Today, June 17, is Bunker Hill Day, a little known holiday celebrated, I believe, only in parts of Massachusetts’ Suffolk and Middlesex Counties.
While the Boston Globe reports that it used to be a day “on which city government offices would close,” the day is still celebrated within my city of Somerville, MA. Perhaps that’s just some of the civic-mindedness that got us recognized as an All America City.
And just what is Bunker Hill Day?
Why, it commemorates, of course, the June 17, 1775 Battle of Bunker Hill, which took place largely on Breed’s Hill in Charlestown.
It’s not all madness, though. In fact, Bunker Hill was intended site of the battle.
But let’s back up: The battle took place during the siege of Boston – April 19, 1775 to March 17, 1776 – when American militiamen effectively contained British troops within Boston.
After taking Boston, the British sought to fortify their position by seizing the nearby Charlestown peninsula.
Before the British could act on this plan, though, Colonels Putnam and Prescott set out with orders to establish American defenses on Charlestown’s Bunker Hill. However, “for reasons that are unclear, they constructed a redoubt on nearby Breed’s Hill.”
The British, “astonished to see the rebel fortifications upon the hill” led two costly and unsuccessful charges against the Americans.
After receiving reinforcements, the British led a third and ultimately successful attack against the fortification, taking 1054 casualties – nearly 40 percent of the British ranks – in the process.
At the time, Somerville was part of Charlestown – “Charlestown beyond the neck.” Though Somerville was established as its own town in 1842, we still proudly remember the game-changing battle.
“While for the Army of New England the battle was technically a tactical defeat, it was also a symbolic victory of strategic proportions. A small colonial force of men from all races, classes, and occupations made a defiant stand against some of the best trained and equipped soldiers in the world.”