Ken Beaton: The shoulders we stand upon today

Ken Beaton

Ken Beaton

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Who won the June 17, 1775 Battle of Bunker Hill? If you compare the English army losses, 226 killed and 828 wounded, which was 48% of their 2,200 officers, enlisted men and marines, the English “victory” was so costly that they could not engage in another battle in Boston. In fact, England’s Gen. Clinton wrote in his dairy, “A few more such victories would have shortly put an end to British dominion in America.”
On the evening of June 16, 1775 about 1,500 colonists from Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Hampshire marched in the dark to what they thought was Bunker Hill, 110 feet in elevation. Actually, they marched past Bunker Hill to Breed’s Hill, 62 feet elevation, which they worked feverishly during the night to build a six-foot rampart of logs and dirt to protect their defenders. In any battle, there is always confusion. Unless a story is seriously fact checked, folklore can become historical facts when the story is repeated enough times.
During the two-hour afternoon battle of Bunker Hill, the colonists repelled the first two charges. Not only did the colonists follow orders, “Wait ‘til you see the whites of their eyes.” First, their sharpshooters picked off English officers and noncommissioned men, “Cut off the head of the snake.” The English officers’ uniform were brightly colored and easy targets. They lost one lieutenant colonel killed, two majors killed and three wounded, seven captains killed and 27 wounded, nine lieutenants killed and 32 wounded, 15 sergeants killed and 42 wounded and one drummer killed and 12 wounded. That’s 151 killed and wounded including the drummers! In every battle during the Revolutionary War, the colonists sharpshooters killed the English officers first. The English generals complained the colonists “didn’t properly follow the rules of engagement.”
The colonists lost 140 KIA and 310 wounded totaling 450 casualties. Most of the colonists’ casualties were after they ran out of gunpowder and musket balls while they were retreating.
The colonists had learned from the indigenous natives to be stealthy. They’d hide behind a large tree or rock and quickly take a shot at their enemy or to camouflage themselves using branches with leaves and crawl closer for a better shot at their enemy.
A wise commander tries to spare as many of his men today to fight in future battles. Col. William Prescott was the commanding officer for the colonists on Bunker Hill. He knew his troops had to make every shot count to conserve musket balls and powder. He ordered his troops, “Don’t react to a situation too early.”
I’m a big fan of the cartoonist Gary Larson. In one of Gary’s “Far Side” daily calendar cartoons published was a “Bunker Hill Day” cartoon. In the cartoon there were seven English “redcoat” enlisted men with bayonets on their muskets in formation. The redcoat in the middle was the tallest with larger eyes than normal eyes. Gary wrote under the cartoon, “Bunker Hill, June 17, 1775: An unfortunate twist of fate for one young redcoat, Charles ‘Bug-eyed’ Bingham, was not knowing that the opposing American general had just uttered the historic command, ‘Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes.’”
So, what lead up to the Battle of Bunker Hill? To defray the cost of the French and Indian War, England began to levy taxes on the colonies. After decades of self-rule, the colonists resisted the new taxes because they felt their liberty had been removed by the English. In 1767 the English Parliament passed the Townshend Acts and dispatched “redcoats” to restore order in Boston which was a “hotbed” of radicals protesting.
On Oct. 1, 1768, redcoats marched into Boston which worsened the situation. The citizens of Massachusetts felt they were “occupied” by the redcoats. There were numerous protests by the colonists. Fights between protestors and redcoats became more common until Feb. 23, 1770, an 11-year-old boy, Christopher Seider, was killed by a redcoat. Thousands turned out for Christopher’s funeral.
Eleven days later, March 5, 1770, several school boys threw snowballs with a rock in the middle of the snow ball hitting redcoats. The nine redcoats chased the boys into a bar on King Street. Alcohol and anger made the situation worst until the redcoats fired their muskets into the crowd killing a freed black slave, Crispus Attucks, and four white colonists. Six colonists were wounded during the battle of King Street, “The Boston Massacre.”
At King Street, American blood was spilled for the first time, “drawing a line in the sand.” Soon Massachusetts Gov. Thomas Hutchison arrived to calm the angry crowd. The next day English army Capt. Thomas Preston and eight redcoats were arrested and put on trial for murder.
Paul Revere made an engraving from Henry Pelham’s illustration titled, “The Bloody Massacre.” The engraving incited the colonists’ anger to the English “occupying force.” At their trial John Adams decided to be the defense attorney for the eight redcoats to show that a fair trial could be held in Massachusetts. Six redcoats were found “not guilty” and two were guilty of manslaughter, a lesser charge. This was the same John Adams who was elected the second president of the United States in 1796, 26 years later.
Almost 50 years after the Boston Massacre, Adams wrote, “How slightly however, historians, may have passed over this event, the blood of the martyrs, right, or wrong, proved to be the seeds of the congregation. Not the Battles of Lexington or Bunker Hill: not the surrender of Burgoyne, or Cornwallis, were more important events in American history than the battle of King Street, on the 5th of March 1770.”
If you’re African-American, remember you stand on the shoulders of the freed slave and patriot, Crispus Attucks. May the bells of freedom never stop ringing.
This Friday, June 17, proudly display your American flag and remember the shoulders of our white and black colonial patriots we proudly stand upon today.


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