Battle of Bunker Hill

Battle of Bunker Hill
Part of the American Revolutionary War
The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker's Hill.jpg
Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker Hill
by John Trumbull
DateJune 17, 1775
LocationCharlestown, Massachusetts
42°22′34.9″N 71°3′38.8″W / 42°22′34.9″N 71°3′38.8″W / 42.376361; -71.060778
ResultBritish victory
Territorial
changes
The British capture Charlestown Peninsula
Belligerents

United Colonies

 Great Britain
Commanders and leaders
William Prescott
Israel Putnam
Joseph Warren 
John Stark
Kingdom of Great Britain William Howe
Kingdom of Great Britain Thomas Gage
Kingdom of Great Britain Sir Robert Pigot
Kingdom of Great Britain James Abercrombie 
Kingdom of Great Britain Henry Clinton
Kingdom of Great Britain Samuel Graves
Kingdom of Great Britain John Pitcairn 
Strength
~2,400[1]3,000+[2]
Casualties and losses
115 killed,
305 wounded,
30 captured (20 POWs died)
Total: 450[3]
19 officers killed
62 officers wounded
207 soldiers killed
766 soldiers wounded
Total: 1,054[4]

The Battle of Bunker Hill was fought on June 17, 1775, during the Siege of Boston in the early stages of the American Revolutionary War. The battle is named after Bunker Hill in Charlestown, Massachusetts, which was peripherally involved in the battle. It was the original objective of both the colonial and British troops, though the majority of combat took place on the adjacent hill which later became known as Breed's Hill.[5][6]

On June 13, 1775, the leaders of the colonial forces besieging Boston learned that the British were planning to send troops out from the city to fortify the unoccupied hills surrounding the city, which would give them control of Boston Harbor. In response, 1,200 colonial troops under the command of William Prescott stealthily occupied Bunker Hill and Breed's Hill. During the night, the colonists constructed a strong redoubt on Breed's Hill, as well as smaller fortified lines across the Charlestown Peninsula.[7]

By daybreak of June 17, the British became aware of the presence of colonial forces on the Peninsula and mounted an attack against them that day. Two assaults on the colonial positions were repulsed with significant British casualties; the third and final attack carried the redoubt after the defenders ran out of ammunition. The colonists retreated to Cambridge over Bunker Hill, leaving the British in control of the Peninsula.[8]

The battle was a tactical, though somewhat Pyrrhic victory for the British,[9][10] as it proved to be a sobering experience for them, involving many more casualties than the Americans had incurred, including a large number of officers. The battle had demonstrated that inexperienced militia were able to stand up to regular army troops in battle. Subsequently, the battle discouraged the British from any further frontal attacks against well defended front lines. American casualties were comparatively much fewer, although their losses included General Joseph Warren and Major Andrew McClary, the final casualty of the battle.[11]

The battle led the British to adopt a more cautious planning and maneuver execution in future engagements, which was evident in the subsequent New York and New Jersey campaign, and arguably helped rather than hindered the American forces. Their new approach to battle was actually giving the Americans greater opportunity to retreat if defeat was imminent. The costly engagement also convinced the British of the need to hire substantial numbers of foreign mercenaries to bolster their strength in the face of the new and formidable Continental Army.

Geography

1775 map of the Boston area (contains some inaccuracies)

Boston, situated on a peninsula,[12] 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 on April 19, 1775, the colonial militia, a force of about 15,000 men,[13] had surrounded the town, and effectively besieged it. Under the command of Artemas Ward, they controlled the only land access to Boston itself (the Roxbury Neck), but, lacking a navy, were unable to 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, occupied the city, and were able to be resupplied and reinforced by sea.[14] In theory, 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.[15] 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, led by Henry Knox, later transported cannon from Fort Ticonderoga to the Boston area.[16]

The Charlestown Peninsula, lying to the north of Boston, started from a short, narrow isthmus (known as the Charlestown Neck) at its northwest and extended about 1 mile (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.[17] The town of Charlestown occupied flats at the southern end of the peninsula. At its closest approach, less than 1,000 feet (305 m) separated the Charlestown Peninsula from the Boston Peninsula, where Copp's Hill 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.[18]

The Battle of Bunker Hill, by Howard Pyle, 1897
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