Genealogy Trails

The Battle of Bunker Hill

and the Death of General Warren


The Battle of Bunker Hill and Death of General Warren
[The Tioga Eagle (Wellsboro, Pennsylvania) August 21, 1839 - Page 1-2]

Warren (now a brigadier general of the Massachusetts militia) was not unconcerned in the battle of Lexington. Scouts of his had notified him on the 18th of April, that a detachment of troops was to march that night towards Concord; and then remaining himself upon the watch, he saw Colonel Smith and 8 or 900 men embark for Charlestown. Knowing the stores and ammunition at Concord to be their object, he instantly sent messengers over the surrounding county, to give the alarm, and himself rode all night – passing so near the enemy as to be more than once in great danger of capture.

General Joseph Warren

His messenger to Lexington was Col. Revere; who, on suddenly turning a corner as he passed through Charlestown, found himself close to a party of British. In a moment he put his horse at full speed, dashed through them, and before they could well ascertain him to be a foe, was beyond the reach of the balls which they fired after him.

When the enemy were returning from Concord, he was among the foremost in hanging upon their rear and assailing their flanks. By pressing them too closely, he again narrowly escaped death. A musket ball took of a lock of hair, which curled close to his head, in the fashion of that time.

When his mother saw him after and battle, and heard of his escape, she entreated him with tears not again to risk life so previous. “Where danger is, dear mother,” he answered “there must your son be. Now is no time for any of American’s children to shrink from any hazard. I will set her free or die.”

On the 16th of June, when Col. Prescott received his orders, and marched with his thousand men to fortify Bunker’s Hill, the session at Watertown was protracted, that Warren could not leave it until late at night. So soon as he could, he prepared to join Prescott – despite the dissuasion of his friends. To their assurances, that most of the detachment, and especially he – daring and conspicuous as he was – would in all probability be cut off, and that he could not be spared so soon from the cause; he replied, “I cannot help it. I must share the fate of my countrymen. I cannot hear the cannon and remain inactive.” Amongt the most intimate of these friends, was then afterwards distinguished Elbridge Gerry; with whom he lodged regularly in the same room; and on that last night in the same bed. To him, when they parted after midnight, Warren uttered the sentiment – so truly Roman, and in this instance so prophetic “dulce et decorum est, pro patria mori.”

By day-brake he was at the camp in Cambridge, where, finding that the British had not shown themselves, and sick with an aching head, from mental and bodily toil, he sat down to snatch a little repose. But he was soon roused by tidings, that the enemy were in motion; and instantly rising, he exclaimed “my headache is gone.” Others doubted what the object of the enemy’s threatened movement was. He at once saw it to be, the unfinished fortification upon Bunker’s Hill. The committee of safety (which sat at the house where he was) having resolved immediately to dispatch a reinforcement thither. Warren mounted his horse, and with sword and musket, hastened to the scene of strife. He arrived just as the fight began, and seeking out General Putnam (who was already there) desired to be posted where the service was to be the most arduous. Putnam expressed his sorrow at seeing him, in a place so full of peril; “but since you have come,” added he “I will obey your orders with pleasure.” Warren replied, that he came as a volunteer – to obey and fight; not to command. Putnam requested his to take his stand in the redoubt, where Prescott commanded, and which was considerably in advance of the slighter defence, behind which Putnam and his men were stationed. On his entering the redoubt, he was greeted with loud huzzas; and Prescott, like Putnam, offered him the command. He again refused it, saying, that he was a mere volunteer; and should be happy to learn service from so experienced a soldier. He was constantly active; going through the ranks, cheering on his comrades, sharing their perils, and plying his musket against the advancing enemy.

When the British had twice been driven from the height, with a thousand slain; when the exhaustion of powder and ball, leaving the Americans no means of resistance but clubber guns against fixed bayonets and fourfold numbers, necessarily made the third onset successful. Warren was the last to leave his station. The slowest as that slow and reluctant retreat, he struggled for every foot of ground; disdaining to quicken his step though bullets whizzed and blood streamed all around him.

Major Small, of the British army; recognized him, and eager to save his life called upon him for God’s sake, to stop, and be protected from destruction. Warren turned and looked towards him, but sickening at the sight and the thought of his slaughtered countrymen and the lost battle, again moved slowly off as before. Major Small then ordered his men not to fire at the American General; but it was too late. Just as the order was given, a ball passed through his head, he fell and expired.

His body lay on the field all the next night. When one who knew his person, told General Howe the next morning that Warren was among the slain he would not believe it; declared it IMPOSSIBLE that the President of the Congress should have been suffered to expose himself so hazardously. An English surgeon, however, who had also known Warren, indentified his corpse and, to prove the daring of which he was capable, added, that but five days before, he had ventured alone into Boston in a small canoe, to learn the plans of the British; and had urged the surgeon to enter into the American service. Gen. Howe declared, that the death of one such adversary balanced the loss of 500 men. Warren’s body with many others, English and Americans, near the spot where he fell; whence, sometime afterwards, it was removed to the Tremont burying ground and finally to the family vault under St. Paul’s Church, in Boston.
[Note: His body was exhumed ten months after his death by his brothers and Paul Revere, who identified the remains by the artificial teeth he had placed in the jaw. His body was placed in Granary Burying Ground and later (in 1825) in St. Paul's Cathedral before finally being moved in 1855 to his family's vault in Forest Hills Cemetery.] His brother, at the first disinterment knew his remains by an artificial tooth, by a nail wanting on one of his fingers and by his clothes, in which he was buried just as he fell. His young brother, Dr. John Warren, at first sight of the body fainted away, and lay for many minutes insensible on the ground.

We draw a veil over the grief of his mother, when, after a torturing suspense of three days, the dreadful truth was disclosed to her. In Gen. Warren’s pocket, an English soldier found a prayer book, with the owner’s name written in it. The soldier carried it to England, and sold it for a high price to a kind-hearted clergyman, who benevolently transmitted it to a minister in Roxbury, with a request that he would restore it to the general’s nearest relation. It was accordingly given to his youngest brother, whose son, Dr. John C. Warren, still retains it. It was printed in 1559 in a character remarkably distinct, and is strong and handsomely bound.
[Submitted by Nancy Piper]

Biographical Data

Dr. Joseph Warren (June 11, 1741 – June 17, 1775) was an American doctor and soldier, remembered for playing a leading role in American Patriot organizations in Boston and for his death as a volunteer private soldier while also serving as chief executive of the revolutionary Massachusetts government.

Warren was born in Roxbury, Massachusetts, to Joseph Warren and Mary (Stevens) Warren. His father was a respected farmer who was killed instantly in October 1755 when he fell off a ladder while gathering fruit in his orchard. After attending the Roxbury Latin School, he studied medicine at Harvard University, graduating in 1759 and then teaching for a time at Roxbury Latin. He married 18-year-old heiress Elizabeth Hooten on September 6, 1764, but she died in 1772, leaving him with four children.

While practicing medicine and surgery in Boston, he joined the Freemasons and eventually was appointed as a Grand Master. He became involved in politics, associating with John Hancock, Samuel Adams, and other radical leaders. He became active in the Sons of Liberty, and was appointed Chairman of the Massachusetts Committee of Correspondence. He drafted the Suffolk Resolves, which were endorsed by the Continental Congress, to advocate resistance to the British. He was appointed President of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, the highest position in the revolutionary government.

After receiving intelligence about British troop movements, he sent William Dawes and Paul Revere on their famous "Midnight Rides" on April 18, 1775, to warn Lexington and Concord of British raids. Several historians believe that his source for this information was Margaret Gage, the wife of General Thomas Gage. During the Battle of Lexington and Concord the following day, he coordinated and led militia into the fight alongside William Heath as the British Army returned to Boston. He played an important role in recruiting and organizing soldiers during the Siege of Boston.

He was appointed a Major General by the Massachusetts Provincial Congress on June 14, 1775. His commission had not yet taken effect three days later when the Battle of Bunker Hill was fought. He served as a volunteer private against the wishes of General Israel Putnam and Colonel William Prescott, who requested that he serve as their commander. He fought in the front lines, rallying his troops to the third and final assault of the battle when he was killed immediately by a musket ball fired into his head by a British officer who recognized him.

At the time of Warren's death, his children—Joseph Warren, H. C. Warren, Richard Warren, Elizabeth Warren, Mary Warren—were staying with Abigail Adams at the John Quincy Adams birthplace in Quincy, Massachusetts. The Warren children were then financially supported by Benedict Arnold who later succeeded in obtaining support for them from the Continental Congress until they were of age.

Fourteen states have a Warren County named after him. Warrenton, Virginia is named in his honor. Boston's Fort Warren, started in 1833, was named in his honor.

John Warren, Joseph's younger brother, served as a surgeon during the Battle of Bunker Hill and the rest of the war and then later founded Harvard Medical School.

Battle of Bunker Hill

The Battle of Bunker Hill took place on June 17, 1775, as part of the Siege of Boston during the American Revolutionary War. It is considered by some to be the bloodiest battle of the war. General Israel Putnam was in charge of the revolutionary forces, and Major-General William Howe commanded the British forces. Among historians, it is debated whether General Putnam or Colonel William Prescott, the revolutionaries' second-in-command, ordered the troops, "Don't shoot until you see the whites of their eyes!" Although the battle is known as "Bunker Hill", most of the fighting took place on Breed's Hill nearby. On their third assault the British forces overran the revolutionaries' fortified earthworks on Breed's and Bunker Hill. The battle was a victory for the British, but came at a heavy price - 1,054 were shot (226 dead and 828 wounded), and a disproportionate number of these were officers. The American losses were only about 450, of whom 140 were killed (including Dr. Joseph Warren, the president of the Council and acting head of Massachusetts revolutionary government (his commission as a Major General was not yet effective) who was fighting as a volunteer), and 30 captured (20 of whom died later as POWs). Most American losses came during the withdrawal. Major Andrew McClary was the highest ranking American officer to die in the battle. He was commemorated by the dedication of a fort in Kittery, Maine as Fort McClary.

Major-General's Howe's immediate objective was achieved, but the attack demonstrated the American will to stand in pitched battle. Of General Howe's entire field staff, he was the only one not shot. Major Pitcairn was dead, and Colonel James Abercrombie fatally wounded

African-Americans played a role in the battle, but their exact numbers are unknown. One of these was Salem Poor, who was cited for bravery and whose actions at the redoubt saved Prescott's life, but accounts crediting him with Pitcairn's death are highly doubtful. Other African-Americans present were Peter Salem, Prince Whipple, and Brazillari Lew. Mulatto Phillip Abbot of Andover was killed in the battle.

British Officer Casualties

The following British officers were either killed at the Battle of Bunker Hill, died of wounds received or were wounded and presumably made a recovery. This list is not complete but indicates the high rate of casualties among the British officers:

Lieutenant-Colonel James Abercrombie - 22nd Foot - killed at Bunker Hill
Ensign Balaquire - 5th Foot - wounded at Bunker Hill
Lieutenant Bard - 35th Foot - killed at Bunker Hill
Lieutenant Bruere - 14th Foot (serving as volunteer) - killed at Bunker Hill
Captain Campbell - HM Marines - killed at Bunker Hill
Ensign Charleton – 5th Foot - wounded at Bunker Hill
Lieutenant Croker – 5th Foot - wounded at Bunker Hill
Lieutenant Dalrymple - 63rd Foot - killed at Bunker Hill
Captain Davidson - 52nd Foot - wounded at Bunker Hill
Captain Patrick Downs - 5th Foot - mortally wounded at Bunker Hill and died in the evening.
Lieutenant Dutton - 38th Foot - killed at Bunker Hill
Captain Ellis - HM Marines - killed at Bunker Hill
Lieutenant Finnie - HM Marines - killed at Bunker Hill
Lieutenant Gardner - HM Marines - killed at Bunker Hill
Lieutenant Gold - 47th Foot - killed at Bunker Hill
Captain George Harris - 5th Foot - wounded at Bunker Hill (shot in head recovered and later became a General and created 1st Baron Harris).
Lieutenant Higgins - 52nd Foot - killed at Bunker Hill
Lieutenant Hilliard - 47th Foot - killed at Bunker Hill
Captain Hudson - 65th Foot - killed at Bunker Hill
Captain John Jackson - 5th Foot - wounded at Bunker Hill
Captain Mackenzie - 43rd Foot - killed at Bunker Hill
Lieutenant M’Clintockx - 5th Foot - wounded at Bunker Hill
Captain Francis Marsden - 5th Foot - wounded at Bunker Hill, after living for another 5 years died at Burntwood Hall 12 February 1780, presumably from wounds received. Monument inside Wakefield Cathedral, West Yorkshire.
Major John Pitcairn - HM Marines - mortally wounded at Bunker Hill and died in the evening.
Lieutenant Shea - HM Marines - killed at Bunker Hill
Captain Sherwin - 67th Foot - killed at Bunker Hill - Aide-de-camp to General Howe.
Captain Smith - 52nd Foot - killed at Bunker Hill
Major Williams - 52nd Foot - killed at Bunker Hill

Additional information from

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