Battle of Bunker Hill, June 17, 1775

Father’s Day brought me a copy of Nathaniel Philbrick’s recently published book, “Bunker Hill: A City, A Siege, A Revolution” which I’m sure is a fine addition to his already impressive list of works on American history (In the Heart of the Sea, Last Stand, Mayflower). For whatever reason, Bunker Hill has not received the notice due to it as a critical event not only in the American Revolution but in the creation of our country itself. In his introduction, Philbrick announces his intent to explore that topic in this sentence: “Thus, the Battle of Bunker Hill is the critical turning point in the story of how a rebellion born in the streets of Boston became a countrywide war of Independence.”

The Battle of Bunker Hill also had some bearing on the creation of Lowell nearly a half century later. Recall that the first skirmish of the War of American Independence occurred in April at Lexington and Concord. The aftermath of that incident was that the British troops involved returned to Boston with thousands of colonial militia from around New England in pursuit. Rather than disperse, the militia took up positions around Boston and stayed there in what looked like a siege without artillery (at the time). It was the colonial’s occupation of the high ground in Charlestown (Bunker and Breed’s Hill) just two months after Lexington and Concord that caused the British to attack. While the British eventually took the hill, it was at such great cost in casualties that it caused even those in England who sympathized with the colonists to believe a state of war existed. The high casualties of Bunker Hill also dissuaded the British commanders in Boston from making any additional attempts to break the siege. That failure to break out, plus the colonial’s acquisition of artillery during the winter courtesy of Henry Knox and Fort Ticonderoga, caused the British and their Loyalist followers to evacuate the city in March of 1776. The Loyalists who departed, never to return, were the city’s elite. Into the void thus created moved the second echelon of Massachusetts elite, a group that had until then been centered in Newburyport at the mouth of the Merrimack River. One of the leaders of this new group of Massachusetts elites was John Lowell whose son, Francis Cabot Lowell, went on to create the first full-scale textile mill in America in Waltham in 1814. It was the ideas of Francis Cabot Lowell that were transmitted here in the early 1820s which is why our city bears his name. Had the Loyalists never left Boston, the Lowell family might never achieved the financial and social prominence that permitted young Francis to formulate and then implement his vision of large scale textile production.

2 Responses to Battle of Bunker Hill, June 17, 1775

  1. C R Krieger says:

    There was a review at Small Wars Journal, which someone extracted as:

    Lessons for Discussion
    Educating leaders to identify and seize opportunity when the outcomes are uncertain and the stakes are high is not easy.  While today’s doctrine provides guidance on what is prudent and what is reckless, the conformity of day-to-day military life may resonate louder.  We need tougher conversations about expectations.

    Stark acted without orders.  Knowlton didn’t follow his.  Prescott hardly gave any – except for the men in his direct line-of-sight, he left the battlefield to chance.  Although Howe’s plan wasn’t nearly as unimaginative or ignorant as often portrayed (bullocks lined up for slaughter) he did accept casualty rates of nearly 50 percent for the sake of his orders, and his tactical victory enabled a strategic defeat.  Today’s leader should wonder what actions they’d take given the same circumstances.

    Mission Command is about knowing when to change the task to fit the purpose. Preparing for it requires a culture that not only tolerates mistakes, it rewards them.  From point of view and perception to experience and background, we each see what is prudent, what is ethical, what is risk, differently.  We mock reflective belts, the phrase “next slide, please,” and countless other examples of nannysim because it’s gallows humor.  Too many leaders see a risk averse organization at odds with what they and their people are expected to do, and lash out in frustration.  Perhaps you can’t change the system, but you can drive the conversation with OPD or NCOPD [Officer Professional Development and Noncommissioned Officer Professional Development] where you are in control.  Study what happened in Boston in 1775 and discuss with your team what it takes to truly underwrite mistakes and shape the culture Mission Command requires.

    The stack of books gets ever larger and the time ever shorter.

    Regards  —  Cliff

  2. Joe S says:

    Your point of what might not have been (the Lowell Family’s rise to prominence) may suggest a danger in today’s world when the rich and powerful dominate the economy. Those who have reached that status, either by their own efforts, good fortune or family history, may have a tendency to milk that prosperity for their own benefit. When that attitude controls the economy it may stiffle innovation that could otherwise occur if entrepreneurs were given a fair chance to compete.