Since elementary school, we’ve been told that the American Revolution was the work of such luminaries as George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. But there were a number of other patriots who’ve long been neglected by the history books, and it is time to give them their due. This is the premise of Nathaniel Philbrick’s Bunker Hill, a marvelous book that recaps the highlights of the birth of our nation, while adding new insights into our history.
We know from our history lessons that on June 17, 1775, a group of inexperienced colonists repelled two assaults by highly trained British forces on Bunker Hill and adjoining Breed’s Hill. The colonists were scattered on the third assault, but the British suffered heavy casualties, and Bunker Hill became a symbol of the grit and determination of the colonists and their struggle for independence.
As in his previous books, including the bestsellers Mayflower and In the Heart of the Sea, Philbrick immerses himself in his subject; like a detective, he doesn’t quit until every stone is turned. He writes of the Battle of Bunker Hill in rich detail and gives credit to such heroes as Colonel William Prescott, Colonel John Stark and General Israel Putnam. But Bunker Hill isn’t a book about one battle. It also covers other important aspects of the American Revolution, such as the Boston Tea Party and Paul Revere’s Ride. And in telling these tales, Philbrick places the spotlight on heroes who rarely get proper credit.
Consider Dr. Joseph Warren, who was the field commander at Bunker Hill and who lost his life in the third assault by the British. Warren was a key figure in Boston, and the one who gave Revere his orders on April 18, 1775, to mount his horse and warn the colonists of the arrival of the British. Another strong figure was Mercy Scollay, Warren’s fiancée, who cared for his four orphaned children after his death.
Bunker Hill helps humanize history, bringing to life characters that we’ve heretofore only known as two-dimensional figures, if at all. It will appeal equally to both serious history buffs and casual readers looking for something lively and enlightening.