Sunday, January 28, 2018

Up the Long Slope (Again)

Bunker Hill - Don Troiani
Yes, this is a rerun from July of 2015. After a couple of days of poetry, I was reading, well, more poetry. Kipling to be precise. Tip of the hat to Andrew for that. Kipling's The Young British Soldier struck a deep chord with me. Now the Brits are allies, faithful and true, no better fighting men anywhere.

But once upon a time, twice as a matter of fact, the soldiers of the Crown were our enemies.

If your officer's dead and the sergeants look white,
Remember it's ruin to run from a fight:
So take open order, lie down, and sit tight,
And wait for supports like a soldier.
Wait, wait, wait like a soldier . . .

The Young British Soldier
Next to last stanza
by Rudyard Kipling

Oh, do follow that link under the opening painting. The Angry Staff Officer explains the battle from the standpoint of a modern soldier. Good reading, of course, his stuff always is. I've also included a couple of brief videos on the battle at the end. They're good.

Now join me as we go back in time to the 17th of June, 1775. 'Tis a warm day, a beautiful day, but for many young lads, 'tis their last day.

As they head Up the Long Slope...

The British landing at Kip’s Bay, New York Island, 15 September 1776 - Robert Cleveley
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 - Howard Pyle
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.

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
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.


  1. Don Troiani works mesmerize me. Excellent post Sarge, first reading of that article from The Angry Staff Officer, another blog I'll have to search through now. Getting shot from a .75 caliber weapon at 40 to 70 yards gives me the heebie jeebies let alone massed fire at those ranges. Gawd, the resolve those men had!

    1. Yes, Mr. Troiani is a master.

      The British soldier was a tough customer! (Still is!)


  2. "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!"

    "Amateurs talk about tactics, but professionals study logistics."
    - Gen. Robert H. Barrow, USMC (Commandant of the Marine Corps) noted in 1980

    Amazing those brave men. The rebels holding the crest against the best professional soldiers of the era. The professional soldiers pressing an attack. In the end, the professionals prevailed.

    1. Well put WSF. Without logistical support, no battle can be won.

      There was ample bravery on both sides that day.

    2. A dismal number of people have no idea why the 2nd amendment placed so highly with the men at the Constitutional Convention. it was this, the first battle of the Revolutionary War, that demonstrated that a well armed militia with weapons similar to military weapons can overthrow any tyranny if brave men stand behind the weapons and stand up and fight for freedom. It's amazing how many people lost sight of that over the years.

      Ever wonder what would have happened if the British had merely held the field without charging until the minutemen got all hungry and thirsty and started to wander away?

    3. The 2nd was, and remains, a key component of our freedom. Lose that and the government can do whatever it wants.

      Interesting thought about the British just doing nothing. I don't think Parliament would have accepted that as a strategy. They had to put the rebellion down quickly, they had no idea what was starting in New England. Like the second video said, it was more than a rebellion, it was a war.

    4. No no. I'm thinking it would be over in about 36 hours. Blockade is a well known tactic and it takes a real fanatic to stand around perishing of hunger and thirst. :)

    5. As you know, the terrain around Boston has changed a great deal since 1775. One can walk to Breed's Hill from Boston, back then it required boats. Now that being said, I'm sure the Royal Navy could have moved ships forward to cut the neck of the peninsula upon which the colonial positions and Charles Town lay. However, I'm not all that sure if ships could be moved up the Charles River (south of the peninsula) and the Mystic River (north of the peninsula) close enough to effectively interdict supplies.

      At nightfall the colonials could have escaped. While possible yes, I do think the British wanted the thing done and over with as quickly as possible. But then after the battle they just sat there in Boston while Henry Knox brought artillery down from Ticonderoga. Once emplaced on the Dorchester Heights, the British position in Boston became untenable.

      Fascinating though to look at all the "what ifs."

  3. Thanks for reposting this, I missed it the first time around.

    Thanks for the post.
    Paul L. Quandt

    1. I try to go back and pick older posts that I really liked, glad you liked it too!

  4. I grew up reading the American Heritage magazines and hard-cover versions, and Howard Pyle's works were used quite a bit. I have always found his work to be stunning. If it was a country scene I would call it gorgeous. But too much death and stink comes out of his works. Stunning is the best. As if you were there. Full of horrible movement. Especially that painting above. One could almost call it "Juggernaut" for that was what the British forces were that hot, nasty day.

    Turnbull's works are too static, too poised. Very old fashioned, but that was the style of the time.

    Troiani's work matches Pyle's. A new artist to consider.

    And the fourth painting, excellent. Wish I knew the artist.

    Thanks for rerunning this one. Breeds/Bunker Hill was one of those tactical losses that resulted in a strategic victory. Very important to the formation of our country.

    1. I could not find the artist for that painting, most frustrating as it is a nice work.

      Sometimes a tactical loss sets the stage for future success. The Brits avoided frontal assaults against ready, entrenched colonists for the remainder of the war. Forty percent casualties is appalling in any era!

  5. Great post and an excellent link to Angry Staff officer. Two enjoyable - and sobering - reads.



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