RENAISSANCE MAN JOSEPH WARREN FOUGHT TYRANNY AND INSPIRED THE PATRIOT CAUSE
By Dennis Constant
The battle now known as The Battle of Bunker Hill, fought 245 years ago on June 17, 1775, will live forever in our country’s collective memory as a landmark battle in the fight for independence from England. It also marked the culmination of the life of one of the most amazing, gifted patriots, Dr. Joseph Warren.
American physician Warren played a leading role in Patriot organizations in Boston during the early days of the American Revolution, eventually serving as President of the revolutionary Massachusetts Provincial Congress. On April 18, 1775, it was Warren who asked Paul Revere and William Dawes to leave Boston and go on their “Midnight Ride” to warn the countryside that the British garrison in Boston was setting out to raid the town of Concord and arrest rebel leaders John Hancock and Samuel Adams.
Warren, a soldier as well as a physician, participated in the Battles of Lexington and Concord the following day, which are considered the opening engagements of the American Revolutionary War. Warren coordinated and led militia into the fight alongside William Heath as the British Army returned to Boston. While the British soldiers were retreating from Concord, he was among the leaders in attacking their flanks.
After the battles, he was quoted as telling his fearful mother, “Now is no time for any of America’s children to shrink from any hazard. I will set her free or die.”
On June 14, 1775, the Provincial Congress commissioned Warren as a major general. At Bunker Hill, several days later, Warren joined the fighting as a private against the wishes of General Putnam and Colonel William Prescott, both of whom requested that he serve as their commander. Warren declined the command in the belief that Putnam and Prescott were more experienced with war.
The well-entrenched colonists repelled the first two massive charges by the British soldiers, and it was only when they ran out of ammunition that the British took the hill on the third charge. It was here that Warren was killed.
The Battle of Bunker Hill was a classic example of a Pyrrhic victory. Historian Nathanial Philbrick states that “The Americans lost 115 killed and 305 wounded. Of the approximately 2,200 soldiers in the battle, close to half—1,054—had been killed or wounded.” British General William Howe later stated, “The success is too dearly bought.”
British General Thomas Gage reportedly said “Warren’s death was equal to the death of 500 men.” It encouraged the revolutionary cause because it was viewed by many Americans as an act of martyrdom.