Sunday, June 17, 2018

Breed's Hill 1775

Boston, 1775
"What say you Major? Time to give the bloody colonials the bill for Concord I would think."

Major John Pitcairn simply nodded at the man, that march through the Massachusetts countryside back in April still rankled with him. Too many fine men lost, and to what purpose? Here we are again, marching to the colonists tune, what will be the butcher's bill this day?

"Sergeant Barnes!"


"Prepare the men, we will advance shortly."


Major Pitcairn watched the first wave falling back down the slope, gaps in the ranks, the men a bit shaken but quickly recovering themselves. Drawing his sword he walked down the ranks of his Marines, gauging their readiness for this advance. Fine lads, he thought to himself, I almost pity those men on the hill.

As the British fell back from the galling fire the militia had poured into them, one man stood atop the breastwork...

"Huzzah lads! We've shown the lobsterbacks what for! Huzzah!"

"Get down from there Wheelock, some redcoat might shoot you for making all that racket."

"Certainly Nathaniel, but we gave them a thrashing didn't we?"

"Yes we did, Private Wheelock. Need I remind you that when we're on active service, you're to call me captain? Is that too much to ask of my darling wife's idiot brother?" Though said with a smile, young Jason Wheelock took the hint, his older sister was always chiding him for being 'too frivolous.'

"Yes sir, Captain Sir! I shall try and remember."

"Good now, get ready, I hear the drums, seems like the lobsterbacks want to try again."

"Marines! Shoulder your FIRELOCKS!" Pitcairn barked out as he moved to his position near the drummers in front of the battalion. Turning to his son, he said...

"Mind yourself well today William, we don't want your Mother to mourn either of us, do we?"

"No Sir, I shall tread cautiously this day!"

Drawing his sword, Major Pitcairn raised it aloft and barked, "Battalion! To the front, MARCH!" As the drums began to rattle, the 2nd Marines stepped off. Looking to his right, the major could see that General Howe's troops were rallying and were starting to advance back up the hill themselves.

Captain Nathaniel Jones looked over his men, they were nervous, he could tell by the way they fidgeted and brushed the sweat from their foreheads.

"Steady lads, steady! Wait for it, don't fire too soon. Wait for it..."

The rattle of the British drums was most unnerving, the men advancing on their position appeared to be Royal Marines, Jones had served with them in the war against the French, not lads to be trifled with. Well then, I think that is close enough.


The British seemed to stagger as the smoke rolled down from the freshly turned dirt, chasing the hail of lead balls which had smashed into the redcoated men advancing up the hill. They faltered, but only for a moment.

Then another volley rang out, more men went down.

Captain Jones heard the British officers and sergeants commanding their men to fall back. Perhaps we have won this day, he thought to himself. At that point his neighbor and sergeant tugged at his sleeve.

"That's it Sir, we are dry, there is no more shot, nor powder to propel it. What are your orders Nate?"

He could see that some of the men were reloading, some of them with pebbles scooped from the ground beneath their feet.

"Alright lads, if they come on again, we'll give them one more volley, that should do it. But be ready to pull back towards Cambridge if need be. Steady now, here they come."

As the Marines approached the breastworks before them, Pitcairn saw the colonials leaning forward, ready to give fire, but the volley was weak, uncoordinated. Damn my eyes, they are out of ammunition!


As Pitcairn stepped forward, looking back at his Marines, he saw motion in the corner of his eye, to the left. Some fellow was actually aiming at him! How quaint...

The ball hit the major hard, he was down, barely conscious as his battalion dashed past him and into the rebel works. His son William had seen him fall and was quickly at his side.

"I have lost my father!"

A few Marines faltered and came back to where William knelt by his father. A few of them dropped to their knees and wept openly. Major John Pitcairn was a popular officer.

Death of John Pitcairn
Somewhere over the crest of the hill, men were cheering. But to the men around John Pitcairn, it was a bitter day, a day many would remember to the day they died. The day their officer fell leading his Marines against their fellow Englishmen.

The Battle of Bunker Hill, as we call it, though in truth it was fought on Breed's Hill was a British victory, but a very costly victory. One thousand and fifty four British soldiers fell taking a hill from colonial militia. The breakdown of the casualties:
  • 19 officers killed
  • 62 officers wounded
  • 207 soldiers killed
  • 766 soldiers wounded
Nearly 49% of the force. With victories like that, British hopes of quelling the rebellion were slim. Though they persisted in trying for eight more years. Sir William Howe, who was to replace Thomas Gage as commander in the colonies, was forevermore shy of assaulting American positions head on. Henry Clinton, also on the field, would succeed Howe and have even less success, content to sit in New York and let the rebels come to him.

So in the long run, it was a British victory that sowed the seeds of eventual British defeat.

But for William Pitcairn, it was the day he lost his father.

Major John Pitcairn, of His Majesty's Royal Marines, born in Scotland, died in Massachusetts within sight of Boston, where he lies interred in Christ Church Cemetery to this very day.

Perhaps 'tis fitting to remember the son, and the father, on this Fathers Day, which is also the 243rd anniversary of the a Battle of Bunker Hill.

It is well to remember, that history is made by people, that the casualties suffered in battle are not just numbers.


  1. Another of your usual excellent posts.

    I know it is said that " early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise ", but it only seems to make me a PITA on the internet.

    Thanks for the post.
    Paul L. Quandt

    1. Thanks Paul. (One hesitates to ask, but when do you sleep?)

    2. One begins to wonder what the "L" in PLQ stands for, for he is being very loquacious while his lovely wife is away. Hmmmm.


      Dude. 4:19 West Coast Time? Go back to sleep. And OldAFSarge, 5:29 AM West Coast Time when you're East Coast? that's like, (checking, counting on fingers, subtracting thumb and hangnails) 2:29 AM on a Sunday Morning. What the Heck? Don't you have Lutheranian things to do in the daylight AM time?

      Oh, and Happy Fathers' Day to both of you. Now go get your rest.

    3. When my wife is away, I sleep when I am tired, get up when I wake up, etc. Today ( for instance ) I went back to bed around 0700 hrs, after getting up around 0130 hrs, and slept until about 15 minutes ago.


    4. Danged stupid fingers, gotta get them tattooed in the proper order. Sarge, what the heck are you doing commenting at 8:29 when you should be waiting on your wife and getting ready to do church-stuff?

      There. Fixed it. I blame it on too much Benadryl...

    5. AW:

      The 'L' stands for various things, and sometimes very little at all.


    6. Paul.
      Another acronym for my daily blog reading is, Blog Reading Everyday Advances Discernment.
      And combining your acronym, and my acronym gives you, PITA BREAD.

      (I thought I sent this comment earlier, but probably failed basic button pushing)

    7. Beans 1 - Blog time is set to Pacific Coast time, for a couple of reasons.

      1) I didn't change it when I started the blog, not sure why Google thought I was in sunny California at the time...

      2) Once I noticed it, I didn't want to change it. Lex and all, if'n you get my drift.

    8. Paul 1 - Living the life of Riley you are. Nice work if you can get it (my application to be retired is still pending).

    9. Beans 2 - Divine services aren't until 1030 local. Ample time to answer comments and get ready for church.

    10. Paul 2 - I'm betting the "L" stands for something extraordinary.

      No wait, that would be an "E," not an "L." Loquacious works for me.

    11. Paul. Yup. Know all about middle initials.

      OldAFSarge. Yup. I knew that. I just should never try being 'cute' when I've got a Benadryl headache. Brain really not working this afternoon.

    12. Loquacious is just another word for loudmouth.

      Paul L. Quandt

    13. Beans - with my feet firmly in my mouth againJune 17, 2018 at 3:54 PM

      But it is a much more elegant and graceful version. It's the difference between Shakespeare and some street ranter.

      You being more Bill than Bull.

    14. I didn't know you two were still going at it.

      Love it!

  2. Good one as usual. This recollects my puzzle I set the Brits whom I invite to a 4th of July party (their admittance charge is a tea bag): What is the name of a British officer who was at the rude bridge that arched the April's flood, marched up (but not down) Bunker Hill, and whose name graces a lonely island to this day?

    Very few of them get it. Of course they call the 4th "Thanksgiving" :-)

    1. I didn't know that before yesterday. About the island that is, I did know that the good major was on the walkabout to Concord and at Bunker Hill.

      Thanks Cap'n. (I like the tea bag entrance fee.)

  3. I did not know he was buried beneath the church.

    1. Neither did I until I was doing the research for this post. Now I have to go see.

  4. Second what Paul said, a few well-crafted words can fire up the old imagination Sarge. Well-done! Your postings go "live" at 6AM my time but most days I'm up before then, not today though.... yesterdays heat & humidity methinks. To our zdravie!

    1. 6 AM, Central Time, a most civilized time zone.

      And yes, to our fathers, 건배!

  5. History and fatherhood, and the stark realization of war's price in human suffering.

    That's why this blog is a must read every single day.

    Now I'm going to think about the things my father and I did together, and especially the couple of times when he said, "Don't tell your Mom about this."
    I wish we had more time together.

    Very well done.

    1. Thanks John, for many of us the day is indeed bittersweet. If we have kids, we let them spoil us, but if Dad has gone before, we remember the good times.

  6. On that June day in 1775 each side lost well loved leaders. Major Pitcairn was a well respected officer of Royal Marines, and, perhaps, the best of the British officers in Boston. Atop Breed's Hill was Doctor Joseph Warren, one of the leaders of the American revolution, and a man who might well have become our president. Warren was killed by a pistol shot, fired a close range, as the British finally swept over the fortifications.

    1. Ah yes, Dr. Warren. Could have taken command but did not, served in the ranks.

      What a good and learned man he was.

  7. I can think of nothing glorious about war.
    Far too many sons and daughters have lost their fathers.

  8. Another good post sir.

    And a very Happy Father's Day to you and everyone who reads here.

    I just got off the phone with my Dad, who tho' I am 60, is still worrying about I staying cool and hydrated on this hot and steamy weekend. (Yes, Dad, I went out and picked up the load of mulch from 7-9:30 this morning when it was only 70-80 out, and I wont be pitching it on the garden until after supper tonight when the heat starts to drop. Air conditioning is my favorite place to be on a hot steamy day.) After all I spent the last week telling all my patients to stay cool and hydrated in the high heat and high humidity...don't know how folks can live in Florida in the summer...there is a reason I moved to Michigan, not down South!!

    Although, Massachusetts (and New York) can get pretty hot and steamy in June. I remember lots of times the end of June, having to go take finals and NYS Regents exams in High School, sitting in the gym at desks spaced 3 feet apart, sweating like a pig. As soon as I got off the bus, stripping down to a swimsuit and jumping in the pond to cool off.

    Thanks Dad for teaching me to swim, for taking me to see the sites at Breed's and Bunker Hills, and going to the Adams House in Quincy, which was just around the corner from my great-aunt's house. Very neat museum!

    1. Suz, we in Florida just put Willis Carrier up there with John Moses Browning as one of the best men we have ever been gifted with.

      That, and only Mad Dogs, Englishmen and Southerners go out in hot, humid days. Though at least our houses are usually built for the weather.

      Except for me. I stay inside in blessed A/C.

      I really hate it when the humidity tries to keep up with the temperature. Bleh.

    2. Dads never stop worrying. I know I don't and still give all three 30-something kids advice as if they haven't already learned a thing or two. They humor me and I love them all the more for it.

      Yes, I remember well how sweaty it was back then, before air conditioning was invented.

    3. The summer we lived on the Gulf Coast (Mississippi) The Missus Herself and the progeny were like deer, they would only go out early in the morning or late in the evening when the air had "cooled." I just got used to sweating all the time.

  9. Beans - who misses his father more every dayJune 17, 2018 at 9:48 AM

    What a horrible way to spend Father's Day. Dressed in wool and linen, on a hot muggy Boston day, packed into a small boat with a bunch of other smelly people, forced to march up a horrid hill under a rain of fire and death.

    And then, to lose your father in sight of you.

    And then, to carry his body away, and then return to continue, until finally it is all over and you can mourn your father and your people.

    What a strong son. His father must have been proud of him.

    William, named after, most likely, his uncle, Dr. William Pitcairn.

    And William's (son of John) brother, Robert Pitcairn, is who the island is named after. Robert was a midshipman aboard the English sloop that 'discovered' the island, and was first to sight it.

    A family name steeped in service, sometimes to a feckless government.

    1. Ah haven't we all, at times, served feckless governments.

      John Pitcairn, though a "bloody lobsterback" and a "bootneck" to boot, holds a place in my heart. A good man by all accounts.

    2. According to Wiki, Major Pitcairn was actually liked and somewhat beloved by the rebels in Boston. An honorable enemy, a good friend.

      It is a mark of a good man when even his enemies say nice things about him.


Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)
Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

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