The Battle of Bunker Hill occurred on June 17, 1775 and was part of the Continental Army's campaign to capture the city of Boston. It is inaccurately named, since most of the battle occurred on and around Breed's Hill, not Bunker Hill. The revolutionary forces were led by General Israel Putnam, with their opponents, the British Army, led by Major-General William Howe.
The aim of the Continental Army was to seize the peninsula on which Charlestown was situated, directly across the water from Boston. By seizing Charlestown, they could set up artillery to bombard Boston and hopefully speed their ground advance into the town. With only about a thousand feet separating the peninsula from Boston, it would create a significant strategic advantage to have artillery on it. The British troops had control of Boston and the water around it, but they were surrounded on land by the Continental Army.
On the night of June 16th, Colonel William Prescott led about 1,500 revolutionary soldiers onto the peninsula to set up fortifications and artillery. After initially preparing fortifications on Bunker Hill, they decided to move to Breed's Hill, since it was closer to Boston and more defensible. They began building fortifications there about 160 feet long and 80 feet wide, using ditches and earthen walls.
At 4 AM, the preparations were spotted by a sentry on the HMS Lively. The ship opened fire on the fortifications, forcing the colonists to take cover and halt their construction. On the HMS Somerset, Admiral Samuel Graves was awoken by the firing and temporarily halted the attack before seeing the fortifications. After realizing what the colonists were up to, he ordered all ships in the harbor to fire on the peninsula. Luckily for the colonists, many of the ships were not able to hit the island due to the limited elevation of their cannon.
After about six hours, the British assembled an attack force consisting of General Howe's forces, which would lead the assault and attempt a left flank and rear attack, with Brigadier General Robert Pigot leading the direct attack. Following them would be Major John Pitcairn with reserves on the British flank. They used longboats to reach the peninsula, assembling on Moulton's Hill at about 2 PM.
The Continental Army had called for reinforcements in the meantime and received about two-hundred additional forces from the 1st and 3rd New Hampshire regiments, led by Colonel John Stark and Colonel James Reed. The colonists took up positions behind the fortifications, which were extended further to the northeast. One of the commanders placed a stake about one hundred feet before the fence and ordered the colonists not to fire until the British had reached it, but a soldier named John Simpson disobeyed that order, firing as soon as he had a clear shot.
As the battle began, the colonists stood about 1400 strong, with the British at 2600 strong. General Howe ordered an advance on the fortifications and the colonists opened fire on the advancing British. The first advances of the British faced volleys of fire at close range and suffered heavy losses. The British reserve forces were also taking fire from forces in Charlestown. Howe reassembled his forces in the field and ordered a second advance.
The colonists once again repulsed the British forces, nearly pushing them back to their initial landing point. The Navy began bombarding Charlestown with heated shot, quickly reducing the town of four-hundred or so buildings to burning rubble and forcing the colonist snipers to withdraw.
Howe assembled all remaining forces, including reserves, for a third advance. By this time, many of the colonists were out of ammunition and were unable to fend off the British since they lacked bayonets. The British swept the peninsula, forcing the colonists off the peninsula and seizing Charlestown and the surrounding hills.
The British had won the battle, but suffered 226 deaths and 828 wounded, a total of 1,054 casualties. Many of the British dead were officers, including General Howe's entire field staff, Major Pitcairn, and Colonel James Abercrombie. The colonists were much better off with 140 dead, 30 captured, and another 280 or so wounded. Despite the British victory, the battle proved that the colonists had a lot of fight in them and would be force to be reckoned with.