outside the main defensive line and can be a permanent structure or a...

 there. Prescott and his men, using Gridley's outline, began digging a square fortification about 130 feet (39.6 m) on a side with ditches and earthen walls. The walls of the redoubt were about 6 feet (1.8 m) high, with a wooden platform inside on which men could stand and fire over the walls.

The works on Breed's Hill did not go unnoticed by the British. General Clinton, out on reconnaissance that night, was aware of them, and tried to convince Gage and Howe that they needed to prepare to attack the position at daylight. British sentries were also aware of the activity, but most apparently did not think it cause for alarm. Then, in the early predawn, around 4:00 am, a sentry on board spotted the new fortification, and notified her captain. Lively opened fire, temporarily halting the colonists' work. Aboard his flagship , Admiral Samuel Graves
Samuel Graves
Admiral Samuel Graves RN was a British Admiral who is probably best known for his role early in the American War of Independence.-Military career:Graves joined the Royal Navy in 1732...

 awoke, irritated by the gunfire that he had not ordered. He stopped it, only to have General Gage countermand his decision when he became fully aware of the situation in the morning. He ordered all 128 guns in the harbor, as well as batteries atop Copp's Hill in Boston, to fire on the colonial position, which had relatively little effect. The rising sun also alerted Prescott to a significant problem with the location of the redoubt – it could easily be flanked on either side. He promptly ordered his men to begin constructing a breastwork running down the hill to the east, deciding he did not have the manpower to also build additional defenses to the west of the redoubt.


British preparations


When the British generals met to discuss their options, General Clinton, who had urged an attack as early as possible, recommended an attack beginning from the Charlestown Neck that would cut off the colonists' retreat, reducing the process of capturing the new redoubt to one of starving out its occupants. However, he was outvoted by the other three generals. Howe, who was the senior officer present and would lead the assault, was of the opinion that the hill was "open and easy of ascent and in short would be easily carried". Orders were then issued to prepare the expedition.

When General Gage
Thomas Gage
Thomas Gage was a British general, best known for his many years of service in North America, including his role as military commander in the early days of the American War of Independence....

 surveyed the works from Boston with his staff, Loyalist Abijah Willard recognized his brother-in-law Colonel Prescott. "Will he fight?" asked Gage. "[A]s to his men, I cannot answer for them;" replied Willard, "but Colonel Prescott will fight you to the gates of hell." Prescott lived up to Willard's word, but his men were not so resolute. When the colonists suffered their first casualty, Asa Pollard of Billerica, a young private killed by cannon fire, Prescott gave orders to bury the man quickly and quietly, but a large group of men gave him a solemn funeral instead, with several deserting shortly thereafter.

It took almost six hours for the British to organize an infantry force and to gather up and inspect the men on parade. General Howe was to lead the major assault, drive around the colonial left flank
Flanking maneuver
In military tactics, a flanking maneuver, also called a flank attack, is an attack on the sides of an opposing force. If a flanking maneuver succeeds, the opposing force would be surrounded from two or more directions, which significantly reduces the maneuverability of the outflanked force and its...

, and take them from the rear. Brigadier General Robert Pigot on the British left flank would lead the direct assault on the redoubt, and Major John Pitcairn
John Pitcairn
John Pitcairn was a British Marine who was stationed in Boston, Massachusetts at the start of the American Revolutionary War....

 led the flank or reserve force. It took several trips in longboats to transport Howe's initial forces (consisting of about 1,500 men) to the eastern corner of the peninsula, known as Moulton's Point. By 2 pm, Howe's chosen force had landed. However, while crossing the river, Howe noted the large number of colonial troops on top of Bunker Hill. Believing these to be reinforcements, he immediately sent a message to Gage, requesting additional troops. He then ordered some of the light infantry to take a forward position along the eastern side of the peninsula, alerting the colonists to his intended course of action. The troops then sat down to eat while they waited for the reinforcements.

Colonists reinforce their positions



Prescott, seeing the British preparations, called for reinforcements. Among the reinforcements were Joseph Warren
Joseph Warren
Dr. Joseph Warren was an American doctor who played a leading role in American Patriot organizations in Boston in early days of the American Revolution, eventually serving as president of the revolutionary Massachusetts Provincial Congress...

, the popular young leader of the Massachusetts Committee of Safety, and Seth Pomeroy
Seth Pomeroy
Seth Pomeroy was an American gunsmith and soldier from Northampton, Massachusetts. His military service included the French and Indian War and the early stages of the American Revolutionary War...

, an aging Massachusetts militia leader. Both of these men held commissions of rank, but chose to serve as infantry. Prescott ordered the Connecticut men under Captain Knowlton to defend the left flank, where they used a crude dirt wall as a breastwork, and topped it with fence rails and hay. They also constructed three small v-shaped trenches between this dirt wall and Prescott's breastwork. Troops that arrived to reinforce this flank position included about 200 men from the 1st
1st New Hampshire Regiment
The 1st New Hampshire Regiment was an infantry unit that came into existence on 22 May 1775 at the beginning of the American Revolutionary War. John Stark was the regiment's first commander. The unit fought at Chelsea Creek and Bunker Hill in 1775. On 1 January 1776, while engaged in the Siege of...

 and 3rd New Hampshire regiments
3rd New Hampshire Regiment
The 3rd New Hampshire Regiment, also known as the 2nd Continental Regiment, was authorized on 22 May 1775, organized 1-8 June 1775, and adopted into the Continental Army on 14 June, 1775, as the third of three regiments raised by the state of New Hampshire during the American Revolution...

, under Colonels John Stark
John Stark
John Stark was a New Hampshire native who served as a major general in the Continental Army during the American Revolution. He became widely known as the "Hero of Bennington" for his exemplary service at the Battle of Bennington in 1777.-Early life:John Stark was born in Londonderry, New...

 and James Reed
James Reed (soldier)
James Reed was a military officer in the French and Indian War and the American Revolution, rising to the rank of brigadier general in the latter conflict....

. Stark's men, who did not arrive until after Howe landed his forces (and thus filled a gap in the defense that Howe could have taken advantage of, had he pressed his attack sooner), took positions along the breastwork on the northern end of the colonial position. When low tide opened a gap along the Mystic River
Mystic River
The Mystic River is a river in Massachusetts, in the United States. Its name derives from the Wampanoag word "muhs-uhtuq", which translates to "big river." In an Algonquian language, "Missi-Tuk" means "a great river whose waters are driven by waves", alluding to the natural tidal nature of the...

 to the north, they quickly extended the fence with a short stone wall to the water's edge. Colonel Stark placed a stake about 100 feet (30 m) in front of the fence and ordered that no one fire until the regulars
Regular Army
The Regular Army of the United States was and is the successor to the Continental Army as the country's permanent, professional military establishment. Even in modern times the professional core of the United States Army continues to be called the Regular Army...

 passed it. Just prior to the action, further reinforcements arrived, including portions of Massachusetts regiments of Colonels Brewer, Nixon
John Nixon (Massachusetts)
John Nixon was an American brigadier general in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War.He was born in Framingham, Massachusetts on March 1, 1724 to Christopher and Mary Nixon. On February 7, 1754, John Nixon married Thankfully Berry also of Framingham...

, Woodbridge
Benjamin Ruggles Woodbridge
Benjamin Ruggles Woodbridge of South Hadley, Massachusetts, practiced medicine and law, was a colonel in the Massachusetts militia during the American Revolutionary War, and was a commander at the Battle of Bunker Hill. He was also a farmer, and he owned a rum still, a wood lot, a grazing meadow,...

, Little
Moses Little
Moses Little , born on May 8, 1724 in Newbury, Massachusetts. Moses Little served in the Massachusetts militia and with his company marched to the Battles of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775...

, and Major Moore, as well as Callender's company of artillery.

Behind the colonial lines, confusion reigned. Many units sent toward the action stopped before crossing the Charlestown Neck from Cambridge, which was under constant fire from gun batteries to the south. Others reached Bunker Hill, but then, uncertain about where to go from there, milled around. One commentator wrote of the scene that "it appears to me there never was more confusion and less command". While General Putnam was on the scene attempting to direct affairs, unit commanders often misunderstood or disobeyed orders.

Assault


By 3 pm, the British reinforcements, which included the 47th Foot and the 1st Marines, had arrived, and the British were ready to march. Brigadier General Pigot's force, gathering just south of Charlestown village, were taking casualties from sniper fire, and Howe asked Admiral Graves for assistance in clearing out the snipers. Graves, who had planned for such a possibility, ordered incendiary shot fired into the village, and then sent a landing party to set fire to the town. The smoke billowing from Charlestown lent an almost surreal backdrop to the fighting, as the winds were such that the smoke was kept from the field of battle.

Pigot, commanding the 5th, 38th, 43rd, 47th, and 52nd
52nd (Oxfordshire) Regiment of Foot
The 52nd Regiment of Foot was a light infantry regiment of the British Army throughout much of the 18th and 19th centuries. The regiment first saw active service during the American War of Independence, and were posted to India during the Anglo-Mysore Wars...

 regiments, as well as Major Pitcairn's Marines, were to feint an assault on the redoubt. However, they continued to be harried by snipers in Charlestown, and Pigot, when he saw what happened to Howe's advance, ordered a retreat.

General Howe led the light infantry companies and grenadiers in the assault on the American left flank, expecting an easy effort against Stark's recently arrived troops. His light infantry were set along the narrow beach, in column, in order to turn the far left flank of the colonial position. The grenadiers were deployed in the middle. They lined up four deep and several hundred across. As the regulars closed, John Simpson
John Simpson (soldier)
Major John Simpson was an American Revolutionary War soldier from Deerfield, New Hampshire. He is one of several men traditionally described as having fired the first shot on the American side at the Battle of Bunker Hill....

, a New Hampshire man, prematurely fired, drawing an ineffective volley of return fire from the regulars. When the regulars finally closed within range, both sides opened fire. The colonists inflicted heavy casualties on the regulars, using the fence to steady and aim their muskets, and benefit from a modicum of cover. With this devastating barrage of musket fire, the regulars retreated in disarray, and the militia held their ground.


The regulars reformed on the field and marched out again. This time, Pigot was not to feint; he was to assault the redoubt, possibly without the assistance of Howe's force. Howe, instead of marching against Stark's position along the beach, marched instead against Knowlton's position along the rail fence. The outcome of the second attack was much the same as the first. One British observer wrote, "Most of our Grenadiers and Light-infantry, the moment of presenting themselves lost three-fourths, and many nine-tenths, of their men. Some had only eight or nine men a company left ..." Pigot did not fare any better in his attack on the redoubt, and again ordered a retreat. Meanwhile, in the rear of the colonial forces, confusion continued to reign. General Putnam tried, with only limited success, to send additional troops from Bunker Hill to Breed's Hill to support the men in the redoubt and along the defensive lines.

The British rear was also in some disarray. Wounded soldiers that were mobile had made their way to the landing areas, and were being ferried back to Boston, and the wounded lying on the field of battle were the source of moans and cries of pain. General Howe, deciding that he would try again, sent word to General Clinton in Boston for additional troops. Clinton, who had watched the first two attacks, sent about 400 men from the 2nd Marines and the 63rd Foot, and then followed himself to help rally the troops. In addition to the new reserves, he also convinced about 200 of the wounded to form up for the third attack. During the interval between the second and third assaults, General Putnam continued trying to direct troops toward the action. Some companies, and leaderless groups of men, moved toward the action; others retreated. John Chester, a Connecticut captain, seeing an entire company in retreat, ordered his company to aim muskets at that company to halt its retreat; they turned about and headed back to the battlefield.

The third assault, concentrated on the redoubt (with only a feint on the colonists' flank), was successful, although the colonists again poured musket fire into the British ranks, and it cost the life of Major Pitcairn. The defenders had run out of ammunition, reducing the battle to close combat. The British had the advantage once they entered the redoubt, as their troops were equipped with bayonet
Bayonet
A bayonet is a knife, dagger, sword, or spike-shaped weapon designed to fit in, on, over or underneath the muzzle of a rifle, musket or similar weapon, effectively turning the gun into a spear...

s on their muskets while most of the colonists were not. Colonel Prescott, one of the last colonists to leave the redoubt, parried bayonet thrusts with his normally ceremonial sabre
Sabre
The sabre or saber is a kind of backsword that usually has a curved, single-edged blade and a rather large hand guard, covering the knuckles of the hand as well as the thumb and forefinger...

. It is during the retreat from the redoubt that Joseph Warren was killed.

The retreat of much of the colonial forces from the peninsula was made possible in part by the controlled retreat of the forces along the rail fence, led by John Stark and Thomas Knowlton, which prevented the encirclement of the hill. Their disciplined retreat, described by Burgoyne as "no flight; it was even covered with bravery and military skill", was so effective that most of the wounded were saved; most of the prisoners taken by the British were mortally wounded. General Putnam attempted to reform the troops on Bunker Hill; however the flight of the colonial forces was so rapid that artillery pieces and entrenching tools had to be abandoned. The colonists suffered most of their casualties during the retreat on Bunker Hill. By 5 pm, the colonists had retreated over the Charlestown Neck to fortified positions in Cambridge, and the British were in control of the peninsula.

Aftermath



The British had taken the ground but at a great loss; they suffered 1,054 casualties (226 dead and 828 wounded), with a disproportionate number of these officers. The casualty count was the highest suffered by the British in any single encounter during the entire war. General Clinton, echoing Pyrrhus of Epirus
Pyrrhus of Epirus
Pyrrhus or Pyrrhos was a Greek general and statesman of the Hellenistic era. He was king of the Greek tribe of Molossians, of the royal Aeacid house , and later he became king of Epirus and Macedon . He was one of the strongest opponents of early Rome...

, remarked in his diary that "A few more such victories would have shortly put an end to British dominion in America." British dead and wounded included 100 commissioned officers, a significant portion of the British officer corps in North America. Much of General Howe's field staff was among the casualties. Major Pitcairn had been killed, and Lieutenant Colonel James Abercrombie
James Abercrombie (Bunker Hill)
Colonel James Abercrombie was a British army officer who died during the American Revolutionary War.There is much uncertainty about Abercrombie's family...

 fatally wounded. General Gage, in his report after the battle, reported the following officer casualties (listing lieutenants and above by name):
  • 1 lieutenant colonel killed
  • 2 majors killed, 3 wounded
  • 7 captains killed, 27 wounded
  • 9 lieutenants killed, 32 wounded
  • 15 sergeants killed, 42 wounded
  • 1 drummer killed, 12 wounded


The colonial losses were about 450, of whom 140 were killed. Most of the colonial losses came during the withdrawal. Major Andrew McClary was technically the highest ranking colonial officer to die in the battle; he was hit by cannon fire on Charlestown neck, the last person to be killed in the battle. He was later commemorated by the dedication of Fort McClary
Fort McClary
Fort McClary is a former defensive fortification of the United States military located along the southern coast of Maine at Kittery Point, the seaside district of Kittery. Used primarily throughout the 19th century, it was built to protect approaches to the nearby Piscataqua River...

 in Kittery, Maine
Kittery, Maine
Kittery is a town in York County, Maine, United States. The population was 9,543 at the 2000 census. Home to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard on Seavey's Island, Kittery includes Badger's Island, the seaside district of Kittery Point, and part of the Isles of Shoals...

. A serious loss to the Patriot cause, however, was the death of Dr. Joseph Warren
Joseph Warren
Dr. Joseph Warren was an American doctor who played a leading role in American Patriot organizations in Boston in early days of the American Revolution, eventually serving as president of the revolutionary Massachusetts Provincial Congress...

. He was the President of Massachusetts' Provincial Congress, and he had been appointed a Major General on June 14. His commission had not yet taken effect when he served as a volunteer private three days later at Bunker Hill. Only thirty men were captured by the British, most of them with grievous wounds; twenty died while held prisoner. The colonials also lost numerous shovels and other entrenching tools, as well as 5 out of the 6 cannon they had brought to the peninsula.

Political consequences


When news of the battle spread through the colonies, it was reported as a colonial loss, as the ground had been taken by the enemy, and significant casualties were incurred. George Washington
George Washington
George Washington was the dominant military and political leader of the new United States of America from 1775 to 1799. He led the American victory over Great Britain in the American Revolutionary War as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army from 1775 to 1783, and presided over the writing of...

, who was on his way to Boston as the new commander of the Continental Army
Continental Army
The Continental Army was formed after the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War by the colonies that became the United States of America. Established by a resolution of the Continental Congress on June 14, 1775, it was created to coordinate the military efforts of the Thirteen Colonies in...

, received news of the battle while in New York City. The report, which included casualty figures that were somewhat inaccurate, gave Washington hope that his army might prevail in the conflict.
The Massachusetts Committee of Safety, seeking to repeat the sort of propaganda victory it won following the battles at Lexington and Concord, commissioned a report of the battle to send to England. Their report, however, did not reach England before Gage's official account arrived on July 20. His report unsurprisingly caused friction and argument between the Tories
Tories (political faction)
The Tories were members of two political parties which existed, sequentially, in the Kingdom of England, the Kingdom of Great Britain and later the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from the 17th to the early 19th centuries.-Overview:...

 and the Whigs, but the casualty counts alarmed the military establishment, and forced many to rethink their views of colonial military capability. King George
George III of the United Kingdom
George III was King of Great Britain and King of Ireland from 25 October 1760 until the union of these two countries on 1 January 1801, after which he was King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland until his death...

's attitude toward the colonies hardened, and the news may have contributed to his rejection of the Continental Congress' Olive Branch Petition
Olive Branch Petition
The Olive Branch Petition was adopted by the Continental Congress in July 1775 in an attempt to avoid a full-blown war with Great Britain. The petition affirmed American loyalty to Great Britain and entreated the king to prevent further conflict...

, the last substantive political attempt at reconciliation. Sir James Adolphus Oughton
James Adolphus Oughton
Lieutenant General Sir James Adolphus Oughton KB was a British officer who was commander of forces in North Britain.-External links:*...

, part of the Tory majority, wrote to Lord Dartmouth
William Legge, 2nd Earl of Dartmouth
William Legge 2nd Earl of Dartmouth PC, FRS , styled as Viscount Lewisham from 1732 to 1750, was a British statesman who is most remembered for his part in the government before and during the American Revolution....

 of the colonies, "the sooner they are made to Taste Distress the sooner will [Crown control over them] be produced, and the Effusion of Blood be put a stop to." This hardening of the British position also led to a hardening of previously weak support for the rebellion, especially in the southern colonies, in favor of independence.

Gage's report had a more direct effect on his own career. His dismissal from office was decided just three days after his report was received, although General Howe did not replace him until October 1775. Gage wrote another report to the British Cabinet, in which he repeated earlier warnings that "a large army must at length be employed to reduce these people", that would require "the hiring of foreign troops."

Analysis


Much has been written in the wake of this battle over how it was conducted. Both sides made strategic and tactical missteps which could have altered the outcome of the battle. While hindsight often gives a biased view, some things seem to be apparent after the battle that might reasonably have been within the reach of the command of the day.

Colonial faults


The colonial forces, while nominally under the overall command of General Ward, with General Putnam leading in the field, often acted quite independently. This was evident in the opening page of the drama, when a tactical decision was made that had strategic implications. Colonel Prescott and his staff, apparently in contravention of orders, decided to fortify Breed's Hill rather than Bunker Hill. The fortification of Breed's Hill was more provocative; it would have put offensive artillery closer to Boston. It also exposed the forces there to the possibility of being trapped, as they probably could not properly defend against attempts by the British to land troops and take control of Charlestown Neck. If the British had taken that step, they might have had a victory with many fewer casualties.


While the front lines of the colonial forces were generally well managed, the scene behind them, especially once the action began, was significantly disorganized, due at least in part to a poor chain of command. Only some of the militias operated directly under Ward's and Putnam's authority, and some commanders also disobeyed orders, staying at Bunker Hill rather than joining in the defense on the third British assault. Several officers were subjected to court martial and cashiered. Colonel Prescott was of the opinion that the third assault would have been repulsed, had his forces in the redoubt been reinforced with either more men, or more supplies of ammunition and powder.

British faults


The British leadership, for its part, was slow to act once the works on Breed's Hill were spotted. It was 2 pm when the troops were ready for the assault, roughly ten hours after the Lively first opened fire. This leisurely pace gave the colonial forces time to reinforce the flanking positions that had been poorly defended. Gage and Howe decided that a frontal assault on the works would be a simple matter, when an encircling move (gaining control of Charlestown Neck), would have given them a more resounding victory. (This move would not have been without risks of its own, as the colonists could have made holding the Neck expensive with fire from the high ground in Cambridge.) But the British leadership was excessively optimistic, believing that "two regiments were sufficient to beat the strength of the province".


Once in the field, Howe, rather than focusing on the redoubt, opted (twice) to dilute the force attacking the redoubt with a flanking maneuver against the colonial left. It was only with the third attack, when the flank attack was merely a feint
Feint
Feint is a French term that entered English from the discipline of fencing. Feints are maneuvers designed to distract or mislead, done by giving the impression that a certain maneuver will take place, while in fact another, or even none, will...

, and the main force (now also reinforced with additional reserves) was squarely targeted at the redoubt, that the attack succeeded.

Following the taking of the peninsula, the British arguably had a tactical advantage that they could have used to press into Cambridge. General Clinton proposed this to Howe; having just led three assaults with grievous casualties, he declined the idea. Howe was eventually recognized by the colonial military leaders to be a tentative decision-maker, to his detriment; in the aftermath of the Battle of Long Island
Battle of Long Island
The Battle of Long Island, also known as the Battle of Brooklyn or the Battle of Brooklyn Heights, fought on August 27, 1776, was the first major battle in the American Revolutionary War following the United States Declaration of Independence, the largest battle of the entire conflict, and the...

, he again had tactical advantages that might have delivered Washington's army into his hands, but again refused to act.

"The whites of their eyes"


The famous order "Don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes" was popularized in stories about the battle of Bunker Hill. It is uncertain as to who said it there, since various histories, including eyewitness accounts, attribute it to Putnam, Stark, Prescott or Gridley, and it may have been said first by one, and repeated by the others. It was also not an original statement. It was used by General James Wolfe
James Wolfe
Major General James P. Wolfe was a British Army officer, known for his training reforms but remembered chiefly for his victory over the French in Canada...

 on the Plains of Abraham
Battle of the Plains of Abraham
The Battle of the Plains of Abraham, also known as the Battle of Quebec, was a pivotal battle in the Seven Years' War...

, when his troops defeated Montcalm's
Louis-Joseph de Montcalm
Louis-Joseph de Montcalm-Gozon, Marquis de Saint-Veran was a French soldier best known as the commander of the forces in North America during the Seven Years' War .Montcalm was born near Nîmes in France to a noble family, and entered military service...

 army on September 13, 1759. The earliest similar quote came from the Battle of Dettingen
Battle of Dettingen
The Battle of Dettingen took place on 27 June 1743 at Dettingen in Bavaria during the War of the Austrian Succession. It was the last time that a British monarch personally led his troops into battle...

 on June 27, 1743, where Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Andrew Agnew
Sir Andrew Agnew, 5th Baronet
Lt-Gen. Sir Andrew Agnew, 5th Baronet JP was the son of Sir James Agnew, 4th Baronet and Lady Mary Montgomerie.-Succession:He succeeded his father as 5th Baronet Agnew, of Lochnaw on the latter's death on 9 March 1735...

 of Lochnaw warned his Regiment, the Royal Scots Fusiliers
Royal Scots Fusiliers
-The Earl of Mar's Regiment of Foot :The regiment was raised in Scotland in 1678 by Stuart loyalist Charles Erskine, de jure 5th Earl of Mar for service against the rebel covenanting forces during the Second Whig Revolt . They were used to keep the peace and put down brigands, mercenaries, and...

, not to fire until they could "see the white's of their e'en." The phrase was also used by Prince Charles of Prussia in 1745, and repeated in 1755 by Frederick the Great, and may have been mentioned in histories the colonial military leaders were familiar with. Whether or not it was actually said in this battle, it was clear that the colonial military leadership were regularly reminding their troops to hold their fire until the moment when it would have the greatest effect, especially in situations where their ammunition would be limited.

Notable participants


A significant number of notable people fought in this battle. Henry Dearborn
Henry Dearborn
Henry Dearborn was an American physician, a statesman and a veteran of both the American Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. Born to Simon Dearborn and Sarah Marston in North Hampton, New Hampshire, he spent much of his youth in Epping, where he attended public schools...

 and William Eustis
William Eustis
William Eustis was an early American statesman.He was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts and studied at the Boston Latin School before he entered Harvard College, from which he graduated in 1772. He studied medicine under Dr. Joseph Warren and helped care for the wounded at the Battle of Bunker...

, for example, went on to distinguished military and political careers; both served in Congress, the Cabinet, and in diplomatic posts. Others, like John Brooks
John Brooks
John Brooks was the 11th Governor of Massachusetts from 1816 to 1823; he was the last significant Federalist elected official in office in the United States....

, Henry Burbeck
Henry Burbeck
Henry Burbeck , son of William Burbeck and Jerusha Glover, was born in Boston, Massachusetts. He served in the United States army for more than forty years most notably during the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 and achieved the rank of Brigadier General.In the Revolutionary War, he fought at...

, Christian Febiger
Christian Febiger
Hans Christian Febiger was an American Revolutionary War commander, confidante of General George Washington and an original member of the Society of the Cincinnati...

, Thomas Knowlton
Thomas Knowlton
Thomas Knowlton was an American patriot who served in the French and Indian War and was a Colonel during the American Revolution. Knowlton is considered America's first Intelligence professional, and his unit, Knowlton's Rangers, made a significant contribution to intelligence gathering during...

, and John Stark
John Stark
John Stark was a New Hampshire native who served as a major general in the Continental Army during the American Revolution. He became widely known as the "Hero of Bennington" for his exemplary service at the Battle of Bennington in 1777.-Early life:John Stark was born in Londonderry, New...

, became well known for later actions in the war. Stark became known as the "Hero of Bennington" for his role in the 1777 Battle of Bennington
Battle of Bennington
The Battle of Bennington was a battle of the American Revolutionary War that took place on August 16, 1777, in Walloomsac, New York, about from its namesake Bennington, Vermont...

. Free African-Americans also fought in the battle, notable examples include Barzillai Lew
Barzillai Lew
Barzillai Lew was an African American soldier who served with distinction during the American Revolution.-Family history:...

, Salem Poor
Salem Poor
Born into slavery in Andover, Massachusetts, Salem Poor managed to buy his freedom in 1769 for £27. Poor soon married a free African American woman named Nancy. In 1775, he enlisted in the militia, serving under Captain Benjamin Ames in Colonel James Fryes' regiment, opposing the British troops...

, and Peter Salem
Peter Salem
Peter Salem was an African American who served as a soldier in the American Revolutionary War. He was born in Framingham, Massachusetts, a slave of Jeremiah Belknap. Salem was later sold to Lawson Buckminster, who gave him his freedom. At least one record calls him "Salem Middlesex"- Military...

 (the leadership would not allow slaves to fight, as this was anathema to the very idea of the freedom for which they were fighting). Another notable participant was Daniel Shays
Daniel Shays
Daniel Shays was an American soldier, revolutionary, and farmer famous for leading the Shays' Rebellion.-Early life:...

, who later became famous for his army of protest in Shays' Rebellion
Shays' Rebellion
Shays' Rebellion was an armed uprising in central and western Massachusetts from 1786 to 1787. The rebellion is named after Daniel Shays, a veteran of the American Revolutionary War....

. Israel Potter was immortalized in Israel Potter: His Fifty Years of Exile
Israel Potter
Israel Potter: His Fifty Years of Exile is a novel by Herman Melville published in installments in Putnam's Monthly Magazine from July 1854 through March 1855, in book form by George Palmer Putnam in New York in March 1855, and in a pirated edition by George Routledge in London in May 1855...

, a novel by Herman Melville
Herman Melville
Herman Melville was an American novelist, short story writer, essayist, and poet. He is best known for his novel Moby-Dick and the posthumous novella Billy Budd....

. Colonel John Patterson (New York), commanded the Massachusetts
Massachusetts
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States of America. It is bordered by Rhode Island and Connecticut to the south, New York to the west, and Vermont and New Hampshire to the north; at its east lies the Atlantic Ocean. As of the 2010...

 First Militia, served in Shay's Rebellion, and became a US Congressman from New York
New York
New York is a state in the Northeastern region of the United States. It is the nation's third most populous state. New York is bordered by New Jersey and Pennsylvania to the south, and by Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont to the east...

. Lt. Col. Seth Read
Seth Read
Seth Read was born in Uxbridge, Worcester County, Massachusetts, and died at Erie, Erie County, Pennsylvania, as "Seth Reed", at age 51.-Early life:...

, who served under John Patterson at Bunker Hill, went on to settle Geneva, New York
Geneva, New York
Geneva is a city in Ontario and Seneca counties in the U.S. state of New York. The population was 13,617 at the 2000 census. Some claim it is named after the city and canton of Geneva in Switzerland. Others believe the name came from confusion over the letters in the word "Seneca" written in cursive...

 and Erie, Pennsylvania
Erie, Pennsylvania
Erie is a city located in northwestern Pennsylvania in the United States. Named for the lake and the Native American tribe that resided along its southern shore, Erie is the state's fourth-largest city , with a population of 102,000...

, and was said to have been instrumental in the phrase E Pluribus Unum
E pluribus unum
E pluribus unum , Latin for "Out of many, one", is a phrase on the Seal of the United States, along with Annuit cœptis and Novus ordo seclorum, and adopted by an Act of Congress in 1782...

 being added to US Coins. http://books.google.com/books?id=qJUUAAAAYAAJ&pg=RA1-PA107&lpg=RA1-PA107&dq=Seth+Reed-+petition+to+mint+coins+in+Massachusetts&source=web&ots=qDWGjJDk6o&sig=aicPPy3A917xqvyTcIGUvuhdbPk&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=5&ct=result#PRA1-PA107,M1

Commemorations


John Trumbull
John Trumbull
John Trumbull was an American artist during the period of the American Revolutionary War and was notable for his historical paintings...

's painting, The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker Hill (pictured above), while an idealized and inaccurate depiction of Warren's death, shows a number of participants in the battle. John Small
John Small (British Army officer)
Major-General John Small was a British military officer who was most famous for his leadership in the 84th Regiment of Foot and his involvement in the Battle of Bunker Hill.- Seven Years War :...

, a British officer who was among those storming the redoubt, was a friend of Israel Putnam's and an acquaintance of Trumbull. He is depicted holding Warren and preventing a redcoat from bayoneting him.

The Bunker Hill Monument
Bunker Hill Monument
-External links:****: cultural context**...

 is an obelisk
Obelisk
An obelisk is a tall, four-sided, narrow tapering monument which ends in a pyramid-like shape at the top, and is said to resemble a petrified ray of the sun-disk. A pair of obelisks usually stood in front of a pylon...

 that stands 221 feet (67.4 m) high on Breed's Hill. On June 17, 1825, the fiftieth anniversary of the battle, the cornerstone of the monument was laid by the Marquis de Lafayette
Gilbert du Motier, marquis de La Fayette
Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de La Fayette , often known as simply Lafayette, was a French aristocrat and military officer born in Chavaniac, in the province of Auvergne in south central France...

 and an address delivered by Daniel Webster
Daniel Webster
Daniel Webster was a leading American statesman and senator from Massachusetts during the period leading up to the Civil War. He first rose to regional prominence through his defense of New England shipping interests...

. (When Lafayette died, he was buried next to his wife at the Cimetière de Picpus
Picpus Cemetery
The Picpus Cemetery is the largest private cemetery in the city of Paris, France. It was created from land seized from the convent of the Chanoinesses de St-Augustin, during the Revolution. It contains the remains of French aristocrats who had been guillotined during the French Revolution...

 under soil from Bunker Hill
Charlestown, Massachusetts
Charlestown is a neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts, United States, and is located on a peninsula north of downtown Boston. Charlestown was originally a separate town and the first capital of the Massachusetts Bay Colony; it became a city in 1847 and was annexed by Boston on January 5, 1874...

, which his son
Georges
Georges Washington de La Fayette
Georges Washington de La Fayette was the son of Gilbert du Motier, marquis de Lafayette, the French officer and hero of the American Revolution, and Adrienne de La Fayette. Lafayette named his son in the honour of George Washington, with whom he fought in the Revolutionary War.-Life:From 1783, La...

 sprinkled upon him.) The Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge was specifically designed to evoke this monument. There is also a statue of William Prescott showing him calming his men down.

The National Park Service
National Park Service
The National Park Service is the U.S. federal agency that manages all national parks, many national monuments, and other conservation and historical properties with various title designations...

 operates a museum dedicated to the battle near the monument, which is part of the Boston National Historical Park
Boston National Historical Park
The Boston National Historical Park is an association of sites that showcase Boston's role in the American Revolution. It was designated a national park on October 1, 1974...

. A cyclorama
Cyclorama
For the classical album Cyclorama, see Jonathan Goldstein; For the rock album Cyclorama by Styx, see Cyclorama ; for the theatrical backdrop, see Cyclorama...

 of the battle was added in 2007 when the museum was renovated.
Bunker Hill Day, observed every June 17, is a legal holiday in Suffolk County, Massachusetts
Suffolk County, Massachusetts
Suffolk County has no land border with Plymouth County to its southeast, but the two counties share a water boundary in the middle of Massachusetts Bay.-National protected areas:*Boston African American National Historic Site...

 (which includes the city of Boston), as well as Somerville
Somerville, Massachusetts
Somerville is a city in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, United States, located just north of Boston. As of the 2010 census, the city had a total population of 75,754 and was the most densely populated municipality in New England. It is also the 17th most densely populated incorporated place in...

 in Middlesex County
Middlesex County, Massachusetts
-National protected areas:* Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge* Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge* Longfellow National Historic Site* Lowell National Historical Park* Minute Man National Historical Park* Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge...

. Prospect Hill, site of colonial fortifications overlooking the Charlestown neck, is now located in Somerville, which was previously part of Charlestown. State institutions in Massachusetts (such as public institutions of higher) located in Boston also celebrate the holiday. However, the state's FY2011 budget requires all state and municipal offices in Suffolk County be open on Bunker Hill Day and Evacuation Day
Evacuation Day (Massachusetts)
March 17 is Evacuation Day, a holiday observed in Suffolk County and also by the public schools in Cambridge and Somerville, Massachusetts. The holiday commemorates the evacuation of British forces from the city of Boston following the Siege of Boston, early in the American Revolutionary War...

.

On June 16 and 17, 1875, the centennial of the battle was celebrated with a military parade and a reception featuring notable speakers, among them General William Tecumseh Sherman
William Tecumseh Sherman
William Tecumseh Sherman was an American soldier, businessman, educator and author. He served as a General in the Union Army during the American Civil War , for which he received recognition for his outstanding command of military strategy as well as criticism for the harshness of the "scorched...

 and Vice President Henry Wilson
Henry Wilson
Henry Wilson was the 18th Vice President of the United States and a Senator from Massachusetts...

. It was attended by dignitaries from across the country. Celebratory events also marked the sesquicentennial (150th anniversary) in 1925 and the bicentennial in 1975.


Major sources


Most of the information about the battle itself in this article comes from the following sources.
(Paperback: ISBN 0-8050-6099-5)

Minor sources


Specific facts not necessarily covered by the major sources come from the following sources.

Commemorations


Various commemorations of the battle are described in the following sources.
(ProQuest document number: 118450359)

Further reading


This book contains printings of both Gage's official account and that of the Massachusetts Congress.

Pages about the battle


Pages about people in the battle


Other external pages