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Sat Apr 27, 2013, 04:42 PM

The True Story of the Battle of Bunker Hill (The Smithsonian)

Good read on some back stories in American history. ~ pinto

The True Story of the Battle of Bunker Hill
Nathaniel Philbrick takes on one of the Revolutionary War’s most famous and least understood battles

By Tony Horwitz
Smithsonian magazine, May 2013

The last stop on Boston’s Freedom Trail is a shrine to the fog of war.

“Breed’s Hill,” a plaque reads. “Site of the Battle of Bunker Hill.” Another plaque bears the famous order given American troops as the British charged up not-Bunker Hill. “Don’t fire ’til you see the whites of their eyes.” Except, park rangers will quickly tell you, these words weren’t spoken here. The patriotic obelisk atop the hill also confuses visitors. Most don’t realize it’s the rare American monument to an American defeat.

In short, the nation’s memory of Bunker Hill is mostly bunk. Which makes the 1775 battle a natural topic for Nathaniel Philbrick, an author drawn to iconic and misunderstood episodes in American history. He took on the Pilgrim landing in Mayflower and the Little Bighorn in The Last Stand. In his new book, Bunker Hill, he revisits the beginnings of the American Revolution, a subject freighted with more myth, pride and politics than any other in our national narrative.

“Johnny Tremain, Paul Revere’s Ride, today’s Tea Partiers—you have to tune all that out to get at the real story,” Philbrick says. Gazing out from the Bunker Hill Monument—not at charging redcoats but at skyscrapers and clotted traffic—he adds: “You also have to squint a lot and study old maps to imagine your way back into the 18th century.”

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/The-True-Story-of-the-Battle-of-Bunker-Hill-204119581.html

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Reply The True Story of the Battle of Bunker Hill (The Smithsonian) (Original post)
pinto Apr 2013 OP
cyberswede Apr 2013 #1
Igel Apr 2013 #2
formercia Apr 2013 #3
Mnemosyne Apr 2013 #4
Jim Lane Apr 2013 #5

Response to pinto (Original post)

Sat Apr 27, 2013, 05:36 PM

1. Great read...

...the American Revolution, a subject freighted with more myth, pride and politics than any other in our national narrative.


...though it's only natural that this particular story would have the most mythos attached to it. It makes sense that we'd want to idealize the founding of the US (subconsciously or otherwise).

Thanks for posting!

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Response to cyberswede (Reply #1)

Sat Apr 27, 2013, 08:17 PM

2. A people's consciousness is often in the stories it tells itself.

It's like JFK. Mob connections. Approved wire-taps and much of Hoover's works. Probably addicted to painkillers, and retained the reins of power even as he was pretty much doped up on painkillers. Stepped out on his wife and breaking his marriage vows while hypocritically presenting the image of a happy family.

Cut taxes. Bailed on the Civil Rights Act. His weakness probably allowed the Soviets to think the Cuban siting of missiles would pass without problem, and once started be resolved in their favor. Got us into Vietnam. Started the space program which produced a lot of technological breakthroughs but which was, at its core, a jingoistic response to America's humiliation at the hands of the USSR.

Complete loser, embarrassment to his party by any objective standard.

Yet we tell ourselves otherwise and that's okay as we focus on Jackie's style sense and how nice a family they looked in photographs. Camelot, of course. We focus on what good he did. We have a nice myth. "Truthiness" is a modern word. Not a modern practice.

Personally, never thought about victory at "Bunker Hill" one way or another. What mattered was that it helped galvanize colonists and polarize society, one step on the road to organized revolution.

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Response to pinto (Original post)

Sat Apr 27, 2013, 08:52 PM

3. This tome was required reading at one school I attended:

"The Man Without a Country" is a short story by American writer Edward Everett Hale, first published in The Atlantic in December 1863.[1] It is the story of American Army lieutenant Philip Nolan, who renounces his country during a trial for treason and is consequently sentenced to spend the rest of his days at sea without so much as a word of news about the United States. Though the story is set in the early 19th century, it is an allegory about the upheaval of the American Civil War and was meant to promote the Union cause.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Man_Without_a_Country

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Response to pinto (Original post)

Sat Apr 27, 2013, 11:57 PM

4. They were ordered not to shoot until they saw the whites of their enemy's eyes because they were low

on ammo and Putnam didn't want a single shot wasted.

General Israel Putnam, my ancestor, was the one in command. My great-grandmother was his female twin. I look like neither.

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Response to pinto (Original post)

Sun Apr 28, 2013, 09:39 AM

5. It's not all that clear that it was an American defeat.

 

Yes, the British dislodged the colonists from the position they'd taken up the day before. The British took heavy casualties, though. According to the linked article, British killed or wounded were 1,054, compared to American losses of "over 400."

Not in the linked article, but my recollection is that one British officer wrote, "Ten more such victories and there will be no one left to report them."

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