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Bunker Hill: A City, A Siege, A Revolution

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Most Helpful Favorable Review

7 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

"...both sides began a desperate rush for gunpowder."



"...both sides began a desperate rush for gunpowder."

Philbrick knows how to inhabit and interpret a battle scene. From earlier books like The Last Stand and now with Bunker Hill, Philbrick allows us to imagine in detail the layout, action, and tension in ...


"...both sides began a desperate rush for gunpowder."

Philbrick knows how to inhabit and interpret a battle scene. From earlier books like The Last Stand and now with Bunker Hill, Philbrick allows us to imagine in detail the layout, action, and tension in a battlefield exploding with ordnance. Because we know more about the personalities of those men involved in the battle, have letters from survivors and rooftop observers, and battle reports of the period, we can interpret to some extent how the battle for Bunker Hill must have developed and played out. It was grim. It was bloody. The provincials had very little gunpowder but buckets of bravado.

The British took Bunker Hill that day, but the loss did nothing more than whet the appetite of the provincials for the freedom they craved. Paradoxically, it crushed the spirit of the British generals and spurred the leadership and fighting men of the colonies to an even greater resolve to isolate and eventually push the British out of Boston.

This latest addition to Philbrick’s oeuvre gives us much more than news about a single battle. We get a glimpse of greater Boston in a conscribed period of time beginning 1775 and ending 1776. We learn details about the land, the weather, the ethos, the men and women living in Boston which aid in understanding the constraints and choices facing our earliest countrymen. We learn of Lexington and Concord and the heartbreaking admission by a provincial soldier found to have hacked a British regular to death with an axe:, “he simply did what he thought was expected of a soldier in the midst of battle.”

Several things stand out from Philbrick’s account which makes for a rich and rewarding addition to our understanding of the period. A fascinating new series of maps created for the book and dated 2013 by Jeffrey L. Ward are a revelation. Boston of today bears almost no resemblance to the Boston of 1775-76 when Boston city itself was practically an island reachable only by water or by a very narrow neck of land reaching into Roxbury. Ward’s maps follow the scenes of Philbrick’s history closely and add immeasurably to our grasp on the action.

The other thing that stands out is how little fighting actually took place before the colonies declared independence in the summer of 1776. Hostilities continued afterwards, but “the Battle of Bunker Hill…[proved] to be the bloodiest engagement of the eight years of fighting that followed.” The provincials lost the Battle of Bunker Hill and sustained heavy casualties, but they appeared to come away from that time with a sense of their own power, and with determination.

Best of all may be the portraits drawn of James Warren, kinetic man-about-town, physician, politician, and leader who rose from his sickbed to participate (and die) in the Battle of Bunker Hill, and George Washington, gentleman general, who came up to Boston afterward to lay out the Siege of Boston. Washington succeeded in pushing the British from Boston with almost no conflict. He had prepared so well in surrounding the city, he was actually disappointed he did not need to put his plan into action.
”Two days after the evacuation, the British saw fit to destroy the fortifications at the Castle with a spectacular series of explosions. The resulting fire raged throughout the night with such an intensity that a lieutenant from Connecticut discovered that even though he was several miles away he was able to read a letter from his wife by the light of the burning fortress. The fate of the Castle served as a fresh reminder of the devastation that had been avoided through the occupation of Dorchester Heights. Washington, however, continued ‘lamenting the disappointment’ of not having been able to implement what he described in a letter to a friend in Virginia as his ‘premeditated plan’ to attack Boston, ‘as we were prepared for them at all points.’”

Philbrick is at his most eloquent in his chapter entitled “The Fiercest Man,” in which he describes George Washington. One of my deepest impressions from this book comes from this chapter, where Washington is rendered human. He was a large man, physically gifted and well-proportioned, who looked well on a horse: “There is not a king in Europe that would not look like a valet de chamber by his side.” He appeared to listen and accommodate another point of view from his own while managing, in the end, to carry his own.

When Washington learned that the provincials were essentially without gunpowder, he was struck silent. “Could I have forseen what I have, and am about to experience, no consideration upon earth should have induced me to accept this command.”

The book has 32 color plates, including Charles Willson Peale’s standing portrait of Washington with his hand on a gun barrel, and 30 black and white reproductions that allow us to put faces to names. This is a delectable, detailed history, adding to our store of knowledge, and a modern one: there is some discussion of attractive women, married or not, whom Warren and Washington were allegedly interested in. I assert, whether or not we think these details realistic, true, or relevant, they make these men more accessible to us, and we begin to wish we had more remaining clues about the lives of all these forbears so as to refute or confirm these theories.

posted by TheReadingWriter on May 28, 2013

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Most Helpful Critical Review

1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

It was an interesting book by Mr. Philbrick. WHAT I DID NOT LIKE

It was an interesting book by Mr. Philbrick.
WHAT I DID NOT LIKE ABOUT IT WAS POLITICALLY CORRECT REFERENCES ABOUT AFRICAN AMERICANS.
HE USES THIS TERM NUMEROUS TIMES THOUGHOUT HIS BOOK.  CORRECT ME IF I AM WRONG BUT THE 
PHRASE DID NOT EVEN EXIST IN 1776.  
WE CANNOT C...
It was an interesting book by Mr. Philbrick.
WHAT I DID NOT LIKE ABOUT IT WAS POLITICALLY CORRECT REFERENCES ABOUT AFRICAN AMERICANS.
HE USES THIS TERM NUMEROUS TIMES THOUGHOUT HIS BOOK.  CORRECT ME IF I AM WRONG BUT THE 
PHRASE DID NOT EVEN EXIST IN 1776.  
WE CANNOT CHANGE HISTORY AND HIS USE OF THIS PHRASE MANY TIMES TELLS ME HE  THATCHANGES HISTORY TO FIT HIS POLITICAL AGENDA.

posted by Mikebarr on October 13, 2013

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 13, 2013

    It was an interesting book by Mr. Philbrick. WHAT I DID NOT LIKE

    It was an interesting book by Mr. Philbrick.
    WHAT I DID NOT LIKE ABOUT IT WAS POLITICALLY CORRECT REFERENCES ABOUT AFRICAN AMERICANS.
    HE USES THIS TERM NUMEROUS TIMES THOUGHOUT HIS BOOK.  CORRECT ME IF I AM WRONG BUT THE 
    PHRASE DID NOT EVEN EXIST IN 1776.  
    WE CANNOT CHANGE HISTORY AND HIS USE OF THIS PHRASE MANY TIMES TELLS ME HE  THATCHANGES HISTORY TO FIT HIS POLITICAL AGENDA.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 30, 2013

    Very informative

    Informative, but too long.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 5, 2013

    Some new ground broken in this narrative of the early beginnings

    Some new ground broken in this narrative of the early beginnings of the conflict. Reads like a text book at times but is worth the time in its character development of lesser known figures that played significant roles.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 10, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted June 23, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted October 19, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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