J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Monday, June 18, 2007

Peter Oliver Meets a Wounded Man

Much of Loyalist judge Peter Oliver’s memoir of the coming of the American Revolution, written around 1783, is delightfully sarcastic, bitter, and nasty. But this is one of the most sincere and affecting passages, describing the judge’s encounter with a British soldier in the aftermath of the Battle of Bunker Hill:

After the Battle, the Kings wounded Troops were carried to Boston, & it was truly a Shocking Sight and Sound, to see the Carts loaded with those unfortunate Men, & to hear the piercing Groans of the dying & those whose painfull Wounds extorted the Sigh from the firmest Mind.

As I was a Witness to one Instance, in particular, of Stoicism, I will relate it. I was walking in one of the Streets of Boston, & saw a Man advancing towards me, his white Waistcoat, Breeches, & Stockings being very much dyed of a Scarlet Hue. I thus spake to him; “My friend, are you wounded?”

He replied, “Yes Sir! I have 3 Bullets through me.” He then told me the Places where; one of them being a mortal Wound; he then with a philosophical Calmness began to relate the History of the Battle; & in all Probability would have talked ’till he died, had I not begged him to walk off to the Hospital; which he did, in as sedate a Manner as if he had been walking for his Pleasure.
Always be an England, what?

As this table from the Sons of the Revolution in California summarizes, the British military suffered more killed and wounded in its victory at Bunker Hill than it did in any of its losses for the rest of the war. (More British soldiers were captured in its big losses, of course.)

Furthermore, the battle was even more costly when we consider how relatively few British fighting men were in Charlestown, compared to the armies sent to North America at the end of 1776. And the destruction felt even worse to the officer corps, who were hit disproportionately, and to Gen. Sir William Howe (shown above), who saw every member of his staff killed or wounded.

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