Daily readings about people, places, and events in American history.
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June 17th
“Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes! ”
June 17, 1775, brought the first major battle of the Revolutionary War, and one of its bloodiest. That morning British general Thomas Gage, occupying Boston, woke up to discover that two hills  across the Charles River were covered with Patriot troops and fortifications. New Englanders had spent all night furiously digging earthworks on Breed’s Hill. Nearby Bunker Hill was dark with more American troops.

Stung by the surprise, Gage determined to overwhelm the rebels. He ordered General William Howe to take the hills. Howe ferried his men across the river and, vowing never to order them to go where he was unwilling to lead, started them up the slope of Breed’s Hill with drums pounding and fifes calling.

On the crest of the hill, the nervous Patriots eyed the advancing bayonets and fought off the impulse to let loose a quick volley before fleeing. “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes!” came the order. Some say old Connecticut Indian fighter Israel Putnam barked it out. Others say it came from Colonel William Prescott of Massachusetts. It may well have come from both.

They waited until the redcoats were fewer than fifteen paces away before letting loose a ripping volley that left the hillside covered with bodies. The angry British retreated, attacked a second time, and again fell back.

In bloodstained, white silk breeches, Howe rallied his men and finally gained the crest. By that time the Americans, who had run out of ammunition, were gone.

British casualties were terrible – about half of their 2,000 men. Patriot losses were fewer – about 440 out of 3,200 defenders. Though driven back, the Americans had given the world’s best-trained army something to think about. The Battle of Bunker Hill (so-called even though the fighting took place on Breed’s Hill) brought the Patriots much-needed confidence.

American History Parade
Sir Francis Drake anchors in San Francisco Bay and claims the area for Queen Elizabeth I.

Patriot and British troops fight the Battle of Bunker Hill near Boston.

In Philadelphia the Republican Party opens its first presidential nominating convention; John C. Fremont becomes the GOP candidate.

The Statue of Liberty arrives in New York City in sections aboard a French ship.

Five men are arrested for breaking into the Democratic national headquarters in Washington’s Watergate complex, setting off the Watergate scandal.
This content is courtesy of The American Patriot's Almanac
© 2008, 2010 by William J. Bennett and John T.E. Cribb

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