After laboring for an hour to find and set up the perfect fort, there is no better reward than firing down snowballs on your siblings with impunity, with no fear of getting hit.
Two hundred and twenty-five years ago, American rebels set up their first fort with a similar intention. Bunker Hill was initially chosen as the first battle fortress for the American Revolution. It was going to be a battle of father against son, cousin against cousin. It was going to take the English by surprise.
The Americans had been very secretive about setting up the fort. At midnight on June 16 , 1775, nine hundred men snuck through the streets of Charlestown, right across the river from Boston, and met on a high hill. Using shovels and pick-axes they created a fort on top of a hill facing the British forces. They transported the canons and equipment in wagons, and they covered the wheels of their wagons with straw to deafen the noise. They worked day and night with little water and only the food they had brought with them. They built the fort on high rise called Breed's hill. It was within striking distance of the British troops across the river.
By daybreak, when the British had finally noticed the fort and began bombarding it with canon fire, the American rebels were safely inside their trenches, strengthening the walls and building platforms for canons.
It was hot, but the rebels were used to working in the sun. They were farmers from all over Massachusetts, as well as Connecticut and New Hampshire. While working in the rocky fields of New England had made them good diggers, they were not professional soldiers and had seen little bloodshed until this day.
As the day progressed and it began to grow hotter, the men began to get thirsty digging and laboring. When a cart finally came with a barrel of water and a barrel of rum, the men laid their equipment down and began moving towards the refreshments. After moving the rum barrel to a safe spot, the men looked back at the water barrel only to see it explode as a British cannonball burst it to smithereens.
A high pitched thundering noise came hurtling towards the line of thirsty men and Asa, who, at the front of the line, exploded into a messy hail of remains. The men stood shocked looking at what little remained of Asa, and then abruptly ran back behind the walls to safety.
Meanwhile, the British were not just busy firing cannonballs at the rebels. They were sending boatloads of troops across the river, and the preparations for a major showdown were taking place. The British soldiers were not having the best time. They had woken up at dawn to the unpleasant news that a rebel fort had been erected and they had to go attack it. After putting on one hundred pounds of equipment (on top of their heavy red coats), 2200 soldiers rowed across the river being protected by gun ships.
The British generals, far from impressed with the unprofessional gunners behind those walls, decided to launch their crack troops in a bayonet charge that surely would scare them off their hill. Some of the British soldiers had fought in France and Germany, and the rebels knew their reputation as fierce fighters. Many of the soldiers were members of the ill-fated Lexington and Concord skirmishes. They had strong memories of the twenty mile march back to Boston under incessant musket fire only two months earlier. They wanted revenge.
A legendary brigade called the Welsh Fusiliers was selected to lead the attack on the hill. Three hundred and fifty of them went screaming up towards the entrenched rebels, who fired their muskets downhill and into the mass of red soldiers. About half of them remained standing for a moment, only to be cut down seconds later by a second blast of musket fire. What had started as a fearsome charge of hundreds only seconds before had been hammered down by the rebels' musket fire into a handful of dazed soldiers.
The British generals, looking on to this scene of carnage, decided to send another wave of troops running into the smoky field. It was thought that the rebels would not be able to reload fast enough to repel another attack. Muskets in those days took ten separate steps to reload. It would be a miracle if the rebels could reload that fast.
A miracle indeed happened, as another wave of British troops ran straight into a storm of flying lead. The Americans were using three separate groups of gunners, giving each group enough time to reload while the others fired. Also, the men from New Hampshire had great accuracy from years of hunting in the woods, and they had an easy time picking off the charging British.
Wave after wave of charging British redcoats met the same awful fate of crumbling under a rain of piercing metal. On that bloody day, the British suffered over one thousand casualties, including 226 deaths. This incredible damage was from an army that did not exist two years previously.
What is most striking about the battle of Breed's hill (misnamed Bunker Hill often) is the harsh punishment the British army suffered at the hands of a collection of farmers and militiamen. The rebels only lost 140 men, a number so low in comparison that Nathaniel Greene, a general from Rhode Island, remarked, "I wish we could sell them another hill at the same price."
There was a price to pay for the people of Charlestown. In retaliation for the lawlessness on their hill, the British bombarded the town with cannon fire and destroyed some 300 buildings.
The reality of fighting a war is terrifying. It is a long way from the playful snow fights we have all had in our backyards. The blood spilt on Breed's hill was a necessary step to breaking the rule of the British. It was the first time troops from the colonies faced his majesty's army, but it would not be the last.
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MAD - 30,000 shot dead each year - what YOU can do!