In 1775, the British military forces didn’t take the American colonists very seriously. They were often thought of as a ragtag bunch of settlers that didn’t want to conform to the expectations of the crown. After the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775, however, that perspective would change. The Americans began to be seen as a serious military force that was determined to secure independence.
1. A Strong Showing
About 2,400 soldiers from the colonies made their way to Bunker Hill and Breed’s Hill to occupy the two areas. The siege on Boston was ongoing and this action was considered by many as a last-ditch effort to turn the tides of the early war. The British mounted an attack as soon as they realized American forces were in place. Using standard siege lines, the British advanced on American positions. This caused the famous order, “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes!” to be declared. The British would win the battle, but suffer over 1,000 losses compared to the American’s 450.
2. An Underestimation
Several British officers didn’t take the American occupation of the two hills very seriously. These officers all wanted to get a portion of the expected victory for themselves, so they advanced with their troops. In total, 19 officers were killed in the battle by American forces and another 62 were wounded. In comparison, Joseph Warren revoked his rank as Major General to fight as a soldier and was killed as the British took Breed’s Hill.
3. A Loss Turned to Victory
At first, the Battle of Bunker Hill was seen as a loss for the Americans. Then the reality of what happened at the battle began to filter down to the general public. The British had suffered twice the losses of the Americans despite superior forces. The heroics of Joseph Warren were memorialized in a painting that appealed to the colonists. People began realizing that they could stand up to the British and began to see the Battle of Bunker Hill as a positive experience.
4. It Could Have Been Better
The Americans were so efficient at holding Bunker Hill and Breed’s Hill that they could have potentially created a victory for themselves. The turning tide of the battle wasn’t that the British had more forces. It was the fact that the Americans began running out of ammunition. By the time the British regrouped for a third advance up the hill, hand-to-hand combat was forced upon the Americans because they ran out of ammo.
5. Most of the Fighting
The Americans were ordered to put their fortifications down on Bunker Hill, which is why the battle is named after the location. Most of the fighting during this battle happened on Breed’s Hill, however, because once the Americans arrived at the site, they realized Breed’s Hill gave them a better positioning. Today a 221 foot tall granite memorial stands as a monument to this battle on Breed’s Hill, not Bunker Hill, because of this fact.
6. A Month’s Worth of Work
Under the cover of night, the Americans built a six foot high dirt wall to protect their positions at Bunker Hill and Breed’s Hill. General William Howe woke up to see this with his British troops and notes that the Americans completed a month’s worth of work overnight that would have taken his army more than a month to complete. The navy started firing canons at the embankment, but the fortifications stand strong. The only way to take the hill is to go up it and that puts the British right in the firing lines of the colonists – only fresh reinforcements wind up saving the battle for the British.
7. A Final Rejection
The news of the battle reaches King George and his heart against the Americans is hardened. Not even a month later, the Second Continental Congress offered what has become known as the Olive Branch Petition, which was an effort by the colonies to avoid a war. It was rejected outright and this helped to create the push toward colonial independence from most everyone except the most loyal of loyalists that remained.
The Battle of Bunker Hill may be in the history books as a victory for the British that allowed them to secure Boston Harbor, but it also become the rallying point that would drive America toward being an independent nation. It’s heroes, including Joseph Warren, are still remembered to this day in city names, school names, and other forms of memorialization.