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It seemed as if their mother Earth
Fitz-James looked round - yet scarce believed
But doubt not aught from mine array.
Nor would I call a clansman's brand
133. Battle of Bunker Hill.
THE scene was visible from Copp's hill. Nearly in front was the village of Charlestown, with its deserted streets and
silent roofs, looking like a place of the dead; or, if the signs of life were visible within its open avenues, 'twas merely some figure moving swiftly in the solitude, like one who hastened to quit the devoted spot. On the opposite point of the south-eastern face of the peninsula, and at the distance of a thousand yards, the ground was already covered by masses of human beings, in scarlet, with their arms glittering in a noonday sun. Between the two, though in the more immediate vicinity of the silent town, from a flat that was bounded by the water, a rounded ridge rose abruptly until, having attained an elevation of some fifty or sixty feet, it swelled gradually to the little crest, where was planted the humble object that had occasioned all this commotion.
The meadows, on the right, were still peaceful and smiling, as in the most quiet days of the province. Far on the left across the waters of the Charles, the American camp had poured forth its thousands to the hills; and the whole population of the country, for many miles inland, had gathered to a point, to witness a struggle charged with the fate of their nation. Beacon Hill rose from out the appalling silence of the town of Boston like a pyramid of living faces, with every eye fixed on the fatal point; and men hung along the yards of the shipping, or were suspended on cornices, cupolas, and steeples, in thoughtless security, while every other sense was lost in the absorbing interest of the sight.
The vessels of war had hauled deep into the rivers, or, more properly, those narrow arms of the sea, which formed the peninsula, and sent their iron missiles with unwearied industry across the low passage, which alone opened the means of communication between the self-devoted yeomen on the hill and their distant countrymen. While battalion landed after battalion on the point, cannon-balls from the battery of Copp's, and the vessels of war, were glancing up the natural glacis that surrounded the redoubt, burying themselves in its earthen parapet, or plunging with violence into the deserted sides of the loftier height which lay a few hundred yards in its rear and the black and smoking bombs
appeared to hover above the spot, as if pausing to select the places in which to plant their deadly combustibles.
Notwithstanding these appalling preparations and ceaseless annoyances, throughout that long and anxious morning, the stout husbandmen on the hill had never ceased their steady efforts to maintain, to the uttermost extremity, the post they had so daringly assumed. In vain the English exhausted every means to disturb their stubborn foes; the pick, the shovel, and the spade continued to perform their offices, and mound rose after mound, amidst the din and danger of the cannonade, as steadily and as well as if the laborers were employed in the peaceful pursuits of their ordinary lives.
This firmness, however, was not like the proud front which high training can impart to the most common mind; for, ignorant of the glare of military show; in the simple and rude vestments of their calling; armed with such weapons as they had seized from the hooks above their own mantels; and without even a banner to wave its cheering folds above their heads, they stood, sustained only by the righteousness of their cause, and those deep moral principles, which they had received from their fathers; and they intended this day should show that these principles were to be transmitted untarnished to their children.
The fatal instant now seemed approaching. At this moment, a body of Americans appeared on the crown of Bunker Hill, and, descending swiftly by the road, disappeared in the meadows to the left of their own redoubt. This band was followed by others, who, like themselves, had broken through the dangers of the narrow pass, by braving the fire of the shipping, and who also hurried to join their comrades on the low land.
As the moment of severest trial approached, the same awful stillness, which had settled upon the deserted streets of Charlestown, hovered around the redoubt. On the meadows, to its left, the recently arrived bands hastily threw the rails of two fences into one, and, covering the whole with the mown grass that lay around them, they posted themselves
along this frail defence, which answered no better purpose than to conceal their weakness from their adversaries. Benind this characteristic rampart, several bodies of husbandmen, from the neighboring provinces of New Hampshire and Connecticut, lay on their arms in sullen expectation. Their extended from the shore to the base of the ridge, and terminated several hundred feet behind the works; leaving a wide opening, in a diagonal direction, between the fence and an earthen breastwork, which ran a short distance down the declivity of the hill, from the north-eastern angle of the redoubt.
A few hundred yards in the rear of this rude disposition, the naked crest of Bunker Hill rose unoccupied and undefended; and the streams of the Charles and Mystic, sweeping around its base, approached so near each other as to blend the sounds of their rippling. It was across this low and narrow isthmus that the royal frigates poured a stream of fire that never ceased, while around it hovered the numerous parties of the undisciplined Americans, hesitating to attempt the dangerous passage.
In this manner Gage had, in a great degree, surrounded the devoted peninsula with his power; and the bold men, who had so daringly planted themselves under the muzzles of his cannon, were left, unsupported, without nourishment, and with weapons from their own gunhooks, singly to maintain the honor of their nation. Including men of all ages and conditions, there might have been two thousand of them; but, as the day advanced, small bodies of their countrymen, taking counsel of their feelings, and animated by the example of the old partisan of the woods, who crossed and recrossed the neck, loudly scoffing at the danger, broke through the fire of the shipping in time to join in the closing and bloody business of the hour.
On the other hand, Howe led more than an equal number of the chosen troops of his prince; and as boats continued to ply between the two peninsulas throughout the afternoon, the relative disparity continued undiminished to the end of the struggle.
134. The Same, continued.
THE troops formed with beautiful accuracy, and the columns moved steadily along the shore, and took their assigned stations under cover of the brow of the eminence.
The advance of the British line, so beautiful and slow, resembled rather the ordered steadiness of a drill, than an approach to a deadly struggle.
'They will not fight, Lincoln," said the animated leader at the side of Lionel; "the military front of Howe has chilled the hearts of the knaves, and our victory will be bloodless!" "We shall see, sir; we shall see!"
These words were barely uttered, when platoon after platoon, among the British, delivered its fire; the blaze of musketry flashed swiftly around the brow of the hill, and was immediately followed by heavy volleys that ascended from an orchard below. Still no answering sound was heard from the Americans, and the royal troops were soon lost to th eye, as they slowly marched into the white cloud which their own fire had alone created.
'They are cowed, by Heavens! - the dogs are cowed!" once more cried the gay companion of Lionel; "and Howe is within two hundred feet of them unharmed!"
At that instant a sheet of flame glanced through the smoke, like lightning playing in a cloud, while at one report a thousand muskets were added to the uproar. Ten breathless minutes flew by like a moment of time, and the bewildered spectators on Copp's were still gazing intently on the scene, when a voice was raised among them, shouting,
"Hurrah! let the rascals go up to Breed's; the people will teach 'em the law!"
"Throw the rebel scoundrel from the hill! Blow him from the muzzle of a gun!" cried twenty soldiers in a breath.
"Hold!" exclaimed Lionel; "'tis a simpleton, an idiot, a fool!"