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Letter from William Prescott to John Adams, 25 August 1775

Letter from William Prescott to John Adams, 25 August 1775


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    [ This description is from the project: Coming of the American Revolution ]

    In this letter written in August 1775, Colonel William Prescott, a native of Groton, Massachusetts, and veteran of the French and Indian Wars, gives John Adams a description of the Battle of Bunker Hill. Prescott states he received orders to march to Breeds Hill on 16 June where his regiment and others worked through the night to build an earthen fortification. His letter also describes the battle on the next day, 17 June, when British regiments fired cannons, and then mounted an attack on the fortification. Prescott describes how his men defended the redoubt as long as possible and Prescott also describes troop movements by other New England regiments during the battle.

    "Orders to march"
    From the headquarters of the Continental Army in Cambridge (six weeks after Washington's arrival), William Prescott, who has commanded the colonial forces at Bunker Hill, writes to John Adams. Adams is representing Massachusetts at the sessions of the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia. Interestingly, Prescott never mentions that the original orders were to fortify Bunker Hill, located just to the north, as the subsequent Committee of Safety report indicated. Historians to this day have been trying to piece together what happened during the council of war that Prescott held with his field officers on the night of 16 June. Why did they decide to build their entrenchments on the lower hill? Was it because it was closer to Boston and would be even more likely to force a confrontation? Who was involved in making this decision? Prescott provides the "State of Facts tho' imperfect & too general," as he tells Adams, but leaves us with many unanswered questions.

    Questions to Consider

    1. Why might Adams have wanted this information from Prescott?

    2. What problems did Prescott encounter in setting up the fortifications and fending off the British attack on them? What problem would prove to be insurmountable and force the colonial forces to retreat?

    3. Does Prescott come across as defensive in describing his defense of Breed's Hill? Defend your answer!

    4. Prescott uses the words "train," "hot," and "smart" differently than we do today. How might he have defined those words?