“Don’t fire until you see the whites in their eyes…”
“Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes..” Many reading this may be familiar with these words; however, maybe not the rest of it — “..Then aim at their waistbands; and be sure to pick off the commanders, known by their handsome coats.” William Prescott, was the one who shouted this out to the colonial militia. He is considered one of the several heroes at the Battle of Bunker Hill on that early summer day of 17 June 1775. (Actually most of the fighting took place at the lower level “Breed’s Hill,” and he provided the command during the battle there. )
Battle of Bunker Hill by Percy Moran
William was an experienced leader and had participated in military engagements decades before starting with King George’s War in the 1740s, and latter in Canada during the French and Indian Wars of the 1750s. He supervised the digging and fortifications at Breed’s Hill. Both Bunker (higher) and Breed’s (lower) hills are located across the bay from Boston on the Charlestown peninsula.
A decision was made by the colonist to place defenses along these two hills and at Dorchester Heights to contain the British who had soldiers stationed in the city of Boston and its naval forces in the harbor. The military action at Bunker and Breed’s Hills is considerated the first major battle of the American Revolution War. In a way the colonist initiated the battle by their action of fortifying these two sites. The British military could not allow the defenders the higher ground and General Gage ordered the military to remove the colonials from their positions.
Bunker Hill Monument
Battle for Breed’s Hill
After the engagements at Lexington and Concord the British stayed put in Boston while the young and untrained colonials keep busy outside the city. The preceding day, 16 June, a detail of colonials were sent out to dig fortifications about Bunker Hill, the higher of the two hills. For some reason, this was not done and the militia began digging on “Breed’s Hill, the lesser hill, that was closer to the water’s edge and in easy firing distance from the British naval vessels guns and the Boston batteries. Other command errors were made, that had a latter decisive affect on the coming battle. No relief was provided for the men, nor food or water was advanced or reserved ammunition issued. The fortifications were incomplete and inadequate. Come early day light the British saw what had been done during the night and the British Commanding Officer, Thomas Gage, ordered the naval vessels and batteries to open fire at these new entrenchments. The British followed up by sending in troops and artillery from across the bay. They were led by Sir William Howe, one of the younger brothers of Lord Augusta Howe who was killed at Ticonderoga at the time of General Abercrombie‘s attack on Fort Carillon in July, 1758. The British had won the day but at terrible lost of approximately 50% of Howe’s forces with most of his senior officer staff being killed or wounded. The colonist managed to retreat successfully back to the mainland with about 45% of its militia being killed or wounded.
USS Bunker Hill (CV17)
During World War II a number of “Essex” class aircraft carriers were built with USS Bunker Hill (CV-17) and USS Ticonderoga (CV-14) being of class ~~ both ships were named after famous battles of the American Revolution. Pictured below shows the USS Bunker Hill under attack and some of the damage to it.
Damage to flight deck
The USS Bunker Hill (CV-17) was launched on 7 December 1942, just one year after the “Pearl Harbor,” and commissioned on 24 May 1943. The builder was Bethlehem Steel of Quincy Mass. Both the “Ticonderoga” and the “Bunker Hill” were deployed to the Pacific. In 1945, both of these ships met similar fates. First on 21 January, the “Big T” near Formosa, was struck twice from a Japanese Kamikaze attack with sever damage to its superstructure, decks and hangers. There were 337 casualties, of which 144 were killed or missing. On the morning of 11 May 1945, while participating in the Okinawa invasion, the Bunker Hill was hit and severely damaged by two Kamikaze planes. Gasoline fires flamed up and several explosions took place. The ship lost 346 crew members, 43 were missing with 264 wounded. Both ships although seriously damaged managed, by adhering to standard naval practices, strong leadership and crew efforts were able to return to Pearl Harbor and later state side for major repairs. Both ships were utilized, under the “Magic Carpet” mission, in returning our armed forces back to the states after the surrender of Japan.
Charles “Gusher” Smith
1 Ticonderoga Sentinel, August 30, 1945: “Local Navy Man Aided Rescue of USS Bunker Hill” — ABOARD THE USS ENGLISH IN THE PACIFIC — Charles H. Smith, 24, torpedo man’s mate, second class, USNR, son of Mr. and Mrs. Richard Smith, 11 Hinds St., Ticonderoga, fought flames, smoke and crazily exploding shells for three dramatic hours when this destroyer went to the aid of the fire-ridden carrier USS Bunker Hill, smashed by Jap suicide pilots last May 11. Weary from two long sessions at their battle stations earlier in the day, the English crew had finally secured at 10 a.m. Four minutes later, answering a general quarters call, they saw the stricken carrier off the port bow. Threading her careful way through seas dotted with Bunker Hill men who had been blasted overboard or had jumped to escape flames, and who were being picked up by other ships, the English reached the blazing flattop and began pouring water on the fires. The cruiser USS Wilkes Barre and another destroyer, the USS Charles S. Sperry, came in close to help and the English moved to a new postion. Just before she pulled away, three men crouching in the carrier’s gun tubs to escape flames, dropped unscathed to this ship’s deck. Creeping in close to the carrier’s fantail, where 30 or 40 men were trapped, the English poured tons of water across the narrow gap separating the two ships. Breathing apparatus and fire fighting equipment were sent across. Shortly at 1 p.m. the fires were brought under control. Then the English crew members sent over buckets of steaming coffee to the grim-eyed exhausted carrier men. Later in the afternoon Admiral Marc A. Mitscher and his staff were transported to a new flagship by the English.
2. See Ticonderoga Historical Society’s web page article dated January, 2015: “In Harm’s Way” for the USS Ticonderoga (CV14) story of its Japanese Kamikaze attack.
3. George Washington took command of the “Grand American Army” on 3 July 1775. It was General Knox’s winter of ’75 “Noble Train” that brought him the much needed artillery from the forts captured by Benedict Arnold and Ethan Allen from Forts Ticonderoga and Crown Point in May, 1775 to his Boston command and were used at Dorchester Heights.
4. Elijah and Rebecca Bennet were the first settlers of Lake Placid and North Elba, (Essec County) NY arriving there in spring of 1800. Elijah (1754?-1830) was a blacksmith and farmer and a veteran of the Battle of Bunker Hill were he was severely crippled by a musket ball to his left arm. Lake Placid’s “Mirror Lake” was first named after him -“Bennet Pond” being changed to the former in the 1870s.
5. Quebec City’s famous goat “Batisse,” is the mascot of the Canadian Royal 22nd Regiment. This regiment has an association with the British Royal Welsh Fusiliers. This same command during the American Revolution took part in the Battle of Bunker Hill. At that time the Fusilieers’ mascot was a “goat” and that tradition continues today with 22nd Regiment.
Announcing a special World War II commemorative event by the Ticonderoga Historical Society
29 August 2015
If any of our readers wish to share with us about family members or friends who were in WWII we would like hear from you. Information provided will be added to our growing veterans collection. Period donations are welcomed.
The Ticonderoga Historical Society is non-profit member operated run organization founded in 1897 and is located at the Hancock House, Ticonderoga, NY in a replica of the original building that once stood on Beacon Hill in Boston. Visitors welcomed.