Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Up The Long Slope

The British landing at Kip’s Bay, New York Island, 15 September 1776 by Robert Cleveley (Source)
Though the passage from Boston to the foot of Breed's Hill is a short one, the boats are not all that steady. The red coated infantry stand in silence under the watchful eyes of their Sergeants and Officers as the sailors row the long boats towards the strip of gravel and sand lying just ahead.

The sailors ship their oars just before the boats ground, though the men bob slightly, they hold their ranks. Then the Officers disembark and the Sergeants begin the work of getting the men on shore and in their ranks.

The day is hot, some of these men remember the long march to Lexington and Concord not that long ago. There is a desire to pay back these sneaking colonials. Men lost friends and messmates that long hot spring day. Now, perhaps, it is time for revenge.

The long lines are formed, near the crest of the hill the men in the front ranks can see the earthworks thrown up by these farmers and shopkeepers. How dare they make a stand against their rightful king?

The drums roll, the Officers order the advance and the lines step off, through the tall grass and up the long slope.

It is hot, oh my Lord it is hot. Every man can feel the sweat soaking their shirts and undergarments under the heavy woolen coats. The Brown Bess seems heavier with each step. But the drums roll and the implacable march of the British infantry continues.

The Battle of Bunker Hill, by Howard Pyle, 1897 (Source)
The smell of smoke is heavy in the air as Charles Town burns off to the left flank, the crackle of burning buildings can be heard over the thumping drums. Then there is a new sound, a buzzing, a snap in the air, then thuds as the colonials open fire on the serried ranks of men in red.

Many men drop, blood and bits of bone fly through the air as the heavy leaden balls take their toll.

The lines stagger and pause. Slowly the men begin to edge backwards. The Officers see this and command the men to fall back. Maintaining order all the way as the hiss and crack of incoming fire continues.

Soon the British are out of range. The hill is no longer a long sheet of green grass. Here and there it is stained red from the blood of the fallen. Many bodies lie in the grass, unmoving and limp where life dwells no more.

Men in the ranks can see movement up the slope. Men, wounded, desperately trying to crawl back down the hill, to their regiment, to safety. More still lie screaming as the pain of the wounds begins to overcome the initial numbness.

The heat grows.

To the rear the sun plays on the water, sparkling and lovely, in stark contrast to the affair on  Breed's Hill. Then the Officers again bark out commands, the Sergeants shove the reluctant back into line, the drums begin to rumble and thump. The red lines move forward again.

Near the crest, sheets of flame leap from the muzzles of the rebel muskets. The sighing bullets again slash through the ranks, men tumble to the ground. Some stagger on for a few steps, not realizing they are hit until their legs are no longer theirs to command.

An Officer begins to raise his sword and urge his men on, as his mouth opens, his hat flies off as if taken by the wind.

The men are aghast as they see their beloved major sag to the ground, most of his head gone. The Sergeants push and shove, "Advance you stupid bastards, press them!"

Another volley is fired, the lines stagger and seem to melt back down the hill. Staggering, bloodied and bowed but as yet unbeaten, the infantry stream back down the slope, quickly reforming once out of range.

Grenadiers (Source)

There are fewer Sergeants now, familiar officers are nowhere to be seen. They are still on the hill, dead or dying, perhaps only wounded but for now, they are out of the fight.

Then the order rings out, "CHARGE YOUR BAYONETS!"

At last, at last. The men growl as the long bayonets affixed to their muskets slant forward. Muskets at the hip, the men are ready to advance into Hell once more.

"GIVE 'EM COLD STEEL LADS!" a young ensign, barely 17 years of age cries out.

The drums roll, the command to advance rings out once more. Up the long slope the infantry advance with determination, with resolve, with murder in their hearts.

Up the hill, up that damned long hill as Charles Town burns and the sunlight dances upon the Charles River. Perhaps a gull cries in the distance. They and the crows know that a feast awaits them once the humans are done killing each other.

As the crest is reached the rebel fire is desultory and sporadic. Here and there another redcoat collapses to the blood soaked earth. But the men realize, the rebels are falling back, they are not firing. They are out of ammunition!

The earthworks are assaulted, the long bayonets thrust and stab into the roughly clothed men defending Breed's Hill.

The colonials attempt a stand, it is no use. The lobsterbacks are not in a forgiving mood. They have come up that hill three times and paid dearly for the privilege. Now it is their turn to call the tune.

The death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker Hill by John Trumbull (Source)

No quarter is asked, no quarter is given. It is a British victory.

But at what cost?

For the remainder of the war, the British generals, particularly Lord Howe, will avoid frontal assaults at all costs.

The rough and tumble colonists have given the Royal Army a bloody nose.

Neither side will ever forget that June day in 1775.

Oddly enough, the battle, though fought on Breed's Hill, will ever be known as the Battle of Bunker Hill.

Thus are legends born.

Thus was the Spirit of a Nation conceived.

24 comments:

  1. I have goose bumps all over. Well done!

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  2. The more my family fought for this country the better we did. The first time was at Lexington where our first was wounded only to die later in the battle at Breed's Hill. It's a powerful story and resonates here.

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    1. Thanks Cap'n.

      Lexington Green continues to reverberate with me. Especially the way things seem to be going.

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  3. Great post Sarge! Superb bit of jingoistic art too, very much `of its era!
    Trust you're feeling better?

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    1. Thanks HD.

      Not feeling better but not feeling all that bad, going under the knife on Friday. I expect things to improve after that.

      Knock on wood [he said while tapping on his head]

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  4. That was superb Sarge. Best for Friday. Thoughts and Prayers will flow eastward all day. That "block of wood" has worked well for me for a long time. Always there when I need it.

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  5. Would have been a significantly different ending if the colonists hadn't run out of ammo. Well told!

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  6. Fullbore! as a friend would say!

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  7. Minuteman Great x7 Dust was marching towards Boston from York County (Maine) Massachusetts with Capt Cobb's company of Minutemen when they got word of Breeds's Hill while crossing the Piscataqua River (think Big bridge into Maine). A personal narrative related their march picked up considerably into joining the gathering rabble in what would become the Continental Army under the tall imposing Virginian. Pvt. Dust wa s one of those unmarried Soldiers levied fro the militia companies that became the core of the Continental regiments- in his case, Colonel Nixon's 5Th Mass Regiment, Continental Line in 1775. He served in several regiments and was pretty much involved in every campaign in the northern theater through 1777. If I could ever have a conversation with anyone....

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    1. Wow. I too would like to sit a spell and chat with him.

      Talk about witness to history!

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  8. Nice piece of work here OAFS. Shades of Lex. You are in good company. Best-

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  9. As I said in another place, you write best history lessons I've ever read. Damn fine stuff.

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