I’ve been on a patriotic kick the last few days. I don’t know how I realized it, but I thought that it was really neat that today, June 17th, is the anniversary of the Battle of Bunker Hill, an early engagement in the Revolutionary War. This battle was also the first significant statement made by the Continental Army to the British. Bunker Hill has always inspired me, because it was the first time our men stood up to the British and gave back as good as they got. They held their own.
If Lexington and Concord was like the bully pushing someone aside or stiff arming somebody, Bunker Hill was like the good guy winding up, punching the bully in the face, and giving him a black eye or broken nose. This was the first time where the Continental Army fought as if to say: We’re here to stay. We’re not going away. One of us is going to go. And if we go, we’re taking a bunch of you down with us!
Two months before, in the Battles of Lexington and Concord on April 19th, 1775, the war for our Independence began. A ragtag group of farmers, merchants and sailors took on the most powerful army in the world. To most, it probably seemed like a suicide mission.
So you can imagine the shock from the American public, and from the British themselves, when just two months later on June 17th, 1775, Patriots inflicted absolutely NASTY casualties in attempting to hold Bunker Hill/Breed’s Hill in Charlestown, Massachusetts!
During the first battles of the war in Lexington and Concord, the British lost a total of 300 troops, while we lost 93. Bunker Hill’s losses made that look tame. It was a bloodbath at Bunker Hill. In all, the British lost over 1,000 troops in the battle, compared to 450 casualties on the American side.
The Patriots did indeed lose this battle, as they eventually ran out of ammunition and were forced to retreat from their fortified positions on Bunker Hill and Breed’s Hill after beating back the British advance three times. But not before making the Redcoats pay DEARLY.
While the British did eventually capture the Charlestown Peninsula, which Bunker Hill was on, the commander of the British forces that day, General William Howe, knew the Redcoats couldn’t consistently take that many casualties and expect to win the war. He knew that this was no longer a small insurrection or localized rebellion. The British Empire now had a full-fledged war to fight. In the aftermath of the carnage, he was reported to have said, “A few more such victories would have shortly put an end to British dominion in America.”
Bunker Hill is not only known in American history for the extraordinary courage shown by the Patriots in their first time going toe to toe in an even battle with the Redcoats, it is also known for the death of Dr. Joseph Warren, an American General, and a martyr in our war for Independence.
Until his death, Warren had served as the president of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress. He was also a member of the Sons of Liberty with John Hancock, Sam Adams and others. He was the one who ordered Paul Revere’s famous “Midnight Ride” to warn the citizens of Lexington and Concord that the Redcoats were coming.
While I am grateful for Dr. Warren’s contributions to the eventual birth of our nation, I am perhaps most impressed and inspired by his decision to fight alongside his men at the Battle of Bunker Hill, rather than from the rear. Warren was promoted to General shortly before the battle, but instead offered to serve as a Volunteer Private under General Israel Putnam instead, which Putnam accepted. Not many generals fought alongside their men in 18th century warfare. Most commanded the strategy of the battle from the rear on their horse.
While I cannot find anything on this, my guess as to why Warren offered to fight alongside his men, was so he could inspire them and rally them to keep going if need be. He was definitely an enthusiastic warrior for the Patriot cause, saying just before the battle, “These fellows say we won’t fight! By Heaven, I hope I shall die up to my knees in British blood!” Unfortunately, Warren got his wish, being killed just after the British broke through, and stormed the American defenses at Breed’s Hill. He was only 34 years old, leaving behind four young children and a fiancee.
You would think that losing 450 men, and one of the most prominent leaders would break the back and the spirit of the Patriot cause. But all the Battle of Bunker Hill did was serve to inspire the Continental Army, and the Thirteen Colonies as a whole, to continue the war for Independence, which they eventually won in October of 1781 at Yorktown, Virginia. Thanks in part to Dr. Joseph Warren and the other Patriots who fought courageously, and died at Bunker Hill, we have the freedoms that we enjoy today. God bless them all, and God Bless The United States of America!