.. ed fire. Soon he rode back to Cambridge in search of General Ward to urge the reinforcement of Prescott. Ward was concerned that reinforcing Prescott would weaken his forces elsewhere and felt he had to wait to learn for certain where the British would attack. By 11 o’clock, two British gondolas approached the Neck as close as possible and began firing at anything that moved along the neck.
What actual affect this effort had remains unclear, though there were some casualties. By noon the British were in the boats and Howe with about 1,500 men embarked at one. Whether Ward had issued reinforcement orders or not before the British made their move, he did so now, sending orders to nine Massachusetts regiments, John Stark’s and James Reed’s New Hampshire regiments, and several artillery companies. All was confusion, with each regiment moving as it thought best and all the time men and officers dropping off and melting into the woodwork. The scene at the neck was chaotic.
Several Massachusetts regiments blocked the entrance fearful of crossing under direct cannon fire. Colonel’s Stark and Reed of the New Hampshire troops got the order to advance at two in the afternoon. Hastily assembling their men, they discovered that many were short of powder and shot. When the men were issued shot, time was lost as the men beat the shot into the proper caliber for the weapon each carried. When the New Hampshire troops arrived at the entrance to the Neck and found the Massachusetts troops blocking the way, Major Andrew McClary pushed his way to the frond and asked, If Massachusetts didn’t happen to need the road just then, would they mind moving over to let New Hampshire through? The Massachusetts men moved smartly into the ditches as Stark and Reed calmly marched their men across the Neck.
By two, Howe had his troops landed and surveyed situation and determined that he needed more men. He sent a boat back across to Boston requesting reinforcements. The artillery battery that had been brought over by boat was now deployed on the forward slope of Breed’s Hill and opened fire at 3 pm. By now two recently appointed American generals had arrived on the scene: Dr. Joseph Warren and General Seth Pomeroy. Neither wished for command and asked but to be directed to where the fighting was expected to be the hottest.
They went to the redoubt and greatly cheered the now weary and thirsty defenders. By three, Howe’s reinforcements had arrived and he formed the men on line in three ranks. In the meantime, Stark and the New Hampshire troops and some other units had arrived and using a stone fence and placing hay between an existing fence and hastily assembled wood fence extended the breastworks from the redoubt left to the water. As the British advanced, the Americans determined not to fire until the British were close. Stark had placed a stake in the ground 30 yards in front of his fence and urged his men to wait until the enemy passed the stake before firing.
In the redoubt, Prescott is said to have instructed his men not to shoot until they saw the whites of their eyes. On Bunker’s Hill a strange collection of men gathered. Some who had straggled in from the neck and others who had given themselves leave from the ensuing fight. General Isaac Putnam tried sorely to roust the men either to commence work on the Bunker Hill defenses or to go in support of Prescott and Stark. All his efforts, even threatening at sword point, were of no avail.
The only regimental commander who was with him was Col. Samuel Gerrish, who depending on accounts was either trying to help Putnam or hiding himself. Generally considered a coward, Gerrish managed to elude scandal until a skirmish several weeks after Bunker’s Hill showed his true colors. When the British closed to thirty yards the Americans opened fire with devastating effect. In some companies 7 out of 10 were killed in others 9 of 10 died. The survivors stumbled back down the hill.
When Howe returned to the bottom, he asked why the artillery battery had ceased firing while they were still approaching the Americans. To his chagrin he discovered that boxes of 12-pound shot had been sent over and that the artillery had only 6 pound cannons. Howe ordered them to shoot grape shot and sent back across the water for the proper shot. On Howe’s left the American Company, still in the town, had taken to firing into his left flank. The Admiral landed and asked if burning the town might be of assistance and Howe readily agreed.
The Admiral returned to his fleet and ordered the firing of red-hot shot into Charlestown. The town of 400 buildings caught fire in 50 places and immediately went up in a huge conflagration. The British came on twice more with similar losses. The third try succeeded, just barely in over-running the redoubt. The men with Prescott being out of powder and trying to make do by breaking the powder out of artillery casings and using scrap metal for bullets.
Finally, in the midst of hand-to-hand fighting Prescott called a retreat and the survivors scrambled over the back of the redoubt and trough the narrow exit. Joseph Warren was killed when he was shot in the back of the head. Finally, several more American Regiments got across the neck in good order and passing to the right of Bunker’s Hill laid down a covering fire for Prescott’s men. Gardner was first and was soon wounded. Michael Jackson took over for him and was soon joined by companies of Connecticut troops.
Soon the British advanced on them and were in a bloody stand-up fight. In good order the troops fell back turning time and again to lay down delaying fire. Thus, did most of the men escape across the Neck to Cambridge. The British wanted to pursue but the men were just played out. Howe proceeded to fortify Bunker’s Hill and the Americans began throwing up breastworks on the far approaches to the Neck. In the initial British report, 19 officers and 207 enlisted men were killed, 70 officers and 738 enlisted men were wounded.
On the American side, numbers varied, but Ward’s record book showed 115 killed and 305 wounded. History.