As soon as I finished reading Mayflower, I immediately went to Goodreads to see what else Nathaniel Philbrick had written. I really enjoy Philbrick’s narrative style, bolstered by detailed, thorough research. Since I had not yet read anything in depth about the Battle of Bunker Hill, I went straight for Bunker Hill: A City, A Siege, A Revolution by Nathaniel Philbrick.
Know before you read
This book is WAY more detailed about the lead-up to Bunker Hill than I thought. I expected it to really be more of a war book — about the Battle of Bunker Hill. But the Bunker Hill bit doesn’t really even appear until two-thirds of the way through the book. And then the siege of Boston is crammed into the last third as well.
But, again, this book is extremely detailed and thoroughly researched. For example, did you know Dr Joseph Warren likely got some girl named Sarah Edwards pregnant? Why that is in this book I have no idea, but Philbrick apparently did plenty of research.
Nathaniel Philbrick also wrote Mayflower, and I would start with that one first.
I’m not sure I ever realized that the Battle of Bunker Hill came so soon after Lexington and Concord. In most books there is just a list of battles, with nearly no concept of how they were connected. Cause and effect. This book traces the origins of the rebellion, how the patriots’ thought changed from wanting to regain their liberties to realizing they were fighting for independence from the British Empire.
Throughout the book, the running theme seems to be the patriots were not 100% clear on their strategies. The Battle of Bunker Hill actually took place on Breed’s Hill because someone changed their mind at the last second. It’s still not clear who fired first at Lexington, and there were 3 generals pursuing 3 different goals at Bunker Hill.
The siege of Boston, and Washington’s success in getting the British to evacuate the city without destroying it, becomes one of the moments of the American Revolution that is recognized as a turning point. The moment when the patriots start to become a truly continental army. The moment when Washington starts to become the great military leader he is later thought of.
The Battle of Bunker Hill is also a turning point in the life of (my favorite president) John Quincy Adams, and Philbrick finishes the book with an epilogue quoting Adams’s reflection looking back from 1843.
By the end of the book you truly do see that “the Revolution had begun as a profoundly conservative movement. The patriots had not wanted to create something new; they had wanted to preserve the status quo – the essentially autonomous community they had inherited from their ancestors – in the face of British attempts to forge a modern empire” (289).
I feel like Bunker Hill: A City, A Siege, A Revolution by Nathaniel Philbrick is the only book about Bunker Hill I will ever need to read.