Ramsay says: “Of one company not more than five, and of another not more than fourteen, escaped.”
Lossing says: “Whole platoons were lain upon the earth, like grass by the mower’s scythe.”
Marshall says: “The British line, wholly broken, fell back with precipitation to the landing-place.”
Frothingham quotes this statement of a British officer: “Most of our grenadiers and light infantry, the moment they presented themselves, lost three fourths, and many nine tenths, of their men. Some had only eight and nine men to a company left, some only three, four, and five.”
Botta says: “A shower of bullets. The field was covered with the slain.”
Bancroft says: “A continuous sheet of fire.”
Stark says: “The dead lay as thick as sheep in a fold.”
It was, indeed, a strange episode in British history, in view of the British assertion of assured supremacy, whenever an issue challenged that supremacy.
Clinton and Burgoyne, watching from the redoubt on Copp’s Hill, realized at once the gravity of the situation, and Clinton promptly offered his aid to rescue the army.
Four hundred additional marines and the forty-seventh regiment were promptly landed. This fresh force, under Clinton, was ordered to flank the redoubt and scale its face to the extreme left. General Howe, with the grenadiers and light infantry, supported by the artillery, undertook the storming of the breastworks, bending back from the mouth of the redoubt, and so commanding the centre entrance.
General Pigot was ordered to rally the remnants of the fifth, thirty-eighth, forty-third, and fifty-second regiments, to connect the two wings, and attack the redoubt in front.
A mere demonstration was ordered upon the American left, while the artillery was to advance a few rods and then swing to its left, so as to sweep the breastwork for Howe’s advance.
The dress parade movement of the first advance was not repeated. A contest between equals was at hand. Victory or ruin was the alternative for those who so proudly issued from the Boston barracks at sunrise for the suppression of pretentious rebellion. Knapsacks were thrown aside. British veterans stripped for fight. Not a single regiment of those engaged had passed such a fearful ordeal in its whole history as a single hour had witnessed. The power of discipline, the energy of experienced commanders, and the pressure of honored antecedents, combined to make the movement as trying as it was momentous.
The Americans were no less under a solemn responsibility. At the previous attack, some loaded while others fired, so that the expenditure of powder was great, almost exhaustive. The few remaining cannon cartridges were economically distributed. There was no longer a possibility of reinforcements. The fire from the shipping swept the isthmus. There were less than fifty bayonets to the entire command.