Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Letters from the Front: The Battle of Bunker Hill

"General How[e] Says that the Battle of Mindon was nothing so hot at this, that the persons who think the Provincials are undisciplined, are much mistaken..."

As anyone who has spent time in the archives knows, there are occasions when documents do not survive intact. In these cases, we have to make some guesses on when, and sometimes to whom, they were written. This installment of the Letters from the Front series provides a case in point. Document #184 is the final page of a letter penned by William Coit. There is no date, nor a location specified on this fragment. As will be seen below, however, the letter clearly references the Battle of Bunker Hill, which was actually fought on Breed's Hill on 17 June 1775. This engagement pitted the British garrison of Boston against Congressional militia drawn mostly from the New England area. Given Coit's references to this event as "news," we can surmise that this letter, audience as yet unknown, was written shortly after the battle. While some of the details included below are not factually correct (British General John Burgoyne did not die in the battle), this document nevertheless provides us with an excellent insight into the way news traveled in the colonies, as well as showing just how uncertain the details of battles were to contemporaries.

Sol Feinstone Collection No. 184
William Coit to unknown, c. June 1775
Transcribed by W.P. Tatum III, August 2011

“Capt. King who arrived at Marblehead, left Boston in a Fishing Schooner with which he had liberty to go in and out of Boston__ Says between 14 and 15 hundred of Lord North’s men are Killed and wounded, also 84 Officers, upwards of 30 of which are actually dead, amongst whom are Colo. Williams & Majr. Pitcairn__ They took 28 of our people Prisoners amongst whom was Colo. Parker who was wounded, they put on horse back & tyed his hands behind him & led him thro the Streets in Triumph—General How Says that the Battle of Mindon was nothing so hot at this, that the persons who think the Provincials are undisciplined, are much mistaken, he intended to return to Boston over Roxbury neck—Benja. Hollowell was the person who chiefly informed King__ They were from 4 oClock Saturday untill next day sunset in Carrying thier [sic] dead & wounded into Boston___ this news was told at the Committee of Safety to
                                                                        Yr most Humb. Servt.
                                                                        William Coit

P.S. General Burgoyne is among the slain”

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1 comment:

  1. Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.