Great indeed was the excitement throughout the colonies when the news of the battle of Lexington was carried from town to town. Meetings were called in every town, congresses were held, armies formed—for everyone knew now that war had indeed begun. Soon, some fifteen thousand men collected from the different colonies about Boston, and these succeeded in giving General Gage a good scare.
All this time the king of England and his counselors were fretting and fuming because of the obstinacy of the American colonists. They sent over more troops, and when General Gage heard of their arrival he began to grow brave again. He sent out a proclamation, saying that if the colonists would lay down their guns and say they were sorry, he would see that the government of England forgave them and received them into English favor again—all but Samuel Adams and John Hancock; those two men, he said, were past forgiveness, and ought rather to be hanged. It is needless to say that the colonists were not at all moved by General Gage's generous offer of forgiveness. They kept straight on about their plans.
On the 16th of June, a detachment of the American soldiers, outside of Boston, was commanded to go over to Charleston and fortify Bunker Hill.
Under the cover of darkness, the soldiers climbed Breed's Hill, this being nearer Boston, and quietly threw up the earth in such a way as to form ditches and forts. Imagine the surprise of the British the next morning, when they looked across the water and found the Americans working away, busy as bees, finishing up their night's work.
The British cannon were turned upon them, but in vain. "We must march up the hill ourselves," said General Howe; and soon three thousand soldiers were on the way to attack the Americans. Eagerly the soldiers watched from behind their embankment; eagerly the British troops in Boston watched; and eagerly watched the women and children from the house-tops. O it was a terrible day for dear old Boston!
Up the hill climbed the British soldiers, firing at every step. At the top, behind the embankment, crouched the brave fifteen hundred, silent as death.
"Boys," said good Colonel Prescott, "we have no powder to waste; aim low; and don't fire until you can see the whites of their eyes."
And so, I suppose, the British, receiving no shots as they climbed the hill, thought they were going to climb straight over the entrenchments into the American quarters. But, as we know, these Americans had other plans.
The red-coats were nearly up the hill. Their waving plumes were nearly on a level with the hill-top. "Fire," commanded the officer. Bang! bang! bang! bang! went the fifteen hundred muskets. The British soldiers fell, mowed down like grain before the scythe. Then on they came again. Again, bang! bang! bang! went the fifteen hundred muskets; and again the British fell back in dismay. It was a long time before they made their third attack; and the hearts of the brave men within the intrenchment, and the brave women praying from the house-tops, beat high in the hope that the battle was over.
But soon the British forces rallied, and made one mighty rush over the dead bodies of their fallen brothers, upon the intrenchment. The Americans were now, many of them, without powder; and although they battled hand to hand with clubs and stones, the British reached the summit, and drove the Americans down the hill to Charlestown Neck.
This was the first regular battle of the Revolution; and although the Americans were defeated, still the defeat brought about so many good results, that, after all, perhaps it was quite as good as a victory; for it showed the British soldiers and the British king that the colonists were not to be subdued by simple threats; while, on the other hand it fired the colonists with courage and zeal. They knew now that there was no escape from war; they had learned that, untrained though they were, they could fight even the British regulars; they knew that, had their ammunition not given out, the day would have been theirs. And so, although they had lost some of their bravest men and although they had been defeated, there was no feeling of discouragement in the hearts of the colonists.
Battle of Bunker Hill