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Bunker Hill: A City, a Siege, a Revolution - Nathaniel Philbrick ”In the end, the city of Boston is the true hero of this story. Whether its inhabitants came to view the Revolution as an opportunity or as a catastrophe, they all found themselves in the midst of a survival tale when on December 16th, 1773, three shiploads of tea were dumped in Boston Harbor.”

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Battle of Bunker Hill

The funny thing of course about the Battle of Bunker Hill is that it was not fought on Bunker Hill, but on Breed’s Hill. I think some of the confusion about events really starts with the orders that were sent down to Israel Putnam to build a fort or redoubt on Bunker Hill. He disregarded those orders, if you can call them that, (really at this point any order is really a request) and built a redoubt on Breed’s hill a position much closer to the British. Putnam’s intention, to force the British to do something.

April 19th, 1775 the Minutemen had clashed with the British at Lexington and Concord. ”The shot heard round the world.” The militia then chased the British all the way back to Boston firing at them from behind fence lines and trees inflicting heavy casualties. Both sides were unnerved by the ferocity of the encounter. Sam Adams, a man very good at encouraging violence, used the event with his rhetoric to further drive wedges between loyalists and patriots. We are quickly reaching a point where neutrality will be impossible.

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The Minutemen harassed the British from behind every fence and every tree every step of the way back to Boston. The British Officers had coats made of better material and the dye stayed bright red while the British Regulars the color had faded to orange because their coats were made of inferior cloth. It was easy to pick out the officers.

So was this all over taxes?

”Hindsight has shown that, contrary to what the patriots insisted, Britain had not launched a preconceived effort to enslave her colonies. Compared with other outposts of empire, the American colonists were exceedingly well off. It’s been estimated that they were some of the most prosperous, least-taxed people in the Western world.”

Hmmm not really oppressed or over taxed so why all the high fever to throw off the yoke of the mother/fatherland?

’Years later, one of the militiamen who participated in the events of the day insisted that it wasn’t the Tea Act or the Boston Port Bill or any of the Coercive Acts that made them take up arms against the regulars; no, it was much simpler than that. ‘We always had been free, and we meant to be free always,’ the veteran remembered.”

Now that sounds more like it. Although Captain Thomas Pickering had his own doubts.

”But what troubled Pickering the most about the meeting was not the wildness of the rhetoric; it was the motives of the more radical patriot leaders. Up until that moment, Pickering had assumed they were driven by an honest love of country; but now he had the unsettling suspicion that ambition was as powerful a stimulus as the former.”

Most of the founding fathers were wealthy none as wealthy as George Washington (estimated net worth $525 million... no other President even comes close to that net worth until J.F.K. who did not live long enough to inherit his father’s vast fortune), but certainly the leaders of this burgeoning nation would have been considered to be well to do by the lads that did the fighting for independence. Severing the ties with England and becoming an independent nation certainly held financial opportunities for those with the means to take advantage of those new opportunities.

As things heat up in Boston, John Hancock and Sam Adams leave for Philadelphia leaving Dr. Joseph Warren nominally in charge of the Boston area. Unlike his fellow patriot leaders Warren has a need to be in the middle of the action. He refuses to head up the medical department of the Continental Army and opts for a Major General position instead. As he sees things develop on Breed’s Hill he heads for the action and volunteers as a private even though Putnam and the other officer ask him to take command. Warren refuses. "These fellows say we won't fight! By Heaven, I hope I shall die up to my knees in blood!"

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The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker Hill by John Trumbull.
“I can only say,” Abigail Adams wrote, “that in looking at it, my whole frame contracted, my blood shivered and I felt a faintness of heart.”
As a child I can remember first seeing this painting and I felt the same way as Abigail. Not historically accurate, but so powerful.

I think there is a missed opportunity here to unify the colonial troops. Joseph Warren was well respected even outside the confines of Massachusetts and he would have made a convincing argument to have the troops, despite their state affiliation, prepare for the fight as one unit. As it was men stayed with the leadership from their state. There was no continental army. George Washington had just been appointed supreme commander June 15th and the Battle of Bunker Hill happens on June 17th. There are no orders. There is no chain of command. It is simply amazing that these men made any kind of showing whatsoever.

It was crazy.

”Peter Brown of Westford, Massachusetts, was appalled. He estimated that they were surrounded by eight cannon-equipped ships, along with ‘all Boston fortified against us. The danger we were in made us think...that we were brought there to be slain, and I must and will venture to say that there was treachery, oversight, or presumption in the conduct of our officers.’”

What would they have done if they had not only had a command structure, but also enough powder. Even as disadvantaged as they were they repulsed the British twice inflicting heavy casualties. By the third assault their guns had fallen silent for lack of powder and the British took Breed’s Hill. Joseph Warren is shot in the head, bayoneted beyond recognition, stripped of his clothes and thrown into a ditch. He did get his wish of dying up to his knees in blood.

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The British bravely marched up the hill into withering fire.

Salem Poor, an African-American who had bought his freedom in 1769 enlisted in the militia and displayed such gallantry at the Battle of Bunker Hill that fourteen officers petitioned the Court of Massachusetts to cite him for bravery.

”The Reward due to so great and Distinguished a Character. The Subscribers beg leave to Report to your Honorable. House (Which We do in justice to the Character of so Brave a man) that under Our Own observation, we declare that A Negro Man Called Salem Poor of Col. Fryes Regiment, Capt. Ames. Company in the late Battle of Charleston, behaved like an Experienced Officer, as Well as an Excellent Soldier, to Set forth Particulars of his Conduct would be Tedious, We Would Only beg leave to say in the Person of this Negro Centers a Brave & gallant Soldier.”

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The Continental Army that General George Washington dreamed of did not have African-Americans or Native Americans. One of his first orders was to discontinue letting them join the militia, but he did allow those that had already served to continue serving. Lord Dunmore on hearing this decision offered freedom to any slave who was willing to serve with the British. Washington on hearing this offer rescinded the order and allowed all men regardless of color to serve in the continental army. Given the bravery displayed by Salem Poor you would have thought any misgivings Washington would have had would have been put to rest.

The British had 1,054 casualties. The Patriots had 450. If the Patriots had won this battle the whole course of the war would have been changed. A loss in the first real battle of the war might have given parliament and King George pause. They might have been more interested in a settlement than continuing a costly war, but then George Washington would have never been President or certainly not the first one and with victory so easily won would we be the country we are today? Would the states without a conflict to unite them in blood have become one nation or would the map of North America ended up looking more like Europe with a cluster of small countries? I for one am happy with the course that history has taken.

I am a direct descendent from an American Revolutionary descendent. My mother is an Ives. Due to some great research by my first cousin Nancy Ives Knabb we know about John Ives’s service record. He is my great great great great grandfather. His father G5 Grandfather Abel Obed Ives also served during the conflict.

John may have moved to Meriden as records there show him serving in the Continental Army. He was in the Lexington Alarm List for the Town of Wallingford, and appears in Captain Isaac Cook's Company - "3rd, private eight days". In Meriden 1774, he was listed as a resident there.
Following are the dates of his service during the Revolution -
August 19, 1776 to September 25, 1776 - 18th Reg't. Conn. Militia, ens. John Norton's Co., commanded by Jonathan Pettibone, Esq.
April 10, 1782 to November 30, 1782 - 1st Conn. Reg't, Capt. David Strong's Co., commanded by Col. Heman Swift
April 10, 1782 to November 13, 1782 - 2nd Conn. Reg't 7th Company, Col. Heman Swift
November 13, 1782 to November 30, 1782 - 2nd Conn. Reg't 8th Company, Col. Heman Swift, Medical Discharge
From September 1782 to November 1782 John transported wood from Connecticut to New York as a "teamster".
As of April 7, 1778 his enlistment papers read "transferred to Gen's Guard March 19". This was George Washington's personal body guard. You needed three things to be a member: be a native born citizen, be almost 6 feet tall and be of impeccable character.
Thus he enlisted for 3 years in this Guard. (this is shown in copies of his papers from National Archives)

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Nathaniel Philbrick with Caleb Keeten at the book reading and signing at The Tattered Cover Bookstore in Denver, Colorado.

My son turns 18 this month and; therefore, he is old enough to join the Sons of the Revolution(not to mention the draft). So just as Abel and John joined a conflict almost 240 years ago so too will my son and I join the cause ready at a moments notice (less than a minute) if our country ever needs us.