top of page

“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.

Prescott wm

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.

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 Americ