It is equally certain that the British utterly failed to appreciate the fact that, with the control of the Mystic and Charles Rivers, they could, within twenty-four hours, so isolate Charlestown as to secure the same results as by storming the American position, and without appreciable loss. This was the advice of General Clinton, but he was overruled. They did, ultimately, thereby check reinforcements, but suffered so severely in the battle itself that fully two thirds of the Americans retired safely to the main land.
The delay of the British to advance as soon as the landing was effected was bad tactics. One half of the force could have followed the Mystic and turned the American left wing, long before Colonel Stark’s command came upon the field. The British dined as leisurely as if they had only to move any time and seize the threatening position, and thereby lost their chief opportunity.
One single sign of the recognition of any possible risk-to themselves was the opening of fire from Boston Neck and such other positions as faced the American lines, as if to warn them not to attempt the city, or endanger their own lives by sending reinforcements to Charlestown.
It is not the purpose of this article to elaborate the details of preparation, which have been so fully discussed by many writers, but to illustrate the value of the action in the light of the relations and conduct of the opposing forces.
Colonel William Prescott, of Pepperell, Massachusetts, Colonel James Frye, of Andover, and Colonel Ebenezer Bridge, of Billerica, whose regiments formed most of the original detail, were members of the council of war which had been organized on the twentieth of April, when General Ward assumed command of the army. Colonel Thomas Knowlton, of Putnam’s regiment, was to lead a detachment from the Connecticut troops. Colonel Richard Gridley, chief engineer, with a company of artillery, was also assigned to the moving columns.
To ensure a force of one thousand men, the field order covered nearly fourteen hundred, and Mr. Frothingham shows clearly that the actual force as organized, with artificers and drivers of carts, was not less than twelve hundred men.
Cambridge Common was the place of rendezvous, where, at early twilight of June 16, the Reverend Samuel Langdon, president of Harvard College, invoked the blessing of Almighty God upon the solemn undertaking.
This silent body of earnest men crossed Charlestown Neck, and halted for a clear definition of the impending duty. Major Brooks, of Colonel Dodge’s regiment, joined here, as well as a company of artillery. Captain Nutting, with a detachment of Connecticut men, was promptly sent, by the quickest route, to patrol Charlestown, at the summit of Bunker Hill. Captain Maxwell’s company, of Prescott’s regiment, was next detailed to patrol the shore in silence and keenly note any activity on board the British men-of-war.