All this talk about optimism and pessimism is itself a dismal fall from the old talk about right and wrong. Our fathers said that a nation had sinned and suffered like a man. We say it has decayed, like a cheese. — G. K. Chesterton

Story of the Thirteen Colonies - Helene Guerber

Bunker Hill

The news of the battles at Lexington and Concord, where, as Emerson says, was "fired the shot heard round the world," traveled with remarkable speed to Vermont'. There the Green Mountain Boys quickly sprang to arms, and, under Ethan Allen, their leader, marched on to Fort Ticonderoga. This place was in the hands of the British, and contained large stores of arms and ammunition, which the Americans coveted.

But before the Green Mountain Boys reached Ticonderoga, Arnold joined them to assume command of their force. As Ethan Allen refused to give it up, the two patriots headed the force together. They came upon the fort so unexpectedly that, at the cry of "Surrender!" the British commander sprang out of bed and rushed to the door, defiantly asking, "By what authority?" "In the name of the great Jehovah and the Continental Congress!" thundered Ethan Allen. The British officer was forced to yield, although he knew the Green Mountain Boys could have no such orders, for the Second Continental Congress was to assemble only the next day. The taking of Ticonderoga, and of Crown Point on the morrow, proved a great help to the Revolutionary cause, for the patriots thus secured cannon and powder which they were to need before long.

Traveling rapidly from place to place, the news of the battle of Lexington soon spread all through the colonies. The congressional delegates, therefore, left their homes to meet in Philadelphia, knowing there was a great piece of work before them. One of them, George Washington, felt it so keenly that before starting he wrote to his brother: "It is my full intention to devote my life and fortune to the cause we are engaged in, if needful."

It was well that he was so ready to serve his country, for it was sorely in need of help. Congress no sooner assembled, with Hancock for president, than it began to govern the country, and called for an army of fifteen thousand men. Adams then arose, saying he would like to propose as general a gentleman from Virginia, whose "skill and experience as an officer, independent fortune, great talents, and universal character will command the approval of all America."

George Washington, who had expected nothing of the sort, and who was as modest as he was good, fled from the room when he heard this. But every one voted for him, and when he was called back he reluctantly accepted the charge given him, saying: "I beg it may be remembered by every gentleman in this room that I this day declare, with the utmost sincerity, I do not think myself equal to the command I am honored with." But he then went on to say that he would do his best, and refused all pay for his services, asking only that Congress should pay his expenses, of which he would keep an exact account.

Washington wrote to his wife, at Mount Vernon: "I should enjoy more real happiness in one month with you at home than I have the most distant prospect of finding abroad, if my stay were seven times seven years." But as he always did his duty promptly and cheerfully, he immediately set out on horseback for Boston, where the continental troops were rapidly assembling.

The British, in the meantime, had withdrawn once more into Boston, which they duly fortified by earthworks across the Neck. Here they were soon joined by new troops; for Generals Howe, Burgoyne, and Clinton had been sent from England to put down the rebellion. On first hearing that the British soldiers were kept in Boston by ill-equipped and badly trained Americans, one of these officers cried: "What! can ten thousand Yankee Doodles shut up five thousand soldiers of the king? Only let us get in there, and we'll soon find elbow room!" But, as you will see, they did not find this an easy task.

The Americans, learning that the British were planning to fortify Bunker Hill and Breeds Hill, back of Charlestown, determined to prevent their doing so, if possible, by occupying those places first. Twelve hundred men were therefore put under command of Colonel Prescott, and, after a solemn prayer, they noiselessly crept up Breeds Hill in the darkness, and began to throw up earthworks.

As the patriots toiled silently on, they heard from time to time the British sentinels cry out, "All's well!" But when the sun rose, the British found that all was not well, for the Americans were intrenched on Breeds Hill. Still, thinking it would be an easy matter to dislodge the patriots, they joyfully prepared for the battle. The Americans did not quail when British bullets began to rain around them, for their leader, seeing their dismay when the first man fell, encouraged them by walking along the top of his breastwork as coolly as if there were no danger at all.

General Gage, perceiving him through his telescope, asked a Bostonian who he was, and whether he would fight. The Bostonian proudly answered that the man's name was William Prescott, and added: "Fight? Yes, yes! you may depend upon him to do that to the very last drop of blood in his veins." In the meantime, Prescott charged his men, who had few rounds of ammunition, not to fire until he bade them, or until they could see the whites of the enemies' eyes.

Battle of Bunker Hill

This order was so manfully obeyed that when the red coats climbed the hill they fell in swaths before the patriots' rifles. Twice the British fell back dismayed before this deadly fire, and twice their officers bravely rallied them and led them back. But Prescott kept up the courage of his men until, seeing that they had no more bullets, he bade them retreat, using their guns as clubs, since they had no bayonets. The gallant Warren, who had gone into this fight saying, "Sweet and fitting it is to die for one's country," fell on the very spot where Bunker Hill Monument now stands; and Prescott bravely covered the retreat of his men, being the last to leave the works.

In this battle, which is called the "battle of Bunker Hill," the British drove the patriots away, but at the cost of so many lives that when the news reached Europe a French statesman said: "Two more such victories, and England will have no army left in America." Not only did many British soldiers perish, but as the Americans discovered that the only cause of their defeat on this occasion was lack of ammunition, they looked forward to the next battle without fear.

All felt, as Ward said, that "We shall finally come off victorious, and triumph over the enemies of freedom and America." This belief, however, was not shared in England, although Franklin proved that it had cost the mother country three million pounds and many men to kill about three hundred and fifty Yankees. He added that in the meantime so many children had been born in our country that, at that rate, it would be impossible to find men and money enough to conquer the whole territory.

Bunker Hill Monument


Front Matter

Our Country Long Ago
The Barbarous Indians
The Mounds
Where the Northmen Went
The Northmen in America
Queer Ideas
Prince Henry the Navigator
Youth of Columbus
Columbus and the Queen
"Land! Land!"
Columbus and the Savages
Home Again
Columbus Ill-treated
Death of Columbus
How America Got its Name
The Fountain of Youth
"The Father of Waters"
The French in Canada
French and Spanish Quarrels
The Sky City
Around the World
Nothing but Smoke
Smith's Adventures
The Jamestown Men
Smith Wounded
Pocahontas Visits England
Hudson and the Indians
The Mayflower
Plymouth Rock
The First Thanksgiving
Snake Skin and Bullets
The Beginning of Boston
Stories of Two Ministers
Williams and the Indians
The Quakers
The King-Killers
King Phillip's War
The Beginning of New York
Penn and the Indians
The Catholics in Maryland
The Old Dominion
Bacon's Rebellion
A Journey Inland
The Carolina Pirates
Charter Oak
Salem Witches
Down the Mississippi
La Salle's Adventures
Indians on the Warpath
Two Wars with the French
Washington's Boyhood
Washington's Journey
Washington's First Battle
Stories of Franklin
Braddock's Defeat
Wolfe at Quebec
England and her Colonies
The Stamp Tax
The Anger of the Colonies
The Boston Tea Party
The Minutemen
The Battle of Lexington
Bunker Hill
The Boston Boys
The British leave Boston
Declaration of Independence
A Lady's Way of Helping
Christmas Eve
The Fight at Bennington
Burgoyne's Surrender
Winter at Valley Forge
The Quaker Woman
Putnam's Adventures
Indian Cruelty
Boone in Kentucky
Famous Sea Fights
The "Swamp Fox"
The Poor Soldiers
The Spy
A Traitor's Death
Two Unselfish Women
Surrender of Cornwallis
British Flag hauled down
Washington's Farewell