The Battle of Bunker Hill 1775
Battle: Bunker Hill
War: American Revolution
Date: 17th June 1775
Battle of Bunker Hill
Place: On the Charlestown Peninsula on the North side of
Combatants: British troops of the Boston garrison against
troops of the American Continental Army.
Generals: Major General Howe against General Artemas Ward
and General Israel Putnam
Size of the armies: 2,400 British troops against 1,500 Americans.
Uniforms, arms and equipment: The British grenadiers, light
infantry and battalion company men wore red coats, the headgear of the
companies, bearskin fronted mitre caps, tricorne hats and caps, and
were armed with muskets and bayonets. The British had light guns and
were supported by the heavy guns of the fleet. The Americans were
armed with muskets or whatever firearms they could obtain, a few
bayonets and some light guns.
Winner: While the British drove the Americans from the
Charlestown peninsula it was with heavy loss. The battle was at the
time considered to be an American defeat but has since been lifted to
the ranks of a heroic stands against forces of oppression.
Battle of Bunker Hill
The flank companies (grenadiers and light companies) of the 4th, 10th,
18th, 22nd, 23rd, 35th, 59th, 63rd and 65th.
The British 5th Regiment of Foot
5th Foot later Northumberland Fusiliers and now the Royal Regiment of
38th Foot later the South Staffordshire Regiment and now the
43rd Foot later 1st Battalion, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light
Infantry and now 1st Bn Royal Green Jackets.
47th Foot later the North Lancashire Regiment and now the Queen’s
Royal Lancashire Regiment
52nd Foot later 2nd Battalion, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light
Infantry and now 1st Bn Royal Green Jackets
Marines: now the Royal Marines
The Battle of Bunker Hill 17th June 1775
(c) Illustration by John Mackenzie 2009 -
click to enlarge.
With the outbreak of the war General Gage, the British commander in
chief, found himself blockaded in Boston by the American Continental
Army, occupying the hills to the West of the city. Gage resolved to
seize the Charlestown peninsula across the harbour. Before he could
act, on the night of 16th June 1775 around 1,500 American troops of
the Massachusetts regiments and Putnam’s Connecticut regiment
occupied Breed’s Hill and Bunker Hill on the peninsula. The American
troops began to build a redoubt on Breed’s Hill. The fortification
was complete by the morning, after a night of frenzied work. The
presence of the Americans on the peninsula was observed by His
Majesty’s Ship Lively which opened fire on them.
Plans were hurriedly put in motion by the British to attack the
Americans and drive them from their position. Major General Howe,
one of the three generals sent from Britain to assist General Gage,
was given the command. While the preparations were in train the
Americans extended their fortifications from the redoubt to the sea
shore, to prevent a flank attack. More American troops gathered on
Bunker Hill but few of them could be persuaded to move to the
forward positions on Breed’s Hill.
Howe landed with his force on the southern shore of the peninsular and
directed the light infantry to attack the section of American line
at the sea shore. Gage and Howe would have been well advised to have
landed in the rear of the American position.. It is likely that the
British senior officers discounted the ability of the American
troops to resist a frontal attack and overestimated the ability of
their own troops to make one.
The light infantry column was repelled with heavy casualties.
General Howe now launched a frontal assault on the redoubt with
the main body of his troops. This attack was driven back with
heavy loss, in spite of an American shortage of ammunition.
During the attack the British left wing suffered from the fire
of Americans in the town of Charlestown and the town was set
British Grenadiers attack the redoubt on Breed's Hill. A
highly stylised picture
that does not portray the reality of the
turnout or drill of British troops of the time.
The attacks should have been preceded by a bombardment
from the field artillery but it was found that the 6 pounder
guns had been supplied with 12 pounder balls.
A second attack was launched along the length of the American
entrenchments and was again driven back with heavy loss.
A final attack was made, concentrating on the redoubt and centre
of the American position. The American ammunition was all but
exhausted and this final assault carried the redoubt, forcing the
Americans to retreat and leave the peninsula. They were not
The British attack on Breed's Hill
Casualties: The British suffered some 1,150 killed and wounded or
nearly half of the force engaged. The American casualties were
estimated at 450 killed and wounded.
Follow-up: The British took over the Bunker and Breed’s Hill
positions and fortified them, holding them until they evacuated
Boston at the end of the year. The battle was the first action for
the Continental Army and showed how much work there was to be done
in moulding an effective army. While most of the soldiers in the
entrenched works fought tenaciously, the intended reinforcements on
Bunker Hill refused to advance to the support of their comrades and
there was the greatest confusion between the officers as to
The British attack on Breed's Hill seen from behind
The battle had a number of lessons for the British. The senior
officers had little idea how to conduct a battle with any degree of
sophistication. Howe learnt his mistake in making a frontal assault.
At every subsequent battle, where possible he carried out flanking
assaults. The British troops were indisciplined and disorganised.
The guns for which the wrong ammunition was provided were almost
certainly battalion weapons manned by foot rather than Royal
For both sides Bunker Hill was the start of a journey in military
General Israel Putnam
The illustration of the line of grenadiers given below is
misleading. It is likely that the soldiers could not be brought to
press the attack properly until the final assault, for which they
were ordered to leave their packs and to advance without firing. It
is unlikely that the British troops were capable of drill of the
precision suggested by the picture or even the smart turnout
The use of the flank companies (grenadiers and light infantry) is
a suggestion that these companies may have been the only parts of
the battalions considered reliable.
It is an understandable feature of accounts of the American
Revolution that the British forces are portrayed as more competent
and disciplined than in fact they were. One of the causes of
discontent in New England prior to the war had been the indiscipline
and oppressive behaviour of British regular troops.
- History of the British Army by Sir John Fortescue
- The War of the Revolution by Christopher Ward