Here are some immediate reactions to the death of Maj. John Pitcairn at the Battle of Bunker Hill, as described by Marines comrade Lt. John Waller in yesterday’s post.
The Rev. Dr. John Eliot reportedly made this note about Pitcairn in his 1775 almanac:
This amiable and gallant officer was slain entering the intrenchments. He had been wounded twice; then putting himself at the head of his forces, he faced danger, calling out, “Now for the glory of the marines!” He received four balls in his body.Around the same time, Gen. John Burgoyne (shown above, courtesy of the University of Houston’s Digital History site) described Pitcairn’s loss in a letter to Lord Palmerston:
Major Pitcairn was a brave and good man. His son, an officer in the same corps, and near him when he fell, carried his expiring father upon his back to the boats, about a quarter of a mile, kissed him, and instantly returned to his duty. This circumstance in the hands of a good painter or historian, would equal most that can be found in antiquity.This letter was printed in an 1876 volume with the fine title Political and Military Episodes in the Latter Half of the Eighteenth Century Derived from the Life and Correspondence of the Right Hon. John Burgoyne.
Finally, here’s a letter published in the 22 June 1775 New-England Chronicle, one of the newspapers outside of Boston. This document was, the printers wrote, “thought by many judicious Persons to contain Accounts not far from the Truth.” [How reassuring.]
Hingham, June 19.It seems significant that the only dead officer this refugee named was Pitcairn. That might have been because at the time he was the British forces’ highest-ranking casualty. (Lt.-Col. James Abercrombie succumbed from his wounds a few days later.) But I think it also reflects Pitcairn’s visibility in the town, and his notoriety in the countryside after the Battle of Lexington and Concord.
Yesterday I came out of Boston at 2 o’Clock P.M. I heard the Officers and Soldiers say that they were sure that they had a Thousand or more killed and wounded; that they were carrying the wounded Men from 4 o’Clock on Saturday until I came away.
General [William] Howe commanded the Troops. They buried their Dead at Charlestown. Among the Dead was Major Pitcairn. A great many other Officers are dead. There were 5000 soldiers went from Boston. The Soldiers and Officers exult very much upon taking our Lines.
TOMORROW: More details about who killed Maj. Pitcairn surface after the war.