In the early weeks of the American Revolution, the future of the rebellion was still very uncertain. The rebels’ armed forces were new and disorganized and had not yet been tested in a major battle. Songs about the justness of the Americans’ cause and the courage of their soldiers were being sung in the streets of Boston and Philadelphia, but some colonists still feared the prospect of a bloody confrontation with the British.
The Battle of Bunker Hill put those fears to rest. On June 17, 1775, on a hilltop outside of Boston, just over a thousand poorly equipped and loosely organized rebel militiamen withstood two infantry charges by nearly 3,000 British professional soldiers. The Americans finally fell back on the third charge, but only after inflicting heavy casualties on the British.
For the British, the victory was a bitter one. It convinced many British leaders that this war would be long and that the Americans would be formidable adversaries. After the battle, one British general wrote that "a few more such victories would have shortly put an end to British dominion in America."
Over the centuries, the bravery of the colonial troops at the Battle of Bunker Hill has provided inspiration to countless American poets and songwriters. However, within hours of the battle, it also inspired an unknown British officer to set down his own impressions in verse. As you read his account of the bloody day and notice his clear respect for his enemies, you might think about how a different point of view can shed new light on even the most familiar events.
For more background information on this period, visit these presentations.
- American Memory Timeline (The American Revolution)
- America’s Library — Jump Back in Time (Revolutionary Period)