On June 17, 1775, American colonists clashed with the British in the Battle of Bunker Hill, the first major battle of the American Revolution.
At the time, the British occupying Boston were under siege and thus aimed to take the nearby and strategically valuable Dorchester Heights. In response, the Americans decided to build defenses on the Charlestown peninsula, which was just over the river from Boston. Originally ordered to dig in on Bunker Hill, the senior officers decided instead to build their redoubt on nearby Breed’s Hill, which was closer to Boston. On the night of June 16—17, the Americans worked to build a redoubt and in the morning began a breastwork as well.
The British realized what the Americans were up to and, when morning came, planned an attack. They decided to send some of the British forces in a frontal assault against the redoubt and breastwork while the main attack would hit the American left, which was weak. However, during the time it took for the British to cross the river and then wait for reinforcements, the Americans strengthened their left with last-minute fortifications.
The majority of the fighting took place at three locations on or near Breed’s Hill: the redoubt and breastwork, a rail fence to the breastwork’s left rear, and a stone wall down on the beach below the rail fence. Americans at the stone wall and rail fence successfully held off the British when they came at the Americans’ left. However, the British attack at the redoubt and breastwork, though repulsed twice, eventually overwhelmed the Americans, once the British artillery joined in and the colonists ran low on gunpowder and ammunition. The British and Americans engaged in fierce hand-to-hand fighting within the redoubt, and the Americans were forced to abandon their position and retreat off the peninsula.
Despite the British victory, casualties were high. Approximately 1,054 out of 2,500 British were killed or wounded. As for the Americans, they suffered around 450 casualties out of a force of 3,000 (though probably only about half that number were actually engaged in the battle). Although the Battle of Bunker Hill was a loss for the Americans, it eventually came to represent the colonists’ ability to take on the renowned British army.
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