Mr. Bancroft states that “the decision was so sudden that no fit preparation could be made,” Under the existing conditions, it was indeed a desperate daring, expressive of grand faith and self-devotion, worthy of the cause in peril, and only limited in its immediate and assured triumph by the simple lack of powder.
Prescott, who was eager to lead the enterprise and was entrusted with its execution, and Putman, who gave it his most ardent support, were most urgent that the council should act promptly; while Warren, who long hesitated to concur, did at last concur, and gave his life as the test of his devotion. General Ward realized fully that the hesitation of the British to emerge from Boston and attack the Americans was an index of the security of the American defences, and, therefore, deprecated the contingency of a general engagement, until ample supplies of powder could be secured.
The British garrison, which had been reinforced to a nominal strength of ten thousand men, had become reduced, through inadequate supplies, especially of fresh meat, to eight thousand effectives, but these men were well officered and well disciplined.
Bunker Hill had an easy slope to the isthmus, but was quite steep on either side, having, in fact, control of the isthmus, as well as commanding a full view of Boston and the surrounding country. Morton’s Hill, at Moulton’s Point, where the British landed, was but thirty-five feet above sea level, while Breed’s Pasture (as then known) and Bunker Hill were, respectively, seventy-five and one hundred and ten feet high. The Charles and Mystic Rivers, which flanked Charlestown, were navigable, and were under the control of the British ships-of-war.
To so occupy Charlestown, in advance, as to prevent a successful British landing, required the use of the nearest available position that would make the light artillery of the Americans effective. To occupy Bunker Hill, alone, would leave to the British the cover of Breed’s Hill, under which to gain effective fire and a good base for approach, as well as Charlestown for quarters, without prejudice to themselves.
When, therefore, Breed’s Hill was fortified as an advanced position, it was done with the assurance that reinforcements would soon occupy the retired summit, and the course adopted was the best to prevent an effective British lodgment. The previous reluctance of the garrison to make any effective demonstration against the thin lines of environment strengthened the belief of the Americans that a well-selected hold upon Charlestown Heights would securely tighten the grasp upon the city itself.
As a fact, the British contempt for the Americans might have urged them as rashly against Bunker Hill as it did against the redoubt which they gained, at last, only through failure of the ammunition of its defenders; but, in view of the few hours at disposal of the Americans to prepare against a landing so soon to be attempted, it is certain that the defences were well placed, both to cover the town and force an immediate issue before the British could increase their own force.