The Battle of Bunker Hill was the first major battle of the Revolutionary War. In Charlestown, Massachusetts, just over the Charles River from Boston, a small force of colonists took up a defensive position on Breed’s Hill, and was charged three times by British forces before finally being dislodged. There was also lesser fighting in the surrounding area, including Bunker’s Hill. (There was some confusion in both armies as to the names of the hills, and the battle has ever since been named for the “wrong” hill.) The colonists may have held out even longer but for a shortage of ammunition. (The need to preserve bullets led to Colonel William Prescott’s famous declaration “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes,” though historians now believe this may be apocryphal.) The British “victory” resulted in the deaths of approximately 800 British soldiers and 100 colonists.
The Bunker Hill Monument is on Breed’s Hill, site of the actual battle.
The first monument created on Breed’s Hill was an 18 foot wooden pillar dedicated to Dr. Joseph Warren, who was killed in the battle, erected in 1794 by King Solomon’s Lodge of Masons, with then a statue of Colonel Prescott placed in front of it.
The giant monument that exists on the hill today was begun in 1825, with the aged Marquis de Lafayette among those present at the ceremony to lay the cornerstone, and completed and dedicated in 1843. Senator Daniel Webster delivered an oration on both occasions, 18 years apart.
The construction was a major undertaking. A railroad was built specifically to transport 6,700 tons of granite to the construction site, along with a short leg of the trip by barge. The Monument Association that was in charge of building the monument ran out of money multiple times during the process, and work was delayed while they sold off more of the land to raise funds, ending up owning only a tiny portion of the hill. Costs ran to $150,000, an enormous amount of money at that time. There was serious talk of cancelling the project entirely.
But in the end the result was an impressive 221 foot high obelisk, 30 feet square at its base, and about half that at its apex. The monument is hollow, and you can take the spiral staircase of 295 stone steps to an observatory near the top, which provides a beautiful view of the area, including the Charles River and Boston.
The monument site was thoroughly renovated and reopened in 2007, with a new Battle of Bunker Hill Museum across from the Bunker Hill Monument. Museum admission is free. Displays include a trowel used by Lafayette in laying the cornerstone, dioramas, murals, a cannonball, a snare drum, a sword, and Dr. Warren’s Masonic apron.
“Bunker Hill.” The Freedom Trail.
“Bunker Hill Monument.” Celebrate Boston.
“Bunker Hill Monument.” NPS.gov.