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XXV— THE BATTLE OF BUJVKEB HILL.
THE two armies are now in presence, prepared — poorly enough on our side, but as fully as the occasion will permit—for action. Before we follow them to the fatal encounter, let us pause for a moment, and contemplate in fancy the picture that was then exhibited by the two Peninsulas and the surrounding waters and country. Transport yourselves with me to the heights at the northern extremity of Boston,—then the post of observation of the British commander and his staff,—and let us look forth from that elevated point upon the spiritstirring scene.
2. Before us flows the silver-winding Charles, not, as now, interrupted by numerous bridges, but pursuing a smooth, unbroken way to the ocean. Between us and the Charlestown shore are the ships of war, the Somerset, the Lively, and the Falcon: the Glasgow lies on the left, within the mouth of the river. Their black and threatening hulks pour forth, at every new discharge, fresh volumes of smoke that hang like fleecy clouds upon the air. I see their lightnings flash: I hear their thunders repeated in deafening echoes by all the neighboring hills.
3. From time to time as the veil of smoke is cleared away, I see before me on the opposite side, rising by a gentle ascent, two sister hills, clothed in the green luxuriance of the first flush of vegetation, excepting where their summits are broken by the low and hasty works of the Americans. Behind these scanty defenses methinks I see our gallant fathers swarming to the rescue of freedom and the country. Their homely apparel has but little to attract the eye; but now and then when some favorite officvr makes his appearance, a shout of gratulation passes along their lines and proves the ardor that inspires them for their cause.
4. Below the hill the flourishing town extends its white dwellings interspersed with trees and gardens along the shore, and farther to the right the British forces spread forth their long and brilliant array. There grim-visaged War clothes his iron front with all his bravest pomp and pageantry. The "meteor flag" of England flames in the van: at the head of every regiment its gilded banner floats in dazzling beauty on the breeze. The splendid dresses charm the eye: the martial music bursts inspiringly upon the ear, while the brazen artillery and burnished armor almost mock, as they reflect his beams, the summer sun that shines above.
5. To complete the picture, the hills of Chelsea, Charlestown, and Cambridge rise in the back ground, forming a vast natural amphitheatre, their summits crowded by the whole population of the neighborhood, men, women, and children, who are also clustering like bees upon the housetops and steeples of Boston and Charlestown. In the mean time the harbor sleeps without, in tranquil beauty, reflecting like a mirror, from its polished surface, the emerald isles that gem its bosom and the ships that are lying at the wharves, while a clear, unclouded sky spreads its blue canopy above the whole, as if the elements of nature were purposely contrasting their most magnificent forms of silence and repose with the agonizing effort and noisy bustle of the hostile movements of men.
6. Splendid panorama! How soon to be defiled with stains of dust and blood! Fearful, ominous silence! How soon to be broken by shouts of rage and groans of agony! How soon these peaceful, happy homes shall be wrapt in flames! How many of those hearts which are now almost bursting with the swollen tides of passion, shall in two short hours be cold forever!
7. But while all is yet hushed in breathless expectation, —at the moment when both the parties and the assembled multitude are eagerly, tremblingly awaiting the signal for the action,—while the bolt of fate is yet for the instant susponded,—methinks I see, as I look to the American work*, a horseman advancing towards them at full speed. He must be some officer of high rank. As he crosses Bunker Hill, Gen. Putnam, also on horseback, rushes forward to greet him.
8. "Good Heavens! General Warren I is it you? I rejoice and regret to see you. Your life is too precious to be exposed in this battle. But since you are here, I take your orders."
9. "General Putnam, I have none to give; you have made your arrangements. I come to aid you as a volunteer. Tell me where I can be useful."
10. "Go then to the redoubt: you will there be covered."
11. "I came not to be covered," replies the hero. "Tell me where I shall be most in danger,—where the battle will be hottest."
12. "The redoubt," replies Putnam, "will be the enemy's object: if that can be defended, the day is ours."
13. General Warren pursues his way to the redoubt The troops recognize his person and welcome him with loud huzzas. Colonel Prescott offers to take his orders.
14. "No, Colonel Prescott, give me yours,—give me a musket. I have come to take a lesson of a veteran in the art of war."
15. It is now three o'clock. The signal is given by a general discharge of the field-pieces, for the movement of the British army. Their columns proceed slowly, to give the artillery time to take effect. The American drums beat to arms. Putnam, who is at work on Bunker Hill, quite his entrenchment and leads his men into action. I hear him addressing them.
16. "Powder is scarce and must not be wasted: reserve your fire till you see the whites of their eyes; then take aim at the officers."
17. The order is repeated along the whole line. The British are now within gunshot of the works. A few sharpshooters disobey their orders and fire.
18. "Fire again before the word is given at your peril." exclaims Prescott; "the next man that disobeys orders shall be instantly shot."
19. Lieut. Colonel Robinson, who with Col. Buttrick had led the troops so gallantly at Concord on the 19th of April, runs round the top of the parapet and throws up the muskets. The British are at eight rods distance.
20. "Now, men! now is your time!" says the veteran Prescott. u Make ready! take aim! fire!"
21. The smoke clears away and the whole hill-side is covered with the dead. The British return the fire: they rally: they attempt to advance. In vain. Victory! victory! They have turned their backs: they are flying from the field. Thus ends the first attack.
XXVI—THE BATTLE OF BUNKER HILL.
AN ominous pause, like the lull that from time to time interrupts the wildest tempest, prevails upon the scene of action, only broken by the occasional discharges of artillery from the ships and batteries. But the British are preparing for a second attack. Let us place ourselves again upon the opposite heights and mark its progress.
2. General Howe has rallied and re-organized his men: with unshaken intrepidity they advance through the tall grass, under the heat of a blazing summer sun, loaded with knapsacks of more than a hundred pounds weight, toward the lines. The artillery push forward to within three hundred yards of the defenses, and open their battery to prepare the way for the infantry. A deep silence broods over the American lines. The men are ordered to reserve their fire till the British are at six rods distance.
3. But while they are thus advancing, what new spectacle bursts upon the eyes of the assembled multitude and