Bunker Hill Day
To anyone who grew up in or near Boston, June 17th is never just June 17th. June 17th is Bunker Hill Day. You weren’t likely to forget about Bunker Hill , it being a day off from school and work, but if you did, you would quickly be reminded by the 221 foot granite obelisk rising on Bunker Hill in Charlestown, very much visible on the way to Boston from Medford.
But there was a problem. I knew there was some mix-up between Bunker Hill and Breed’s Hill. Was the monument called Bunker Hill but was actually Breed ‘s Hill? Or was it the other way around? And what about the Battle of Bunker Hill? Was it fought on Breed’s Hill? I could never keep all that straight .
Now, thanks to my good friend Google, I can answer these questions. The battle was fought on June 17, 1775 and was part of the British siege on Boston during the American Revolution. The British plan was to capture Bunker Hill in Charlestown as it looked out on water access to the city. Hearing of this plan, the Colonists hurried to set up defenses there. But in actuality, most of the fighting took place on nearby Breed’s Hill which is where the monument is located.
It was a fierce battle with great loss of life to the Colonists. Reportedly, the saying, “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes!” came from this battle as the Colonists were so short on ammunition . But again there is a sort of mix-up. Was this said by Col. William Prescott for whom a statue stands in front of the Monument? Or was it Gen. Israel Putnam? Or maybe neither. Maybe it was just a legend. Historians don’t agree.
There are no Hallmark cards for Bunker Hill Day , no gift exchange. There might be a few historical enactments, and there is a small parade in Charlestown. But it is a legal holiday for those in Suffolk County (Boston) and it was in Middlesex County (Medford) , at least when I was growing up. A few years ago there was a move afoot to take away the holiday status, but it didn’t succeed.
As a schoolchild it was a welcome preview of the glorious summer vacation arriving the next week. I suppose that sometimes it must have rained on that day, but in my memory, it is a brilliantly sunny, glorious June day. Thank you Bunker – or is it Breed ‘s – Hill.
© Dorothy C. Judd
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