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Bunker Hill: A City, a Siege, a Revolution (2013)

by Nathaniel Philbrick

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7962020,511 (4.05)27
Boston in 1775 is an island city occupied by British troops after a series of incendiary incidents by patriots who range from citizens to vigilantes. After the Boston Tea Party, British and American soldiers and Massachusetts residents have maneuvered around each other until April 19, when violence erupts at Lexington and Concord. In June, with the city cut off from supplies by a British blockade and Patriot militia poised in siege, skirmishes give way to war in the Battle of Bunker Hill.… (more)
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Interesting history of the start of the Revolutionary War. The author offers some new perspectives on some of the leading characters in the start of the Revolution. George Washington was not perfect, Joseph Warren was an inspiring leader, the British generals were not particularly evil, and some of the American "patriots" were not that decent. ( )
  ChuckRinn | Oct 4, 2020 |
A story about Boston, a place I've never been ... and the (too many) people of the American Revolution. I lost interest after about an hour and stopped reading. Never to pick it up again. ( )
  buffalogr | Jun 4, 2019 |
This is a very thorough and highly readable account of the Battle of Bunker Hill--what led up to it, the battle itself, and its consequences in the unfolding conflict between England and the colonies that was not yet an outright war for independence.

Philbrick introduces us to the major players on both sides, and the complications of the situation that have largely been lost in the patriotic glow with which we remember these events. Many of the figures on the British side most hated by Americans were in fact trying to soften British policy towards the colonies. General Thomas Gage had an American wife and strong ties in the colonies. He wasn't prepared for the hostility he encountered in Boston. Likewise, Benjamin Franklin went to England as Pennsylvania's colonial agent a strong supporter of the British Crown, and returned, several years later, and after repeated, intentional, public humiliation, a committed American patriot.

As we follow events and personalities, Philbrick makes clear how large a role personalities, internal conflicts among Americans, and the simple difficulty of communication across an ocean in the late 18th century played in the tensions between colonies and mother country spiraling out of control into warfare and revolution. On more than one occasion, either the colonists or the Crown attempted to ratchet down the conflict and reach an understanding, but because of the distances involved, by the time the attempt at rapprochement reached its intended targets, events had moved on, and the imagined resolution dissolved into mirage.

Much of the book, up until the Battle of Bunker Hill itself, follows the career of physician Dr. Joseph Warren, and readers will be fascinated by the sense of Warren's tremendous and largely positive influence on the development and actions of the Patriot movement, and the lost possibilities represented by his death.

The battle itself is fascinating. I knew in a general way that a number of mistakes had been made, and that though it was a Pyrrhic victory for the British that they couldn't afford to repeat, it was nevertheless a British victory, and it didn't have to be. Philbrick lays out the complicated web of decisions, mistakes, and conflicts among only semi-cooperating commanders of different parts of the battle that first, made the American position less defensible than it should have been, and then, made taking that position far more costly than the British could ever have anticipated.

An excellent and enlightening account of a critical episode in American history.

Highly recommended.

I received a free electronic galley of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. ( )
  LisCarey | Sep 19, 2018 |
Nathaniel Philbrick always writes interesting and detailed histories. Bunker Hill tells the story of the battles of Lexington and Concord through the battle of Bunker Hill until the British finally leave Boston after a months-long siege. The author is able to impart all his research in an easy reading style that gives the reader the information they seek about this period of history.
He doesn't get bogged down in tactics but gives enough details so the reader can picture the happenstances that sparked the beginnings of the American Revolution. I very much enjoyed this book and heartily recommend it to fans of history. ( )
  N.W.Moors | Mar 19, 2018 |
The subtitle A City, A Siege, A Revolution explains that this book is about more than just the titular battle (which, because of inane bungling, wasn’t fought on Bunker Hill, but nearby Breed’s Hill, something which native New Englanders know well, also that Bunker Hill isn’t in Boston, but Charlestown, but I digress). Anyway, the book is impressive and I have 2 more Philbrick books on deck to read. He GETS narrative non-fiction, weaving events, people and serendipity into an engrossing story that is easy to follow.

The book is organized in three main sections; I Liberty, II Rebellion and III Siege. Within each section are chapters dealing with specific events and the people that shaped them. Most enlightening for me was the Liberty section which details the situation and issues that led up to the Rebellion and eventually the bid for Independence. Fascinating stuff and while political and fairly intricate, is told without the dry rasp of your schoolteacher or textbook. Philbrick keeps things engaging and relatable. Also, he veers away from hero-worship or undue prejudice with regard to either side. No one is overly glorified nor villainized. It’s balanced and no foible is left unremarked.

And there are plenty of them both British and American. Every time I read an account of the American Revolution I wonder at the fact that this country exists at all. So many misunderstandings, misjudgments and mistakes. I suppose the fact that the British made as many is as good a reason as any for the US being a separate entity.

Here’s a couple things that were interesting. The concept of there being a correct and noble way for one man to kill another in war. This isn’t new. If you read The Iliad you’ll notice some soldiers bemoaning the fact that another didn’t kill his opponent in the right way; that it wasn’t honorable. Especially crafty old Odysseus, how dare he use his brain to gain an advantage? Same goes with the transformation of the militiamen from British regular (well, maybe in generations past for some, but they all originally identified as British soldiers) to near savage guerrilla, using tricks and hiding behind walls instead of marching within a few yards of the enemy and shooting at basically point blank range. The psychological change that had to happen was key to winning an advantage for the Americans. It took the British regulars a lot longer to adapt their ways to the geography and the fact that the Americans already had.

Also the contrast between ambition and deference with regard to moving up the social ladder. Many Loyalists couldn’t wrap their brains around the fact that the political leaders of the Colonies wanted to set up as close to a meritocracy as they could. That they wanted to do away with inherited titles and privilege. Many clung to the old way and continued to lick the aristocracy’s boots in hopes they might drop them a crumb or two in the form of a Knighthood or Lordship or something. Patriots wanted instead to take their ambition and use it to fuel success on their own terms; without having to beg or demean themselves. Interesting contrast and shows how fear and especially fear of change can get in the way of liberty. ( )
1 vote Bookmarque | Jun 2, 2016 |
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Epigraph
Boston has been like the vision of Moses: a bush burning but not consumed. - the Reverend Samuel Cooper, April 7, 1776
Dedication
To my mother, Marianne Dennis Philbrick
First words
(Preface) On a hot, almost windless afternoon in June, a seven-year-old boy stood beside his mother and looked out across the green islands of Boston Harbor.
More than five thousand people waited inside the Old South Meeting-House, the largest gathering place in Boston.
Quotations
Liberty is all very well, but men cannot live without masters. There is always a master. And men either live in glad obedience to the master they believe in, or they live in a frictional opposition to the master they wish to undermine. In America this frictional opposition has been the vital factor. It has given the Yankee his kick. - D.H. Lawrence, Studies in Classic American Literature, 1923
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Boston in 1775 is an island city occupied by British troops after a series of incendiary incidents by patriots who range from citizens to vigilantes. After the Boston Tea Party, British and American soldiers and Massachusetts residents have maneuvered around each other until April 19, when violence erupts at Lexington and Concord. In June, with the city cut off from supplies by a British blockade and Patriot militia poised in siege, skirmishes give way to war in the Battle of Bunker Hill.

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Lost too often in the story of our noble path to liberty is the truly cataclysmic nature of the nation's origins: the interplay of ideologies and personalities that provoked a group of merchants, farmers, artisans and sailors to take up arms against their own country. With his keen sense of the unexplored side of mythic events, Nathaniel Philbrick turns to pre-Revolutionary Boston and the gradual uptick of tension that climaxed in June of 1775 at Bunker Hill, in the firs major battle of the American Revolution.

Boston in 1775 was a city of 15,000 packed onto a land-connected island a little over one square mile. It was occupied by British troops after a series of incendiary incidents by colonists who ranged from sober citizens to thuggish vigilantes. For eighteen months after a feverish gang tossed boxes of surplus tea into Boston Harbor, citizens and soldiers warily maneuvered around each other, but on April 19, violence finally erupted at Lexington and Concord. Not until June, however, with a British-occupied city cut off from supplies by a patriot militia poised in siege, did the skirmishes give way to outright war in the Battle of Bunker Hill. A few hundred citizen soldiers had the bravery and the discipline to hold their fire until the British soldiers marched into within just fifteen yards of their entrenchment. It would be the bloodiest battle of the Revolution to come, and was the point of no return for the rebellious colonists. 

Philbrick's account reflects a deep grasp of the fundamental truths of the American experience - our affinity for recklessness and violence alongside our individual and collective acts of courage in the face of tyranny. He brings a fresh perspective to every aspect of the story. The triumvirate long associated with revolutionary Boston - John Adams, Sam Adams and John Hancock - were far from the scene as the city erupted, so the real work of choreographing rebellion fell to a thirty-three-year-old physician named Joseph Warren, who emerged as the on-the-ground leader of the patriot cause and was fated to die at Bunker Hill.

Others in the cast include Paul Revere, Warren;s fiance, the poet Mercy Scollay; the reluctant British combatant General Thomas Gage and his moody successor, William Howe, who presided over the claustrophobic city under siege; and finally, a newly recruited George Washington, the immaculately dressed Virginian who found himself in the tumultuous void left by the death of Joseph Warren, and who transformed a collection of surly militiamen into the beginnings of an army.
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