Monday, October 28, 2013

History and the Study Thereof

The Battle of Bunker Hill
by Howard Pyle
Whilst searching high and low, hither and yon for a topic with which to regale thee, my beloved readers, I thought that perhaps a taste of 18th Century warfare might be to your liking. So I went forth to find some suitable graphical image to lead the post.

'Twas then that I stumbled upon a favorite painting which I first saw as a callow youth, back in the last century as it were. That painting is shown above and purports to show the British Army marching up Bunker Hill, stolid and stoic, while the unseen patriots wait to see "the whites of their eyes" before opening fire.

Now before I go further, there's a few things which are, to me at any rate, worthy of note. Those things are:

  1. There is a lot of smoke billowing up in the background. That smoke would necessarily be coming from Charlestown. Which the British had managed to set afire earlier that day.
  2. There are quite a few British troops down on the ground, dead and wounded, both in the foreground and in the background, leading me to believe that this is not the first trip up the hill. I do recall the lobsterbacks (as we would term them in New England, back then and even now amongst the more well-read crowd) made three trips up the hill. And they got the you-know-what shot out of them the first two times. On the third trip, the "rebels" were nearly out of powder and shot. One ragged volley perhaps and then it was off to the races.
  3. The British in the foreground are all grenadiers (based on their headgear) and from the looks of it, they are all clones of each other. That is, they all look too much alike. Uniformity from a military standpoint can be a good thing. But this? (Note the soldier whose face is turned towards us in the rear rank. It's almost as if he's just noticed that he doesn't really look like all the other guys!)
Now many of us, of a certain age, know that the Battle was not fought on Bunker Hill, rather it took place on Breed's Hill. Perhaps a map is in order (no, don't panic, I'm not going to write about the entire battle, I haven't done the requisite research to do that. If you want the quickie version, Wikipedia will do. That's here.)

Charlestown Neck
From Wikipedia:
On the night of June 16, colonial Colonel William Prescott led about 1,200 men onto the peninsula in order to set up positions from which artillery fire could be directed into Boston. This force was made up of men from the regiments of Prescott, Putnam (the unit was commanded by Thomas Knowlton), James Frye, and Ebenezer Bridge. At first, Putnam, Prescott, and their engineer, Captain Richard Gridley, disagreed as to where they should locate their defense. Some work was performed on Bunker Hill, but Breed's Hill was closer to Boston and viewed as being more defensible.

Now (after that overlong but hopefully educational tangent) where were we?

Ah yes, the painting by Mr Pyle. As I was saying, I first saw this painting when I was a kid. It remained stuck in my mind for many years whenever the Battle of Bunker Hill was mentioned. Only today did I really look at the painting again.

As you might guess, there are inaccuracies. Those lines are far too straight. It's hard keeping a line of troops that straight on a parade ground, let alone marching up a hill. (I know, I have done both, both in the ranks and bellowing out the commands. It's not easy!)

But while digging around in order to go into the painting in depth, I found this wondrous website, The Journal of the American Revolution (That link is their article regarding this very painting!)

So instead of posting about 18th Century warfare, I spent a lot of time reading their stuff. Poor you, lucky me, though as always, YMMV. At some point in time I do plan to write more about this topic. How the British marched in straight lines, wore red coats and we hid behind rocks and trees, etc. etc. Poppycock!

Most of us (of a certain age) learned in school about Baron von Steuben, the Prussian guy who taught the colonials about discipline and drill. Yup, he taught the Americans how to march in straight lines just like the British!

My point is that there is much that we Americans "mislearned" in school about the American Revolution. I aim to talk about that at some point in time. Just not today. You can read about it at those links above. As for me, I have the distinct displeasure of having to get ready for a colonoscopy tomorrow.


Lucky me!

18 comments:

  1. Yes, lucky you!
    My question about the painting. If the smoke is from Charleston and is off their left flank, that would mean they had to be marching from the right end of the peninsula (towards where Boston Harbor is lettered on the Map). Why would they do that, as opposed to straight up the hill from Charleston attacking the lines from the flank? I know very little about the tactics of the Battle, so I'm not questioning, merely trying to understand.

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    1. If you look at the little map of Charlestown Neck above, the viewpoint of the viewer is to the NNE, looking towards Charlestown. The Brits are marching towards the WNW, up Breed's Hill. The original plan was for the Light Infantry to advance briskly along the northern coast of the Neck to flank the Colonials while the Grenadier and Line Companies demonstrated to the front of the Colonial entrenchments (that would be those guys in the painting). The flanking attack was broken up and the guys going up the hill took it in the teeth.

      Hope that clarifies things. (Hhmm, speaking of movements...)

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    2. WAYYYY to much information in that second paragraph!

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    3. "Carried Away" is sometimes mistaken for my middle name.

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  2. If the Dr is going to perform an endoscopy along with the colonoscopy, make sure he does the endoscopy first. Leaves a bad taste in your mouth if they reverse the order. Enjoy the bowel prep, as it's one of those pleasures that has to be experienced to really appreciate what it might feel like to get "the you-know-what shot out of" you.

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    1. Heh. Good one.

      Yes, things are starting to happen. Tonight should be, shall we say, "interesting"?

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    2. Not too late to install some handholds. You can thank me later.

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  3. As for me, I have the distinct displeasure of having to get ready for a colonoscopy tomorrow.

    Ahem. Dave Barry's essay on the subject is ESSENTIAL reading, if you haven't already done so. Especially the prep part... about which I TOTALLY agree.

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    1. Classic Dave Barry. One of my all time favorite humorists. Him and PJ O'Rourke.

      I didn't realize that humans actually are equipped with an afterburner. At least it feels like it!

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  4. Sarge, your writing just gets better and better every day. There is a book in you I deem.

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    1. Thanks!

      As to a book?

      Someday Six. Someday.

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    2. Speaking of books, any idea what the status is of Lex's? Not long after he passed we heard that the Naval Institute Press was making plans...

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    3. We were talking about that in Mystic just a week or so ago. Do we know anyone who works at the Naval Institute Press (or know someone who knows someone)?

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  5. Seems I remember reading a dissertation about the battle in 1776?
    Further, Von Steuben didn't arrive on the scene until after the colonials came out from behind the bushes and rocks on Breed's Hill.

    Maybe the Redcoats were able to keep in a straight line on a hill because they practiced so much?
    Seems to me I remember after 12 weeks of intensive marching and drill in boot camp, even sailors (such as they are) can maintain a straight line.
    Of course once they'be been to sea, they never walk a straight line again because of 'sea legs.'

    Oh yeah, and after a colonoscopy it's difficult to walk straight, too.

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    1. Sailors? March in straight lines? Surely you jest!

      Roger that on the colonoscopy. I covered that in today's post, it wasn't that bad. (The procedure that is, the post? I don't know.)

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    2. Well... actually recruits aren't sailors yet.
      So there is that.

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Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)