June, 1775: Battle of Bunker Hill Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

British regulars were ordered to occupy an elevated area on the Charlestown peninsula, across the river from Boston. Before the British could act, however, American forces, who had been instructed to seize Bunker Hill, instead fortified Breed’s Hill, also located on the peninsula. The commander of the American forces, Colonel William Prescott, chose Breed’s Hill because of its proximity to Boston and its especially steep slopes on two sides. The 1,600 Americans constructed a square redoubt on the top of Breed’s Hill.

British regulars were ordered to occupy an elevated area on the Charlestown peninsula, across the river from Boston. Before the British could act, however, American forces, who had been instructed to seize Bunker Hill, instead fortified Breed’s Hill, also located on the peninsula. The commander of the American forces, Colonel William Prescott, chose Breed’s Hill because of its proximity to Boston and its especially steep slopes on two sides. The 1,600 Americans constructed a square redoubt on the top of Breed’s Hill.

Early in the afternoon of June 17, 1775, British major general William Howe ordered his troops to advance on Breed’s Hill. The Americans repelled the first and second assaults. On the third assault, the Americans ran out of powder and bullets. By nightfall, the British had seized the hill. The British military suffered 1,054 casualties, 226 dead and 828 wounded. The Americans endured 411 casualties, 140 killed and 271 wounded.

Contemporary depiction of the Battle of Bunker Hill. (National Archives)

The Battle of Bunker Hill (more accurately Breed’s Hill) constituted the first major battle of the Revolutionary War. Although the British accomplished their objective, they did so at a heavy cost. This moral victory united the Americans in their opposition to the British.

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