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“ We are
cannot rally again.” To the enduring husbandmen about him, the terrible and appalling scene was altogether new. ready for the red-coats again,” they shouted, cheering their commander, and not one of them shrunk from duty.
In the longer interval that preceded the third attack, a council of officers disclosed the fact, that the ammunition was almost exhausted. Though Prescott had sent in the morning for a supply: he had received none, and there were not fifty bayonets in his party. A few artillery cartridges were discovered, and as the last resource the powder in them was distributed, with the direction, that not a kernel of it should be wasted.
The royal army, exasperated at retreating before an enemy whom they had professed to despise, and by the sight of many hundreds of their men who lay dead or bleeding on the ground, prepared to renew the engagement. While the light infantry and a part of the grenadiers were left to co nue the attack at the rail-fence, Howe concentrated the rest of his forces upon the redoubt. Cannon were brought to bear in such a manner as to rake the inside of the breastwork, from one end of it to the other, so that the Americans were obliged to crowd within their fort.
Then the British troops, having disencumbered themselves of their knapsacks, advanced in column with fixed bayonets. Clinton, who from Copp's Hill had watched the battle, at this critical moment, and without orders, pushed off in a boat, and put himself at the head of two battalions, the marines and the forty. seventh, which seemed to hesitate upon the beach as if uncertain what to do. These formed the extreme left of the British, and advanced from the south; the fifth, the thirty-eighth, and forty-third battalions formed the centre, and attacked from the east; on their right was the fifty-second with grenadiers, who forced the now deserted entrenchments.
The Americans within the redoubt, attacked at once on three sides by six battalions, at that time numbered less than seven hundred men. Of these some had no more than one, none more than three or four rounds of ammunition left. But Presccit's self-possession increased with danger. He directed his men to wait until the enemy were within twenty yards, when they pouredi upon them a deadly volley. The British wavered for an instant. and then sprang forward without returning the fire. The American fire slackened, and began to die away. The British reached the rampart on the southern side. Those who first scaled the parapet were shot down as they mounted. Major Pitcairn fell mortally wounded, just as he was entering the redoubt.
A single artillery cartridge furnished powder for the last muskets which the Americans fired. For some time longer they kept the enemy at bay, confronting them with the butt end of their guns, and striking them with the barrels after the stocks a cre broken. The breastwork being abandoned, the ammunition all expended, the redoubt half filled with regulars, and on the point of being surrounded, and no other reinforcements having arrived, at a little before four, Prescott gave the word to retreat. He himself was among the last to leave the fort; escaping xinhurt, though with coat and waistcoat rent and pierced by bayonets, which he parried with his sword.
The men, retiring through the sally-port or leaping over the walls, made their way through their enemies, each for himself, without much order, and the dust which rose from the dry earth now powdered in the sun, and the smoke of the engagement, yave them some covering. The British, who had turned the north-eastern end of the breastwork, and had likewise come round the angle of the redoubt, were too much exhausted to use the bayonet against them with vigor, and at first the parties were so closely intermingled as to interrupt the firing; it also appeared that a supply of ball for the artillery, sent from Boston during the battle, was too large for the field-pieces which accompanied the detachment.
The little handful of brave men would have been effectually cut off, but for the unfailing courage of the provincials at the rail-fence and the bank of the Mystic. They had repulsed the enemy twice; they now held them in check, till the main body had left the hill. Not till then did the Connecticut companies under Knowlton, and the New Hampshire soldiers under Stark, quit the station, which they had “nobly defended.”
The retreat was made with more regularity than could have been expected of troops who had been for so short a time under discipline, and many of whom had never before seen an engagenient. Trevett and his men drew off the only field-piece that was saved. Pomeroy walked backwards, facing the enemy and brandishing his musket till it was struck and marked by a ball. The redoubt, the brow of Bunker Hill, and the passage across the Charlestown causeway, were the principal places of slaughter.
The British were unable to continue the pursuit beyond the isthmus. They had already brought their best forces into the field; more than a third of those engaged lay dead or bleeding and the survivors were fatigued, and overawed by the courage of their adversaries. The battle put an end to all offensive operations on the part of Gage.
From Vol. VIII. we extract the following comprehensive and brilliant portrait of
His nature was robust and manly; now he was in the happiest mood of mind for asserting the independence of his country. . . . Looking into himself he saw weakness enough; but neither meanness, nor dishonesty, nor timidity. His overweening self-esteem was his chief blemish; and if he compared hina self with his great fellow-laborers, there was some point on whicu he was superior to any one of them; he had more learning thalı Washington, or any other American statesman of his age; better knowledge of liberty as founded in law than Samuel Adams; clearer insight into the constructive elements of government than Franklin; more power in debate than Jefferson; more courageous manliness than Dickinson; more force in motion than Jay; so that, by varying and confining his comparisons, he could easily fancy himself the greatest of them all.
He was capable of thinking himself the centre of any circle of which he had been no more than a tangent; his vanity was in such excess that in manhood it sometimes confused his judgment and in age bewildered his memory; but the stain did not reach beyond the surface; it impaired the lustre, not the hardy integrity of his character. He was humane and frank, generous and clement; yet he wanted that spirit of love which reconciles to being outdone
He was no weakling to whine about injured feelings; he went to his task, bright, and cheery, and brave; he was the hammer and not the anvil; and it was for others to fear his prowess and to shrink under his blows. His courage was unflinching in debate and everywhere else; he never knew what fear is; and had he gona into the army as he once longed to do, he would have takes
there the virtues of temperance, decision, and intrepidity. To his latest old age his spirit was robust, buoyant, and joyous; he baw ten times as much pleasure as pain in the world; and after his arm quivered and his eye grew dim, he was ready to begin life anew and fight its battle over again.
Ile was of the choleric temperament: though his frame was compact and large, yet from physical organization he was singularly sensitive; could break out into uncontrollable rage, and, with all his acquisitions, never learned to rule his own spirit; but his anger
did not so much drive him to do wrong, as to do right ungraciously. No man was less fitted to gain his end by arts of indirection; he knew not how to intrigue, was indiscreetly talkative, and almost thought aloud; whenever he sought to win an uncertain person to his support, his ways of courtship were uncouth, so that he made few friends except by his weight of character, ability, public spirit, and integrity, was unapt as the leader of a party, and never appeared so well as when he acted from himself.
Hating intolerance in all its forms, an impassioned lover of civil liberty, as the glory of man and the best evidence and the best result of civilization, he, of all men in Congress, was incomparable as a dogmatist; essentially right-minded; loving to teach with authority; pressing onward unsparingly with his argument; impatient of contradiction; unequalled as a positive champion of the right. He was the Martin Luther of the American Revolution, borne on to utter his convictions fearlessly by an impulse which forbade him acting otherwise. He was now too much is earnest, and too much elevated by the greatness of his work, to think of himself; too anxiously desiring aid, to disparage those
it. In the fervor of his activity his faults disappeared. His intellect and public spirit, all the noblest parts of his nature, were called into the fullest exercise and strained to the uttermost of their healthful power. Combining more than any other, farness of sight and fixedness of belief with courage and power of utterance, he was looked up to as the ablest debater in Congress. Preserving some of the habits of the lawyer, he was redundant in words and cumulative in argument; but his warmth and sincerity kept him from the affectations of the pedant or the rhetorician. Forbearance was no longer in season; the irre
pressible talent of persevering, peremptory assertion was wanted the more he was borne along by his own vehement impulses the better; now his country, humanity, the age, the hour, demanded that the right should be spoken out, his high excitement had not the air of passion, but appeared, as it was, the clear percep tion of the sublimity of his task.