« PrejšnjaNaprej »
PROJECT TO SEIZE THE HEIGHTS OPERATIONS AT NIGHT.
war. "The Americans," said he, "are never afraid of their heads; they only think of their legs; shelter them, and they'll fight forever." He was seconded by General Pomeroy, a leader of like stamp, and another veteran of the French He had been a hunter in his time; a dead shot with a rifle, and was ready to lead troops against the enemy, "with five cartridges to a man."
The daring counsels of such men are always captivating to the inexperienced; but in the present instance, they were sanctioned by one whose opinion in such matters, and in this vicinity, possessed peculiar weight. This was Colonel William Prescott, of Pepperell, who commanded a regiment of minute men. He, too, had seen service in the French war, and acquired reputation as a lieutenant of infantry at the capture of Cape Breton. This was sufficient to constitute him an oracle in the present instance. He was now about fifty years of age, tall and commanding in his appearance, and retaining the port of a soldier. What was more, he had a military garb; being equipped with a three-cornered hat, a top wig, and a single-breasted blue coat, with facings and lapped up at the skirts. All this served to give him consequence among the rustic militia officers with whom he was in council.
His opinion, probably, settled the question; and it was determined to seize on and fortify Bunker's Hill and Dorchester Heights. In deference, however, to the suggestions of the more cautious, it was agreed to postpone the measure until they were sufficiently supplied with the munitions of war to be able to maintain the heights when seized.
with a company of forty-nine artillery men, with two field-pieces, commanded by Captain Samuel Gridley.
A little before sunset the troops, about twelve hundred in all, assembled on the common, in front of General Ward's quarters. They came provided with packs, blankets, and provisions for four-and-twenty hours, but ignorant of the object of the expedition. Being all paraded, prayers were offered up by the reverend President Langdon, of Harvard College; after which they all set forward on their silent march.
Colonel Prescott, from his experience in military matters, and his being an officer in the Massachusetts line, had been chosen by General Ward to conduct the enterprise. His written orders were to fortify Bunker's Hill, and defend the works until he should be relieved. Colonel Richard Gridley, the chief engineer, who had likewise served in the French war, was to accompany him, and plan the fortifications. It was understood that reinforcements and refreshments would be sent to the fatigue party in the morning.
The detachment left Cambridge about nine o'clock, Colonel Prescott taking the lead, preceded by two sergeants with dark lanterns. At Charlestown Neck they were joined by Major Brooks, of Bridges' regiment, and General Putnam; and here were the waggons laden with intrenching tools, which first gave the men an indication of the nature of the enterprise.
Charlestown Neck is a narrow isthmus, connecting the peninsula with the main land; having the Mystic River, about half a mile wide, on the north, and a large embayment of Charles River on the south or right side.
It was now necessary to proceed with the utmost caution, for they were coming on
watch. They had erected a battery at Boston on Copp's Hill, immediately opposite to Charlestown. Five of their vessels of war were stationed so as to bear upon the peninsula from different directions, and the guns of one of them swept the isthmus, or narrow neck just mentioned..
Secret intelligence hurried forward the project. General Gage, it was said, intended to take possession of Dorchester Heights.on the night of the 18th of June. These heights layground over which the British kept jealous on the opposite side of Boston, and the committee were ignorant of their localities. Those on Charlestown Neck, being near at hand, had some time before been reconnoitred by Colonel Richard Gridley, and other of the engineers. It was determined to seize and fortify these heights on the night of Friday, the 16th of June, in anticipation of the movement of General Gage. Troops were drafted for the purpose from the Massachusetts regiments of Colonels Prescott, Frye, and Bridges. There was also a fatigue party of about two hundred men from Putnam's Connecticut troops, led by his favorite officer, Captain Knowlton; together
Across this isthmus, Colonel Prescott conducted the detachment undiscovered, and up the ascent of Bunker's Hill. This commences at the Neck, and slopes up for about three hundred yards to its summit, which is about one hundred and twelve feet high. It then declines towards the south, and is connected by a ridge
FORTIFYING OF BUNKER'S HILL-ASTONISHMENT OF THE ENEMY.
with Breed's Hill, about sixty or seventy feet | proof, extending down the crest of Breed's Hill high. The crests of the two hills are about to a piece of marshy ground called the Slough. seven hundred yards apart. To support the right of the redoubt, some troops were thrown into the village of Charlestown, at the southern foot of the hill. The great object of Prescott's solicitude was now attained, a sufficient bulwark to screen his men before they should be discovered; for he doubted the possibility of keeping raw recruits to their post, if openly exposed to the fire of artillery, and the attack of disciplined troops.
On attaining the heights, a question arose which of the two they should proceed to fortify. Bunker's Hill was specified in the written orders given to Colonel Prescott by General Ward, but Breed's Hill was much nearer to ❘ Boston, and had a better command of the town and shipping. Bunker's Hill, also, being on the upper and narrower part of the peninsula, was itself commanded by the same ship which raked the Neck. Putnam was clear for commencing at Breed's Hill, and making the principal work there, while a minor work might be thrown up at Bunker's Hill, as a protection in the rear, and a rallying point, in case of being driven out of the main work. Others concurred with this opinion, yet there was a hesitation in deviating from the letter of their orders. At length Colonel Gridley became impatient; the night | was waning; delay might prostrate the whole enterprise. Breed's Hill was then determined on. Gridley marked out the lines for the fortifications; the men stacked their guns; threw off their packs; seized their trenching tools, and set to work with great spirit; but so much time had been wasted in discussion, that it was midnight before they struck the first spade into the ground.
Prescott, who felt the responsibility of his charge, almost despaired of carrying on these operations undiscovered. A party was sent out by him silently to patrol the shore at the foot of the heights, and watch for any movement of the enemy. Not willing to trust entirely to the vigilance of others, he twice went down during the night to the water's edge; reconnoitring every thing scrupulously, and noting every sight and sound. It was a warm, still, summer's night; the stars shone brightly, but every thing was quiet. Boston was buried in sleep. The sentry's cry of "All's well" could be heard distinctly from its shores, together with the drowsy calling of the watch on board of the ships of war, and then all would relapse into silence. Satisfied that the enemy were perfectly unconscious of what was going on upon the hill, he returned to the works, and a little before daybreak called in the patrolling party.
So spiritedly, though silently, had the labor been carried on, that by morning a strong redoubt was thrown up as a main work, flanked on the left by a breast work, partly cannon
At dawn of day, the Americans at work were espied by the sailors on board of the ships of war, and the alarm was given. The captain of the Lively, the nearest ship, without waiting for orders, put a spring upon her cable, and bringing her guns to bear, opened a fire upon the hill. The other ships and a floating battery followed his example. Their shot did no mischief to the works, but one man, among a number who had incautiously ventured outside, was killed. A subaltern reported his death to Colonel Prescott, and asked what was to be done. "Bury him," was the reply. The chaplain gathered some of his military flock around him, and was proceeding to perform suitable obsequies over the "first martyr," but Prescott ordered that the men should disperse to their work, and the deceased be buried immediately. It seemed shocking to men accustomed to the funeral solemnities of peaceful life, to bury a man without prayers, but Prescott saw that the sight of this man suddenly shot down had agitated the nerves of his comrades, unaccustomed to scenes of war. Some of them, in fact, quietly left the hill, and did not return to it.
To inspire confidence by example, Prescott now mounted the parapet, and walked leisurely about, inspecting the works, giving directions, and talking cheerfully with the men. In a little while they got over their dread of cannon-balls, and some even made them a subject of joke, or rather bravado; a species of sham courage occasionally manifested by young soldiers, but never by veterans.
The cannonading roused the town of Boston. General Gage could scarcely believe his eyes when he beheld on the opposite hill a fortification full of men, which had sprung up in the course of the night. As he reconnoitred it through a glass from Copp's Hill, the tall figure of Prescott, in military garb, walking the parapet, caught his eye. "Who is that officer who appears in command?" asked he. The question was answered by Counsellor Willard, Prescott's
APPROACH OF THE ENEMY TO BUNKER'S HILL.
brother-in-law, who was at hand, and recog- | suited to the different calibres of the guns; the nized his relative. "Will he fight?" demanded Gage, quickly. "Yes, sir! he is an old soldier, and will fight to the last drop of blood; but I cannot answer for his men."
"The works must be carried!" exclaimed Gage.
powder to be carried in powder-horns, or loose in the pocket, for there were no cartridges prepared. It was the rude turn out of yeoman soldiery, destitute of regular accoutrements.
In the mean time, the Americans on Breed's Hill were sustaining the fire from the ships, and He called a council of war. The Americans from the battery on Copp's Hill, which opened might intend to cannonade Boston from this upon them about ten o'clock. They returned new fortification; it was unanimously resolved an occasional shot from one corner of the reto dislodge them. How was this to be done? doubt, without much harm to the enemy, and A majority of the council, including Clinton continued strengthening their position until and Grant, advised that a force should be land- about 11 o'clock, when they ceased to work, ed on Charlestown Neck, under the protection piled their intrenching tools in the rear, and of their batteries, so as to attack the Americans looked out anxiously and impatiently for the in rear, and cut off their retreat. General Gage | anticipated reinforcements and supplies. objected that it would place his troops between two armies; one at Cambridge, superior in numbers, the other on the heights, strongly fortified. He was for landing in front of the works, and pushing directly up the hill; a plan adopted through a confidence that raw militia would never stand their ground against the assault of regular troops; another instance of undervaluing the American spirit, which was to cost the enemy a lamentable loss of life.
THE sound of drum and trumpet, the clatter of hoofs, the rattling of gun-carriages, and all the other military din and bustle in the streets of Boston, soon apprised the Americans on their rudely fortified height of an impending attack. They were ill fitted to withstand it, being jaded by the night's labor, and want of sleep; hungry and thirsty, having brought but scanty supplies, and oppressed by the heat of the weather. Prescott sent repeated messages to General Ward, asking reinforcements and provisions. Putnam seconded the request in person, urging the exigencies of the case. Ward hesitated. He feared to weaken his main body at Cambridge, as his military stores were deposited there, and it might have to sustain the principal attack. At length, having taken advice of the council of safety, he issued orders for Colonels Stark and Read, then at Medford, to march to the relief of Prescott with their New Hampshire regiments. The orders reached Medford about 11 o'clock. Ammunition was distributed in all haste; two flints, a gill of powder, and fifteen balls to each man. The balls had to be
About this time General Putnam, who had been to head-quarters, arrived at the redoubt on horseback. Some words passed between him and Prescott with regard to the intrenching tools, which have been variously reported. The most probable version is, that he urged to have them taken from their present place, where they might fall into the hands of the enemy, and carried to Bunker's Hill, to be employed in throwing up a redoubt, which was part of the original plan, and which would be very important should the troops be obliged to retreat from Breed's Hill. To this Prescott demurred that those employed to convey them, and who were already jaded with toil, might not return to his redoubt. A large part of the tools were ultimately carried to Bunker's Hill, and a breastwork commenced by order of General Putnam. The importance of such a work was afterwards made apparent.
About noon, the Americans descried twentyeight barges crossing from Boston in parallel lines. They contained a large detachment of grenadiers, rangers, and light infantry, admirably equipped, and commanded by Major-General Howe. They made a splendid and formidable appearance with their scarlet uniforms, and the sun flashing upon muskets and bayonets, and brass field-pieces. A heavy fire from the ships and batteries covered their advance, but no attempt was made to oppose them, and they landed about one o'clock at Moulton's Point, a little to the north of Breed's Hill.
Here General Howe made a pause. On reconnoitring the works from this point, the Americans appeared to be much more strongly posted than he had imagined. He descried troops also hastening to their assistance. These were the New Hampshire troops, led on by
"One fresh man in action is worth ten tired ones,” replied he, and marched steadily on.
Putnam detained some of Stark's men to aid in throwing up the works on Bunker's Hill, and directed him to reinforce Knowlton with the rest. Stark made a short speech to his men, now that they were likely to have warm work. He then pushed on, and did good service that day at the rustic bulwark.
About two o'clock, Warren arrived on the heights, ready to engage in their perilous defence, although he had opposed the scheme of their occupation. He had recently been elected a major-general, but had not received his commission; like Pomeroy, he came to serve in the ranks with a musket on his shoulder. Putnam offered him the command of the fence; he declined it, and merely asked where he could be of most service as a volunteer. Putnam pointed to the redoubt, observing that there he would be under cover. "Don't think I seek a place of safety," replied Warren, quickly; "where will the attack be hottest?" Putnam still pointed to the redoubt. "That is the enemy's object; if that can be maintained, the day is ours."
Stark. Howe immediately sent over to General | shook his head:
While Knowlton and his men were putting up this fence, Putnam proceeded with other of his troops to throw up the work on Bunker's Hill, despatching his son, Captain Putnam, on horseback, to hurry up the remainder of his men from Cambridge. By this time, his compeer in French and Indian warfare, the veteran Stark, made his appearance with the New Hampshire troops, five hundred strong. He had grown cool and wary with age, and his march from Medford, a distance of five or six miles, had been in character. He led his men at a moderate pace, to bring them into action fresh and vigorous. In crossing the Neck, which was enfiladed by the enemy's ships and batteries, Captain Dearborn, who was by his side, suggested a quick step. The veteran
Warren was cheered by the troops as he entered the redoubt. Colonel Prescott tendered him the command. He again declined. "I have come to serve only as a volunteer, and shall be happy to learn from a soldier of your experience." Such were the noble spirits assembled on these perilous heights.
The British now prepared for a general assault. An easy victory was anticipated; the main thought was, how to make it most effectual. The left wing, commanded by General Pigot, was to mount the hill and force the redoubt, while General Howe, with the right wing, was to push on between the fort and Mystic River, turn the left flank of the Americans, and cut off their retreat.
General Pigot, accordingly, advanced up the hill, under cover of a fire from field-pieces and howitzers planted on a small height near the landing-place on Moulton's Point. His troops commenced a discharge of musketry while yet at a long distance from the redoubts. The Americans within the works, obedient to strict command, retained their fire until the enemy were within thirty or forty paces, when they opened upon them with a tremendous volley. Being all marksmen, accustomed to take deliberate aim, the slaughter was immense, and especially
BATTLE OF BUNKER'S HILL.
fatal to officers. The assailants fell back in | of artillery. Charlestown, which had annoyed
In the mean time, General Howe, with the right wing, advanced along Mystic River toward the fence where Stark, Read, and Knowlton were stationed, thinking to carry this slight breastwork with ease, and so get in the rear of the fortress. His artillery proved of little avail, being stopped by a swampy piece of ground, while his columns suffered from two or three field-pieces with which Putnam had fortified the fence. Howe's men kept up a fire of musketry as they advanced; but, not taking aim, their shot passed over the heads of the Americans. The latter had received the same orders with those in the redoubt, not to fire until the enemy should be within thirty paces. Some few transgressed the command. Putnam rode up and swore he would cut down the next man that fired contrary to orders. When the British arrived within the stated distance, a sheeted fire opened upon them from rifles, muskets, and fowling-pieces, all levelled with deadly aim. The carnage, as in the other instance, was horrible. The British were thrown into confusion, and fell back; some even retreated to their boats.
There was a general pause on the part of the British. The American officers availed themselves of it to prepare for another attack, which must soon be made. Prescott mingled among his men in the redoubt, who were all in high spirits at the severe check they had given "the regulars." He praised them for their steadfastness in maintaining their post, and their good conduct in reserving their fire until the word of command, and exhorted them to do the same in the next attack.
The American troops, although unused to war, stood undismayed amidst a scene where it was bursting upon them with all its horrors. Reserving their fire, as before, until the enemy was close at hand, they again poured forth repeated volleys with the fatal aim of sharpshooters. The British stood the first shock, and continued to advance; but the incessant stream of fire staggered them. Their officers remonstrated, threatened, and even attempted to goad them on with their swords, but the havoc was too deadly; whole ranks were mowed down; many of the officers were either slain or wounded, and among them several of the staff of General Howe. The troops again gave way and retreated down the hill.
All this passed under the eye of thousands of spectators of both sexes and all ages, watching from afar every turn of a battle in which the lives of those most dear to them were at hazard. The British soldiery in Boston gazed with astonishment, and almost incredulity, at the resolute and protracted stand of few militia whom they had been taught to despise, and at the havoc made among their own veteran troops. Every convoy of wounded brought over to the town increased their consternation, and General Clinton, who had watched the action from Copp's Hill, embarking in a boat, hurried over as a volunteer, taking with him
Putnam rode about Bunker's Hill and its
A third attack was now determined on, though some of Howe's officers remonstrated, declaring it would be downright butchery. A different plan was adopted. Instead of advancing in front of the redoubt, it was to be taken in flank on the left, where the open space