Home Forums Horse and Musket 18th Century What if…Bunker/Breeds Hill

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  • #65937

    Famously, the British forces executed a series of frontal assault on Breed’s hill, which was ill advised.  The colonists had the relative safety of their defenses as well as a heighth advantage that not only allowed  for accurate plunging fire but also kept them fairly safe from any naval gun fire.  The frontal assault, of course, was the brain child of General’s Howe and Burgoyne.  General Clinton, had a different plan.  He wanted  to seize Charlestown Neck, the spit of land that separated the mainland from the continent.  It was actually a brilliant plan for a number of reasons.   The British forces were qualitatively superior but numerically inferior.  There were something like 15,000 men in the colonial forces while the entire Boston garrison numbered only about 7000 with no  reinforcements for the foreseeable  future.   So the British really could not sustain the offensive for long.  They could not afford loses.  By seizing the neck, they would put the burden of the offensive on the colonial forces on Breeds hill.   It would also nullify any defensive preparations they had.  Finally, the “Neck” was of  considerably lower elevation.  This meant that naval gun fire would be far more effective against any counter attack.   In short, the colonial forces likely would have lost the fight and perhaps  as many as 3000 men in killed, wounded and captured.   Finally,  it would be very likely that the 2000-3000 British soldiers would have taken very few casualties.

    So, now for the “What if”.  What if the British execute Clinton’s plan?  How does that change the outcome in Massachusetts?

    John

     

     

    John

    "Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power."

    --Abraham Lincoln

    #65955
    kyotebluekyoteblue
    Participant

    An interesting what if.

    #65959
    General SladeGeneral Slade
    Participant

    Clinton’s plan does appear to have had some of merit and arrogance on the part of Howe and Burgoyne does seem to have played a part in its rejection – they thought the rebels couldn’t stand against regulars so there was no need for fancy manoeuvring. However Clinton’s plan would have placed the British troops between two rebel forces – those on the peninsula and those on the mainland.  The rebels on the peninsula might have been cut off but the British would have been surrounded.  And no one likes being shot at from both sides.

    Clinton’s plan looks deceptively simple but it involved landing troops between enemy forces and I think it is worth bearing in mind that the more complicated a plan is the more things that are likely to go wrong. So whilst Clinton’s plan looks good with the benefit of hindsight I can see why it wouldn’t have seemed so appealing to the generals in charge at the time. And I certainly don’t think it is a foregone conclusion that it would have worked.

    • This reply was modified 3 years, 3 months ago by General SladeGeneral Slade.
    #65963
    kyotebluekyoteblue
    Participant

    Good points. It would make an interesting game.

    #65964

    I think the important point is that you could post ships on the north edge of the Neck and fire with impunity.  This is something the British could not do against Breeds hill because of the hight of the hill itself.  Anything approaching the neck would be subject to naval gun fire.  A smaller ship was the Lively.  It had 20X9 pounders.  That would essentially give the British a 10 gun heavy battery at their disposal.  A larger ship, if it could get close enough was the Somerset.  It was a 3rd rate ship of the line.  The 13X32 pounders would have been pretty demoralizing to the continentals.  There would also be 14X18 pounders and 6X9 pounders.  I suspect they could have broken up any Continental attack.

    I do think it would make for a very interesting scenario.  Part of the victory conditions would be for the British forces to not take excessive casualties.

     

    John

    "Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power."

    --Abraham Lincoln

    #65979
    General SladeGeneral Slade
    Participant

    I certainly think it would be an interesting scenario to play.  I suppose the key would be at what point the rebels realise that they are in danger of being cut off and how they react.  Would they attempt to oppose the landing or would they be trying to skedaddle back to the mainland before there were enough redcoats ashore to trap them on the peninsula?

    I don’t know anything about naval gun fire in land battles. Would they just do a preliminary bombardment prior to the troops going ashore or would they still be able to play a role once battle commenced?

    #65982
    B6GOBOSB6GOBOS
    Participant

    An interesting war game scenario. And in hope when you play it out to share a battle report with us.

     

    But in real life Howe’s actions were not so arrogant, nor Clinton’s plan so simple.

    From Howe’s point of view logistics and naval support dictates where he landed his troops.  The navy could provide only half the boats needed for the soldiers and artillery he needed.  So he was have to land his men and guns in two waves.  Since these boats were open row type boats soldiers were exposed to enemy fire while rowing and while the men waded ashore.  The time needed to row to Charlestown from Boston was about an hour round trip from the north end to Morton’s point (the closest point to Boston)  and nearly two hours up the mystic river to the Charlestown neck and back.  British warships needed room to maneuver and deep drafts to prevent running aground.  The navy had already lost one frigate (HMS Diana) in May 1775 running aground on the mud flats that dotted boston harbour especially in areas like the mystic river. The frigate ran aground and Americans swaddled out and overwhelming the crew.  The mystic river had not been mapped by the navy ( they did so after the battle) so no ships were available to sail up it.  So you could land on Charlestown neck but you could bring less then half the troops needed, no artillery and you are under heavy fire from American (New Englanders really) all the time you slowly row up the mystic river and while you try and land.  You have no naval support and reinforcements are many hours away.  And you are caught between an enemy on the peninsula and lots more in Cambridge. Did I mention the Americans had about six cannon on the Charlestown peninsula?

    On the other hand at Morton’s point ( the actual landing spot) you have good naval support as ships can warp close in and lay down a fire to keep those pesky Yankees away.   Row time is an hour roundtrip so your guns and reinforcements are closer at hand.

    Most importantly the Americans have only dug in on breeds hill and possibly in Charlestown itself.  The open fields from the hill to the mystic river are open.  Knowlton and Stark have not yet built the rail fence defensive line.  So at least until then you can walk around the redoubt.  No frontal assault until that happens.

    Bunker hill is a deceptive complicated battle.  It is not help by poor literature.  I would highly recommend John Elting’s book, The Battle of Bunker’s Hill (1975) for much more details. You should be able to pick it up through inter library loan.

    #65988
    Autodidact-O-SaurusAutodidact-O-Saurus
    Participant

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t the HMS Lively position itself to sweep Charleston Neck with gunfire during the battle? I seem to recall that after the battle Putnam complained that he could not drive the militia across the Neck to support the lines. They were too undisciplined to brave the crossfire. I think he was castigated for trying to ‘drive’ them and not ‘leading’ them.

    I’m honestly not sure that executing Clinton’s plan would have made that much of a difference. Immediately after the battle the Americans felt that they had suffered a major defeat. It was only in the ensuing weeks that they realized how many losses the British had taken and only then did their morale recover. So the question is whether a more clear cut victory by the British (assuming Clinton’s plan would have provided one) would motivate them to take the initiative for decisive action. I don’t think Gage (or Howe) would have done that. I think they’d have sat back and waited for the Rebels to disperse due to their own inability to coalesce into an effective fighting force.

    Self taught, persistently behind the times, never up to date. AKA ~ jeff
    More verbosity: http://petiteguerre.blogspot.com/

    #72831
    Brendan Morrissey
    Participant

    B6GOBOS has beaten me to it; “Who asked this joker” might like to have a read of my Osprey Campaign book on the battle which actually discusses this very point.

    https://ospreypublishing.com/boston-1775-pb

    Clinton’s plan was a complete non-starter and Howe’s was the only viable one at that time 0for the reasons given above PLUS one more that B6GOBOS didn’t mention.  Just to make things worse, the tide was ebbing at the time the British were landing on the peninsula, so the boats were being rowed against the current whilst fully laden; landing troops anywhere further west than Moulton Point would have required a row of 2-3 times the distance from the north quay to Moulton Point – possibly 4 times if you were looking at landing troops on the north side of the peninsula.  Any landing on the Neck would have placed a relatively small force in between two much larger groups of Colonists with only a very limited possibility of being reinforced and re-supplied.  Other “armchair strategists” have suggested landing on or around the mill pond on the south side of the Neck – another poor idea as it would have required troops to wade ashore from some way out whilst being shot at from the beach (incidentally, the reason the Royal Navy had never sounded the Mystik River was not because of incompetence, but simply because it didn’t lead anywhere, other than a network of impassable marshes and tiny streams and thus, prior to June 1775, had no military value).

    It is also worth remembering that, but for the bringing of the wrong ammunition for the 6-pdrs, and an officer halting the advance of the Grenadier Battalion by firing his fusil and stopping to re-load, it is quite likely that Howe’s first attack would have succeeded (despite the losses on the beach to Stark’s men) and the redoubt would have been cut off.  One of the great myths of the AWI is that the British lost because they were arrogant – they were not; Howe and Clinton were both first-rate tacticians (we can gloss over Burgoyne who should have stuck to writing bad plays), as their later battles showed, but Clinton did have the annoying habit of “second-guessing” his boss – which was why he was banished to Rhode Island at the end of 1776.

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