Boston: Bunker Hill Monument

It is fitting that we come to the end of the Freedom Trail in Boston at Bunker Hill this week.  The skirmishes along the roads to Lexington and Concord may have provided the first armed conflict of the American Revolution, but the Battle of Bunker Hill was the first organized battle of the war.  It is seemingly appropriate that we close out Memorial Day weekend at the location of the memorial to our nation's first soldiers.  Lexington, Concord, and Bunker Hill cost 164 American lives - the first military blood spilled in the struggle to create the nation we call home.

The Bunker Hill Monument is a stone obelisk rising 221 feet above...Breed's Hill.  That's right, most of the fighting occurred, and the memorial is therefore placed, upon Breed's Hill.  The battle itself was named after another hill north of Charlestown, which is where the commanders of the Colonists (Colonel William Prescott and General Israel Putnam) were initially ordered to secure.  Although Bunker Hill rose 110 feet in elevation and was the favorable location for cutting off the narrow land entrance, known as the Charlestown Neck, to the peninsula, the soldiers determined instead to fortify Breed's Hill which rose only 62 feet but was centrally located and much closer to the city of Charlestown.  Ultimately, the Colonial forces knew they could not compete with the British Navy for control of the harbor and therefore needed to secure as many hills surrounding Boston as they could in order to control the city.  Charlestown to the north and Dorchester Heights to the south were critical positions, and British General Gage had left a power vacuum by removing his troops from Charlestown following their retreat from Lexington and Concord.

Seeing their opportunity, 1,000 soldiers hurriedly set to work constructing a redoubt fortification atop the hill during the night leading up to June 17, 1775, and as dawn broke the British artillery on Boston's North End began to fire on the new structure.  It would take nearly 10 hours, however, before British forces were able to move into position for an assault, which gave the Colonists time to bring in reinforcements that more than doubled their numbers.  Generals Gage and Howe were convinced that a frontal charge would easily dislodge the untrained rabble that opposed them, but it would take them three attempts to finally take the ground.  The British army learned at the cost of over 1,000 casualties that, even while achieving victory, a determined and unified effort would oppose their goal to retain the American colonies.

And so we come to the end of the Freedom Trail at the beginning of American freedom.  The Declaration of Independence would be signed just over a year later, and British forces would surrender at Yorktown in 1781 to effectively end the war.  The Cradle of Liberty had served, not only as the birthplace of the ideal of self-government, but also as the first location where those thoughts were tested and defended.  Quite appropriate for Memorial Day, indeed.


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