Monday, November 28, 2011

Battle of Bunker Hill

"The Battle of Bunker hill" by Howard Pyle, circa 1897
The Battle of Bunker Hill, which took place on June 17, 1775 in Charlestown, was one of the most significant battles during the Siege of Boston. The battle started after colonists heard British forces were planning to send troops to occupy the hills surrounding Boston. To prevent this, Colonel William Prescott and his men marched to nearby Breed's Hill, although they originally intended to go to Bunker Hill, on the night of June 16 and hastily built a large earthen fortification.

It is not known exactly why the troops ended up on Breed's hill but some historians speculate that Prescott either got the two hills confused or decided that since Breed's hill was closer to the harbor it gave his troops a better position to attack the British ships from. Despite the fact that the battle took place on Breed's Hill, it still came to be known as the Battle of Bunker Hill.
Colonel Prescott troops consisted of 2,400 men, including General Joseph Warren, President of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, General Israel Putnam and my ancestor, General Henry Burbeck, who helped make ammunition for the battle alongside his father Lieutenant-Colonel William Burbeck.

When the British military saw the fortification on the hill in the early morning light, their ships opened fire on it but did not cause much damage. As British infantry soldiers arrived in Charlestown village, they found themselves under sniper fire from the village. In an attempt to clear out the snipers, British troops set fire to the town and burned it to the ground.

At about 3 p.m., British General Thomas Gage ordered his 3,000 troops to meet at the base of the hill, clad in their bright red coats and carrying heavy equipment and bayonets, and charge towards the colonists through the open fields on the hillside.

As the colonists watched their slow advance, Colonel Prescott, realizing his men were low on ammunition, reportedly gave his famous order “Don't shoot until you see the whites of their eyes.” As the soldiers came into range, the colonists opened fire. They successfully drove the British troops back down the hill twice before they advanced a third time, just as the colonists ran out of ammunition. The battle was then reduced to close combat during which the British finally took control of the hill. Defeated and defenseless, the colonists retreated back up the Charlestown peninsula to Cambridge.

The colonists suffered most of their casualties, including the death of Joseph Warren, not during the battle but during the retreat. The exact whereabouts of Warren after the battle was unknown but when he failed to reappear after the retreat, the colonists assumed he was killed in action. Warren had in fact died from a shot through the head and British soldiers buried him on the hill in a shallow grave with another colonist. His body was later dug up and identified by Paul Revere who recognized Warren's two false teeth that he had installed earlier in the year, according to the book "Decisive Day: The Battle of Bunker Hill."

"The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker Hill" by Trumball, circa 1786
The last colonist to die during the battle was Major Andrew McClary who was hit by cannon fire from a frigate in the harbor while retreating through Charlestown neck, the narrow land bridge connecting the peninsula to the mainland. McClary was thrown a few feet in the air by the cannon fire before landing dead, face down on the ground. Fort McClary in Kittery, Maine was later named after him.

By the end of the three hour battle, 226 British soldiers, including a large number of officers, and 115 colonists lay dead and several hundred more were wounded. About 30 colonists, most of whom were mortally wounded and couldn't physically escape, were captured. Although the British technically won the Battle of Bunker Hill, their heavy losses during the battle bolstered the colonist's confidence and encouraged them to continue fighting.
The Bunker Hill Monument commemorating the battle was erected in 1827

Sources:

"Decisive Day: The Battle of BunkerHill"; Richard M. Ketchum; 1962

"History of the Siege of Boston"; Richard Frothingham; 1849

The Freedom Trail: Bunker Hill
http://www.thefreedomtrail.org/visitor/bunker-hill.html

The Library of Congress: The Battle of Bunker Hill
http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/today/jun17.html

The American Revolution: The Battle of Bunker Hill
http://theamericanrevolution.org/battledetail.aspx?battle=5

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Timeline of the American Revolution


1754-1763:
The French and Indian War
October 1763:
The Proclamation of 1763
March 1765:
The Quartering Act of 1765
March 1766:
The Stamp Act repealed
The Declaratory Act
June 1767:
The Townshend Revenue Act
October 1768:
British troops arrive in Boston to enforce customs laws
March 1770:
June 1772:
The Gaspee Affair
May 1773:
The Tea Act
December 1773:
March 1774:
Boston Port Act, part of the "Intolerable Acts"
May 1774:
Administration of Justice Act, part of the "Intolerable Acts"
Massachusetts Government Act, part of the "Intolerable Acts"
June 1774:
Quartering Act of 1774, part of the "Intolerable Acts"
Quebec Act, part of the "Intolerable Acts"
April 1775:
The Rides of Paul Revere and William Dawes
The Battle of Lexington
"The shot heard 'round the world" takes place at the Battle of Concord.
George Washington takes command of the Continental Army
The Siege of Boston begins
June 1775:
The British win the Battle of Bunker Hill
January 1776:
Thomas Paine's "Common Sense" published
March 1776:
The British evacuate Boston
The Siege of Boston ends
July 1776:
Declaration of Independence ratified by Congress
August 1776:
The British defeat the Americans in the Battle of Long Island.
September 1776:
The British occupy New York City
December 1776:
Washington crosses the Delaware and captures Trenton from Hessians
January 1777:
The Americans win the Battle of Princeton
July 1777:
The Americans lose Fort Ticonderoga to the British
Marquis De Lafayette arrives in Philadelphia
September 1777:
The British win the Battle of Brandywine
October 1777:
The British win the Battle of Germantown
The British occupy Philadelphia
Americans capture Burgoyne and his army at Saratoga, NY
November 1777:
The British capture Fort Mifflin, Pennsylvania
December 1777:
Washington's army spends winter at Valley Forge
February 1778:
The United States and France sign the French Alliance
June 1778
The British abandon Philadelphia and return to New York
June 1779:
Spain declares war on Great Britain
May 1780:
British troops capture Charleston, SC
October 1781:
American and French troops win the Battle of Yorktown against the British
December 1782:
British troops leave Charleston, SC
September 1783:
The United States and Great Britain sign the Treaty of Paris
November 1783:
British troops leave New York City
December 1783:
George Washington resigns as Commander and returns to private life
August 1786 - January 1787
Shay's rebellion squashed by state militia
September 1787:
U.S. Constitution signed
June 1788:
U.S. Constitution adopted after New Hampshire ratifies it
December 1791
United States Bill of Rights ratified

Sources:

US History: Timeline of the American Revolution
http://www.ushistory.org/declaration/revwartimeline.htm

PBS: Timeline of the Revolution
http://www.pbs.org/ktca/liberty/chronicle_timeline.html

The Boston Massacre

Depiction of the Boston Massacre
The Boston Massacre was a riot that began when a group of 50 citizens gathered outside of the State house on the night of March 5, 1770 to protest the large presence of British soldiers in the city. The soldiers had been sent to Boston to protect customs commissioners as they enforced the recent, and highly unpopular, Townshend acts, which placed an import tax on goods such as tea, glass, paper and other products from England.

The massacre began when the group started to hassle the lone sentry, Private White, standing on guard outside of the State house. When a citizen named Edward Garrick insulted the soldier's commanding officer, White left his sentry box and hit Garrick in the face with his rifle, enraging the crowd even further. As the crowd swelled, Captain Thomas Preston arrived with 13 more soldiers to reinforce Private White but could not control crowd or persuade them to leave.

Obituary for massacre victim Patrick Carr
The citizens began to throw snowballs, stones and rocks at the soldiers. Witnesses say when a sentry named Private Montgomery was struck in the face with a stick, he fired his gun into the crowd. More objects were thrown and more shots were fired. When the skirmish was over, three people lay dead: an escaped slave, named Crispus Attucks, who worked as a sailor on a whaling ship, a rope maker named Samuel Gray and a mariner named James Caldwell, and eight others were wounded. Two of the wounded, Samuel Maverick and Patrick Carr, later died of their injuries. Samuel Adams held funerals for the victims who were then buried in Granary Burying Ground where they remain today.

Within a few hours of the massacre, Captain Preston and the soldiers were jailed. Knowing the danger they faced, Captain Preston prepared his account of the events, which was published in a London newspaper called the Public Advertiser the following month and then republished in newspapers throughout Boston:

...The Mob still increased, and were more outrageous, striking their Clubs or Blud-geons one against another, and calling out, 'come on, you Rascals, you bloody Backs, you Lobster Scoundrels; fire if you dare, G-d damn you, fire and be damn'd ; we know you dare not ;' and much more such Language was used....While I was thus speaking, one of the Soldiers, having received a severe Blow with a Stick, stept a little on one Side, and instantly fired, on which turning to and asking him why he fired without Orders, I was struck with a Club on my Arm, which for some-time deprived my of the Use of it ; which Blow, had it been placed on my Head, most probably would have destroyed me. On this general Attack was made on the Men by a great Number of heavy Clubs, and Snow-Balls being thrown at them, by which all our Lives were in imminent Danger ; some Persons at the same Time from behind calling out, 'Damn your Bloods, why don't you fire?' Instantly three or four of the Soldiers fired, one after another, and directly after three more in the same Confusion and Hurry....The Whole of this melancholy Affair was transacted in almost 20 Minutes. On my asking the Solidiers why they fired without Orders, they said they heard the Word "Fire," and supposed it came from me. This might be the Case, as many of the Mob called out "Fire, fire," but I assured the Men that I gave no such Order, that my Words were, "Don't fire, stop your Firing:"

Grave of Boston Massacre victims
Fearing the soldiers would not get a fair trial, Governor Hutchinson delayed the trial until the fall in order to give the citizens of Boston time to calm down. John Adams, Robert Auchmuty Jr., and Josiah Quincy Jr. served as the soldier's lawyers while Robert Treat Paine and Samuel Quincy served as the prosecution. Preston's trial began in October and within a few days he was found, surprisingly, not guilty. The remaining soldiers were tried in November. Six of the soldiers are found not guilty and two were convicted of manslaughter. The soldiers narrowly escaped the death penalty through a legal loophole that exempted clergymen, including men with the ability to read or recite biblical passages, from secular courts, and their thumbs were branded with the letter “M”, for manslaughter, to prevent them from using the loophole again.

Tension between British soldiers and colonists settled in Boston after the trails, at least temporarily. Samuel Adams successfully campaigned to turn March 5 into a day of mourning marked with commemorative speeches each year, which continued until 1784. In 1887, a marker dedicated to the victims of the massacre was placed on the exact spot where Crispus Attucks fell. Due to construction and urban renewal projects, the Boston Massacre marker was moved many times over the years but still remains in the general area where the massacre occurred.
Captain Preston's published account of the massacre
Sources:

The Freedom Trail: The Boston Massacre
http://www.thefreedomtrail.org/visitor/boston-massacre.html

The Massachusetts Historical Society: The Boston Massacre
http://www.masshist.org/revolution/massacre.php

U.S. History: The Boston Massacre
http://www.ushistory.org/declaration/related/massacre.htm