Battle of Breed's Hill and Bunker Hill

A Brief History

After retreating from Lexington in April, 1775, the British Army occupied Boston for several months. Realizing the need to strengthen their position in the face of increasing anti-British sentiment in and around Boston, plans were developed to seize and fortify nearby Dorchester Heights and Charlestown peninsulas. The peninsulas offered a commanding view of the seaport and harbor, and were important to preserving the security of Boston. The Americans caught word of the British plan, and decided to get to the Charlestown peninsula first, fortify it, and present sufficient threat to cause the British to leave Boston. On 16 June, 1775, under the leadership of Colonels Putnam, and Prescott, the Patriots stole out onto the Charlestown Peninsula with instructions to establish defensive positions on Bunker's Hill. For reasons that are unclear, they constructed a redoubt on nearby Breed's Hill. The next morning, the British were astonished to see the rebel fortifications upon the hill and set out to reclaim the peninsula.

General Howe served as the commander of the British main assault force and led two costly and ineffective charges against the Patriot's fortifications without inflicting significant casualties on his opponents. After obtaining 400 reinforcements which included sorely needed ammunition for his artillery, Howe ordered a bayonet charge to seize Breed's Hill. In this third attempt, the British were finally able to breach the breastworks of the American redoubt and the Patriots were forced to retreat back to the mainland.

This battle, though victorious, proved costly for the British. Of the 2400 British soldiers in Howe's command, the 1054 casualties accounted for nearly forty percent of their ranks. The American casualties were 441, including 30 captured, with most being inflicted during the retreat. The battle served to proved to the American people that the British Army was not invincible. It became a symbol of national pride and a rally point of resistance against British rule.

Overview of Events Precipitating Battle

  1. Boston Tea Party in response to the Intolerable Acts.
  2. Boston Massacre.
  3. The battle at Lexington and Concord had left feelings of resentment among the colonists.
  4. Harrasment of the British in Boston.
  5. The British plans to occupy Dorchester Heights were viewed with alarm as the build up of British troops increased. The occupation of Dorchester and Charlestown Peninsulas would effectively isolate Boston.
  6. Committee of Safety orders fortification of Bunker Hill to resist British assault of the Charlestown peninsula.
Key Events

Colonists begin construction of redoubt on Breed's Hill

0400 British warships fire on the newly discovered redoubt
1400 American reinforcements arrive; rail fence construction begins British soldiers land on Moulton's Point
1530 First battle is repulsed at the rail fence
1600 Second assault is repulsed at fleches and at redoubt
1630 Colonists withdraw Final assault succeeds at redoubt
1730 End of Battle

Definition of Subject Matter

  1. When the Battle Occurred: 17 June 1775
  2. Where the Battle Occurred: Charlestown Peninsula, Charlestown (Boston), MA
  3. Who was Involved:
    • Americans: Nearly 10,000 Irregular Light Infantry from Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Connecticut under GEN Ward and one Artillery company under COL Gridley. Many of the men were pinned down at Charlestown Neck by offshore batteries or held in reserve in Charlestown and Dorchester and did not see the battle. By accounts, between 2500 - 4000 were actually engaged in the battle.
    • British: 6500 men under GEN Gage, including an Artillery company on Copp's Hill under GEN Burgoyne. GEN Howe led the main assault force, splitting the men with COL Pigot. Howe commanded the 5th and 52nd Light Infantry and 2 regiments of Light Grenadiers from the 4, 5, 10, 18&65, 23, 38, 43, 47, 52, 59th. Pigot led the 38th, 43rd and elements of the 47th Light Infantries, 2 regiments of Grenadiers from the 35th and 63rd, and Marine units.
      GEN Clinton held 1100 men in reserve in Boston; mostly composed of Light Infantry and Marines.

Staff Ride Qualifications

  • Echelons of Command: Americans - Regiments and smaller;
    British - 2 Battalions, split by companies into three discrete elements.
  • Terrain Quality: Poor: Very heavily developed.
  • Types of Units Involved: Musket Infantry and Grenadiers
  • Integrity of Historic Setting: Poor. The area is well marked and descriptive plaques are well placed, the area is so developed as to make it impossible to visualize the battle site.
  • Availability of Sources: Very Good
  • Availability of Logistic Support: Very Good

Battle of Bunker's Hill Staff Ride

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