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The Battle of Bunker Hill

NOTE: This information is from the Library of Congress' Lyrical Legacy

Battle of Bunker Hill. Composed by a British Officer, the day after the Battle, June 17, 1775. Sold, wholesale and retail, by L. Deming, No. 62, Hanover Street, 2d door from Friend Street, Boston.
Date unknown. Library of Congress.

In the early weeks of the American Revolution, the future of the rebellion was still very uncertain. The rebels’ armed forces were new and disorganized and had not yet been tested in a major battle. Songs about the justness of the Americans’ cause and the courage of their soldiers were being sung in the streets of Boston and Philadelphia, but some colonists still feared the prospect of a bloody confrontation with the British.

The Battle of Bunker Hill put those fears to rest. On June 17, 1775, on a hilltop outside of Boston, just over a thousand poorly equipped and loosely organized rebel militiamen withstood two infantry charges by nearly 3,000 British professional soldiers. The Americans finally fell back on the third charge, but only after inflicting heavy casualties on the British.

For the British, the victory was a bitter one. It convinced many British leaders that this war would be long and that the Americans would be formidable adversaries. After the battle, one British general wrote that "a few more such victories would have shortly put an end to British dominion in America."

Over the centuries, the bravery of the colonial troops at the Battle of Bunker Hill has provided inspiration to countless American poets and songwriters. However, within hours of the battle, it also inspired an unknown British officer to set down his own impressions in verse. As you read his account of the bloody day and notice his clear respect for his enemies, you might think about how a different point of view can shed new light on even the most familiar events.


The Battle of Bunker Hill

Composed by a British Officer, the day after the Battle, June 17, 1775.

IT was on the seventeenth, by break of day,
The Yankees did surprise us,
With their strong works they had thrown up,
To burn the town and drive us.

But soon we had an order came,
An order to defeat them;
Like rebels stout, they stood it out,
And thought we ne’er could beat them.

About the hour of twelve that day,
An order came for marching,
With three good flints and sixty rounds,
Each man hop’d to discharge them.

We march’d down to the Long Wharf,
Where boats were ready waiting;
With expedition we embark’d,
Our ships kept cannonading.

And when our boats all filled were,
With officers and soldiers,
With as good troops as England had,
To oppose, who dare control us.

And when our boats all filled were,
We row’d in line of battle,
Where showers of ball like hail did fly,
Our cannon loud did rattle.

There was Copp’s hill battery near Charlestown,
Our twenty-fours they played;
And the three frigates in the stream,
That very well behaved.

The Glasgow frigate clear’d the shore,
All at the time of landing,
With her grape shot and cannon balls,
No Yankees e’er could stand them.

And when we landed on the shore,
We draw’d up all together;
The Yankees they all man’d their works,
And thought we’d ne’er come thither.

But soon they did perceive brave Howe,
Brave Howe, our bold commander;
With grenadiers, and infantry,
We made them to surrender.

Brave William Howe, on our right wing,
Cry’d boys fight on like thunder;
You soon will see the rebels flee,
With great amaze and wonder.

Now some lay bleeding on the ground,
And some fell fast a running;
O’er hills and dales, and mountains high,
Crying, zounds! brave Howe’s a coming.

Brave Howe is so considerate,
As to guard against all dangers;
He allow’d each half a gill this day,
To rum we are no strangers.

They began to play on our left wing,
Where Pigot, he commanded;
But we return’d it back again,
With courage most undaunted.

To our grape shot and musket balls,
To which they were but strangers,
They thought to come with sword in hand,
But soon they found their danger.

And when the works were got into,
And put them to the flight, sir,
They pepper’d us, poor British elves,
And show’d us they could fight, sir.

And when their works we got into,
With some hard knocks and danger;
Their works we found both firm and strong,
Too strong for British Rangers.

But as for our Artillery,
They gave all way and run,
For while their ammunition held,
They gave us Yankee fun.

But our commander, he got broke,
For his misconduct, sure, sir;
The shot he sent for twelve pound guns,
Were made for twenty-fours, sir.

There’s some in Boston, pleas’d to say,
As we the field were taking,
We went to kill their countrymen,
While they their hay were making.

For such stout whigs I never saw,
To hang them all I’d rather;
By making hay with musket balls,
Lord Howe cursedly did bother.

Bad luck to him by land and sea,
For he’s despis’d by many;
The name of Bunker Hill he dreads,
Where he was flogg’d most plainly.

And now my song is at an end,
And to conclude my ditty;
’Tis only Britons ignorant,
That I most sincerely pity.

As for our King and William Howe,
And General Gage, if they’re taken,
The Yankees will hang their heads up high,
On that fine hill call’d Beacon.


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