The Battle of Bunker Hill stands for heroism against impossible odds. It also marks a moment in history when America – not yet the United States of America – stood up against the power and might of the British Empire and shouted out to the world: “We’re not going to take subjugation anymore – and to hell with being told what to do with our lives by kings.
The Battle of Bunker Hill was a great American battle, a profound moment in the founding of this nation.
It was, as we have come to fully understand, the beginning of the end of British rule in North America.
Not even the Battles of Concord and Lexington approximate the type of fixed battle which took place at Bunker Hill.
The brave men who gathered there, who fought there, who died there, and who are buried there, did something of a very grand scale on that day and year.
They taunted the British by building the redoubt at the top of the hill. They supplied themselves as best they could. They prepared not just for a battle – but for a costly sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.
They dared the British to come and get them. In fact, the British were blockaded in Boston by the Americans except for in Charlestown which was then a peninsula.
The British being themselves were game for the fight.
Lexington and Concord had been a costly inconvenience – but there hadn’t yet been a real fixed battle, the kind the British were used to throughout the centuries.
Destiny was at hand. The world was about to change.
They marched up the hill fearless, imperial, the unbeatable British Red Coat shock troops.
Captain William Prescott implored his rag tag group of American irregulars.
“Do not fire until you see the whites of their eyes,” he told them.
Then the Americans fired.
The first line of British ascended the hill with their muskets and bayonets at the ready. The British light infantry column was repelled with heavy casualties.
Now the British General Sir William Howe launched a second attack along the length of the American entrenchments.
Again, the British were driven back with heavy losses.
A final attack was made by the British concentrating on the center of the American position.
The British routed the Americans, and as they tended to do after battles around the world, celebrated their victory by burning Charlestown to the ground.
The American dead and wounded that day numbered 450.
The British dead and wounded amounted to nearly half their force or some 1,150.
The British took over the positions and held onto them until they evacuated Boston at the end of the year.
But the great meaning of this battle, the greater measure of what happened in Charlestown on that day June 16, 1775, is that American heroism prevailed and our point was made – and again – it was the beginning of the end for the British Empire in this land.