The Magazine

In Dubious Battle

Why Bunker Hill was a pyrrhic victory for the British.

Dec 16, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 14 • By PATRICK J. WALSH
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Besides being well-written, Bunker Hill is a handsome volume, with many colored illustrations—and wonderfully drawn and colored topographical sketches of 1775 Boston by the British colonel J. F. W. Des Barres. Philbrick brings innumerable historical characters to life, concentrating in particular on the sadly forgotten Dr. Joseph Warren, president of the Provincial Congress. Warren was a top-ranked political leader in Boston who was left in charge while his seniors, John Hancock and John and Samuel Adams, attended the Continental Congress. It was Warren who called up the militia and dispatched Paul Revere on his ride.


At 34, Warren was dynamic and capable, a popular leader who never reached the summit of his potential. Like George Washington, he possessed a flair for the dramatic, and knew its political uses. A dandy before the age of democratic simplicity, he dressed in his finest suit when he appeared on Bunker Hill to encourage the troops who heartily cheered him. But after being cut down by a British bullet to the head, Joseph Warren’s lifeless body was stripped of its apparel, his flashy silk vest garnering £7 in Boston—the booty of war.

Patrick J. Walsh is a writer in Quincy, Massachusetts.