“When once these rebels have felt a smart blow,” George told his Admiralty, “they will submit.”
Blows would decide, as the king had predicted. Yet no one could foresee that the American War of Independence would last 3,059 days. Or that the struggle would be marked by more than 1,300 actions, mostly small and bloody, with a few large and bloody, plus 241 naval engagements in a theater initially bounded by the Atlantic seaboard, the St. Lawrence and Mississippi Rivers, and the Gulf of Mexico, before expanding to other lands and other waters.
Roughly a quarter million Americans would serve the cause in some military capacity. At least one in ten of them would die for that cause- 25,674 deaths by one tally, as many as 35,800 by another. Those deaths were divided with rough parity among battle, disease, and British prisons, a larger proportion of the American population to perish in any conflict other than the Civil War. If many considered the war providential-ordained by God’s will and shaped by divine grace-certainly the outcome would also be determined by gutful soldiering, endurance, hard decisions (good and bad), and luck (good and bad). The odds were heavily stacked against the Americans: no colonial rebellion had ever succeeded in casting off imperial shackles. But, as Voltaire had observed, history is filled with the sound of silken slippers going downstairs and wooden shoes coming up.
This would not be a war between regimes or dynasties, fought for territory or the usual commercial advantages. Instead, what became known as the American Revolution was an improvised struggle between two peoples of a common heritage, now sundered by divergent values and conflicting visions of a world to come. Unlike most European wars of the eighteenth century, this one would not be fought by professional armies on flat, open terrain with reasonable roads, in daylight and good weather. And though it was fought in the age of reason, infused with Enlightenment ideals, this war, this civil war, would spiral into savagery, with sanguinary cruelty, casual killing, and atrocity.
Those 3,059 hard days would yield two tectonic results. The first was in the United Kingdom, where the reduction of the empire by about one-third, including the demolition of the new dominions in North America, proved to be as divisive as any misfortune to befall the nation in the eighteenth century, at a cost of £128 million and thousands of British lives. The broader conflict that began in 1778, with the intervention of European powers on America’s behalf, led to the only British defeat in the seven Anglo-French wars fought between 1689 and 1815. Of course, what was lost by force of arms could be regained, and a second British Empire, in different garb, would flourish in the next century.
The second consequence was epochal and enduring: the creation of the American republic. Surely among mankind’s most remarkable achievements, this majestic construct also inspired a creation myth that sometimes resembled a garish cartoon, a melodramatic tale of doughty yeomen resisting moronic, brutal lobsterbacks. The civil war that unspooled over those eight years would be both grander and more nuanced, a tale of heroes and knaves, of sacrifice and blunder, of redemption and profound suffering. Beyond the battlefield, then and forever, stood a shining city on a hill.
Lieutenant General Thomas Gage declared martial law on June 12 with a long, windy denunciation of “the infatuated multitudes.” He offered to pardon those who “lay down their arms and return to the duties of peaceable subjects,” exclusive of Samuel Adams and John Hancock, “whose offenses are of too flagitious a nature” to forgive. He ended the screed with “God save the King.”
The same day, Gage wrote to Lord Barrington, the secretary at war, that “things are now come to that crisis that we must avail ourselves of every resource, even to raise the Negroes in our cause.. Hanoverians, Hessians, perhaps Russians may be hired.” To Lord Dartmouth he warned that he was critically low on both cash-he could not pay his officers-and forage; ships had been sent to Nova Scotia and Quebec seeking hay and oats. Crushing the rebellion, he estimated, would require more frigates and at least 32,000 soldiers, including 10,000 in New York, 7,000 around Lake Champlain, and 15,000 in New England. Another officer writing from Boston on June 12 advised London-the king himself received a copy-that the rebel blockade “is judicious & strong.” As for British operations, “all warlike preparations are wanting. No survey of the adjacent country, no proper boats for landing troops, not a sufficient number of horses for the artillery nor for the regimental baggage.” The war chest had “about three or four thousand [pounds] only remaining.. The rebellious colonies will supply nothing.”
Gage’s adjutant complained that “every idle report is carried to headquarters and . magnified to such a degree that rebels are seen in the air carrying cannon and mortars on their shoulders.” Some regulars longed for a decisive battle; “taking the bull by the horns” became an oft-heard phrase in the regiments. “I wish the Americans may be brought to a sense of their duty,” an officer wrote in mid-June. “One good drubbing, which I long to give them. might have a good effect.” As Captain Evelyn told his cousin in London, “If there is an honor in hard knocks, we are likely to have some share.”
The imminent arrival of transports with light dragoons, more marines, and several foot regiments would bring the British garrison to over six thousand troops, not enough to subdue Massachusetts, much less the continent, but sufficient, as Gage told London, to “make an attempt upon some of the rebel posts, which becomes every day more necessary.” Two alluring patches of high ground remained unfortified, and Gage knew from an informant that American commanders coveted the same slopes: the elevation beyond Boston Neck known as the Dorchester Heights, and the dominant terrain above Charlestown called Bunker, or Bunker’s Hill. A battle plan was made to seize the former on Sunday, June 18, with a bombardment of Roxbury while the rebels were at church, followed by the construction of two artillery redoubts on the heights. If all went well, regulars could then capture the high ground on Charlestown peninsula and eventually attack the American encampment at Cambridge.
No sooner was the plan conceived than it leaked to the Committee of Safety; British officers seemed incapable of keeping their mouths shut in a town full of American spies and eavesdroppers. Intelligence even came from New Hampshire, where a traveler out of Boston told authorities there about rumors of an imminent British sally. Meeting in Hastings House, a gambrel-roofed mansion near the Cambridge Common, the committee on June 15 voted unanimously that “the hill called Bunker’s Hill in Charlestown be securely kept and defended.” Dorchester Heights would have to wait until more guns and powder could be stockpiled.
The American camps bustled. Arms and ammunition were inspected, with each marching soldier to carry thirty rounds. A note to the Committee of Supply advised that “the army is destitute of shirts & trousers, and if any [are] in store, pray they may be sent.” Liquor sales stopped, again. Teamsters carted the books and scientific instruments from Harvard’s library to Andover for safekeeping. Organ pipes were yanked from the Anglican church and melted down for musket bullets. An ordnance storehouse issued all forty-eight shovels in stock as well as ammunition to selected regiments-typically forty or fifty pounds of powder, a thousand balls, and a few hundred flints. Commissaries in Cambridge and Roxbury reported that provisions arriving through June 16 included 1,869 loaves of bread and 357 gallons of milk from Cambridge vendors, 60 pairs of shoes from Milton, 1,570 pounds of beef and 40 barrels of beer from Watertown, a ton of candles, 1,500 pounds of soap, several hundred barrels of beans, peas, flour, and salt fish by the quintal, rum by the hogshead, and a few hundred tents, many without poles. All Massachusetts men within twenty miles of the coast were urged to carry their firelocks “to meeting on the Sabbath and other days when they meet for public worship.” A sergeant from Wethersfield wrote his wife, “We’ve been in a great deal of hubbub.”
Orders spilled from the headquarters of Major General Ward, who occupied a southeast room on the Hastings House ground floor. Portly and sallow, sporting a powdered wig, boots, and a long coat with silver buttons, Artemas Ward, now forty-seven, had been chosen in February to command the Massachusetts militia on the strength of his long tenure in colonial politics. As a Harvard student, he once helped lead a campaign against “swearing and cursing” at the college; as a justice of the peace in Shrewsbury, he’d levied fines against the profane and could be found in the street reprimanding those who dishonored the Sabbath with unnecessary travel. Massachusetts, he believed, was home to the Chosen People. Ward had never fully recovered his health after the rigors of the French war, from which he’d emerged as a militia lieutenant colonel despite seeing little action. “Attacks of the stone”-kidney stones-still tormented him. Pious, honest, and devoted to the patriot cause, he was also taciturn, torpid, and stubborn. The gambit to hold Bunker Hill in Charlestown that he and the Committee of Safety had concocted was an impulse, not a plan. The rebel force lacked not only sufficient ammunition and field artillery but also combat reserves, a coherent chain of command, and even water. Ward had recently requested from the provincial congress almost sixty guns, fifteen hundred muskets, twenty tons of powder, and a similar quantity of lead; few of those munitions had been forthcoming.
Shortly after six p. m. on Friday, June 16, three Massachusetts regiments drifted through the arching elms and onto the Cambridge Common. They wore the usual homespun linen shirts and breeches tinted with walnut or sumac dye. Most carried a blanket or bedroll, often with a tumpline strap across the forehead to support the weight on their backs. A clergyman’s benediction droned over their bowed heads, and with a final amen they replaced their low-crowned hats and turned east down the Charlestown road.
Twilight faded and was gone, and the last birdsong faded with it. The first stars threw down their silver spears. Little rain had fallen in the past month, and dust boiled beneath each step. Candlelight gleamed from the rear of two bull’s-eye lanterns carried by sergeants at the head of the column. Officers commanded silence, and only the rattle of carts stacked with entrenching tools broke the quiet. Through parched orchards and across Willis Creek they marched, and past the hulking shadows of Prospect and Winter Hills. As they turned right toward Charlestown, a couple hundred Connecticut troops joined the column, bringing their strength to a thousand men.
General Ward had remained in his Hastings House headquarters, and the column was led by a sinewy, azure-eyed colonel wearing a blue coat with a single row of buttons and a tricorne hat. He carried a linen banyan. William Prescott of Pepperell, forty-nine and bookish, had fought twice in Canada during wars against the French, earning a reputation for cool self-possession under fire. In this war he reportedly had vowed never to be taken alive. “He was a bold man,” one soldier later wrote of him, “and gave his orders like a bold man.”
Bold orders this evening would prove to be ill-considered. As the procession crossed Charlestown Neck-barely ten yards wide at high tide- Prescott briefly conferred with the irrepressible Israel Putnam and Colonel Richard Gridley, an artilleryman and engineer who had also fought twice in Canada with distinction. From just below the isthmus, the three officers contemplated the dark contours of Charlestown peninsula, an irregular triangle a mile long and less than half that in width, bracketed by the Mystic and Charles Rivers. Even at night the dominant terrain was obvious: Bunker Hill rose gradually from the Neck for three hundred yards to a rounded crown 110 feet high, commanding not only the single land route off the peninsula, but the approach roads from Cambridge and Medford, as well as the adjacent waters. From the crest a low ridge swept southeast another six hundred yards to the patchwork of pastures, seventy-five feet high and sutured with rail fences, that would be called Breed’s Hill. Some fields had been scythed, the grass laid in windrows and cocks; in others it still stood waist-high. Brick kilns and clay pits pocked the steep eastern slope of the Breed’s pastures. Gardens and small orchards lay scattered to the west, backing the four hundred houses, shops, and buildings in Charlestown. Most of the three thousand residents had fled inland. The rising moon, three days past full, laved the town in amber light. Beyond the ferry landing and a spiny-masted warship in the Charles lay slumbering Boston.
For reasons never explained and certainly never understood, when the conference ended Prescott ordered the column to continue southeast. Colonel Gridley quickly staked out a redoubt-an imperfect square with sides about 130 feet long-not on nearly impregnable Bunker Hill, as the Committee of Safety had specified, but on the southwest slope of Breed’s pastureland. Accustomed to pick-and-shovel work, the men grabbed tools from the carts and began hacking at the hillside. Striking clocks in Boston, echoed at higher pitch by a ship’s bell, told them it was midnight.
The rhythmic chink of metal on hard ground carried to the Lively, another of those leaky vessels in the British squadron, now anchored astride the Charlestown ferryway. As coral light seeped across the eastern horizon at four a. m. on Saturday, June 17, the graveyard watch officer strained to decipher the odd sounds above the groan of the ship’s yards and the Charles whispering along her hull. He summoned the captain, whose spyglass soon showed hundreds of tiny dark figures tearing at the distant slope with spade and mattock.
The ship beat to quarters. Sailors tumbled from their hammocks, feet clapping across the deck as they ran to their battle stations. A windlass groaned as the crew winched Lively on her cable to align the starboard cannons. A shouted command carried across the gun deck, and tongues of flame burst from the ship in a broadside of 9-pounders. Breeching ropes kept the guns from flying across the deck in recoil; block and tackle ran them forward for the next salvo. Gunners swabbed the smoking barrels, rammed home powder and shot, and another flock of iron balls flew toward Breed’s Hill. Other ships eventually joined in-Glasgow, Symmetry, Falcon, Spitfire, more than seventy guns all told-along with 24-pounders from the Copp’s Hill battery in Boston’s North End.
Dawn, that great revealer of predicaments, had fully disclosed Colonel Prescott’s. Screaming cannonballs-“tea kettles,” in rebel slang-streaked overhead or punched into the hillside, smashing two hogsheads containing the American water supply. “The danger we were in made us think there was treachery, & that we were brought here to be all slain,” young Peter Brown would write his mother in Rhode Island. Distance and elevation reduced the bombardment’s effect, although Prescott recounted how one militiaman whose head abruptly vanished in a crimson mist “was so near me that my clothes were besmeared with his blood and brains, which I wiped off in some degree with a handful of fresh earth.” When other men dropped their tools to gawk at the corpse, Prescott snapped, “Bury him,” then strolled off with conspicuous nonchalance, hatless now, waggling his sword and urging the men to dig faster.
The redoubt taking shape was formidable enough, with thick dirt walls six feet high, fire steps for musketmen inside to stand on, and a sally port exit to the north. But no embrasures had been left for cannons; worse yet, Prescott recognized that the British could outflank him on either side. Gage’s men would no doubt attack in force across the Charles, seeking to stun the defenders with firepower before closing to complete the slaughter with bayonets. To protect his left flank, Prescott ordered the men to begin building a low breastwork northeast from the sally port to marshy ground at the foot of Breed’s Hill.
He also sent an officer to plead for reinforcements, provisions, and water. Artillerymen refused to lend the courier a horse, forcing him to walk four miles to Cambridge, which he found “quiet as the Sabbath.” At Hastings House he discovered Dr. Warren, newly appointed as a major general despite his lack of military experience, splayed on an upstairs bed with a crippling headache. General Ward, tormented with another attack of the stone, fretted over the vulnerability of Roxbury, the Dorchester Heights, and his Cambridge supply dumps; British gunfire had been reported at Boston Neck. Not least, Ward worried that only twenty-seven half-barrels of powder remained in his magazines, perhaps enough for forty thousand cartridges. With consent from the Committee of Safety, he reluctantly agreed to send reinforcements to Prescott from the New Hampshire militia camped along the Mystic.
The deep boom of Lively’s broadsides had wakened General Gage, as it woke all of Boston. Province House, aglitter in candlelight, soon bustled with red uniforms. Messengers skipped up the broad stone steps from Marlborough Street with news of rebel entrenchments, then skipped back down with orders to find and fetch various commanders. Young officers eager to join the coming attack loitered in the hallway, hoping to be noticed. Sleepy aides fumbled about for decent maps, of which the British still had precious few. Concussion ghosts from the harbor bombardment rattled the windows, and the rap of drums beating assembly carried from the camps.
Several senior officers joined Gage in the council chamber, including Percy, who arrived from his house in nearby Winter Street. But it was three newcomers who drew the eye this morning: Major Generals William Howe, John Burgoyne, and Henry Clinton had reached Boston in late May aboard the Cerberus, after a stormy voyage that killed two favorite horses but gave the three men ample time to find common ground for the campaign ahead despite their inevitable rivalry. “The sentiments of Howe, Clinton, and myself have been unanimous from the beginning,” Burgoyne declared. The king had personally approved their selection, fearing that without vigorous new leadership in America “we shall only vegetate.” They were deemed “the fittest men for the service in the army,” as one official in London observed, forming what Burgoyne called “a triumvirate of reputation.”
Others were not so sure. Horace Walpole, ever astringent, told his diary that Howe “was reckoned sensible, though so silent that nobody knew whether he was or not,” while Burgoyne was “a vain, very ambitious man, with a half understanding that was worse than none.” Clinton, he declared, “had not that fault, for he had no sense at all.” Their arrival at Long Wharf aboard a frigate named for the mythical three-headed hound guarding the gates of Hades inspired the war’s most enduring doggerel: “Behold the Cerberus, the Atlantic plough, / Her precious cargo, Burgoyne, Clinton, Howe, / Bow, wow, wow!” Thereafter known as the three bow-wows, they had wasted little time in undercutting Gage’s authority, as in Burgoyne’s barbed observation to General Harvey earlier that week that it was “no reflection to say he is unequal to his present station, for few characters in the world would be fit for it.. It requires a genius of the very first class.”
As the windows trembled and the Old South clock across the street struck the hours, the high command, genius or otherwise, heatedly debated what to do. General Clinton, a dimple-chinned, prickly, and gifted tactician, proposed the boldest course. Early that morning, he had made his own reconnaissance in the dark along the Boston waterfront, listening to the racket from the rebel entrenchment. If Howe and the main British force crossed directly from the North End to Charlestown, Clinton would lead five hundred men ashore in a surprise flanking attack within musket shot of the isthmus, severing the American line of retreat and trapping the enemy on the peninsula.
This scheme found little favor around Gage’s council table. Dividing the force would risk defeat in detail of the separate detachments, particularly if thousands of rebel reinforcements stormed the battlefield from Cambridge. Naval support would be tenuous: even shallow-draft vessels had difficulty in the Mystic, which had not been thoroughly sounded, and a milldam west of Charlestown Neck complicated navigation there. No one had forgotten Diana’s fate in shoal water. Every small boat would be needed to ferry at least fifteen hundred regulars from Boston to Morton’s Point on the peninsula. The amphibious assault would have to be made at “full sea”-high tide, close to three p. m.-so that artillery could be manhandled onto dry land rather than through the muddy shallows.
Gage chose a more conventional, direct assault to be led by Howe, the senior major general. As in the march to Concord, most flanker companies- light infantry and grenadiers-had been peeled from their regiments and collected in special battalions. Ten companies of each would muster at Long Wharf, bolstered by several other regiments. The remaining light infantry and grenadiers, backed by additional regiments, would embark at North Battery, with sundry marines and regulars in reserve.
Gage ended the conference with a stark order: “Any man who shall quit his ranks on any pretense, or shall dare to plunder or pillage, will be executed without mercy.” With a clatter of boots across the floor, officers hurried down the hall and out the door to prepare their commands for battle.
Admiral Graves, meanwhile, had left his flagship to board the seventy-gun Somerset, now anchored in deep water across Boston Harbor. From her gently rocking quarterdeck he could see rebels swarming across the Charlestown hillside around the new earthworks; many were already “entrenched to their chins,” as a British officer noted. Men-of-war belched smoke and noise, and tiny black cannonballs traced perfect parabolas against the summer sky, plumping the fields and splintering tree branches without excessive inconvenience to the Jonathans building their forts. To Graves’s frustration, the waters lapping Charlestown were too shallow for Somerset and other dreadnoughts to warp close; his larger ships would be limited to sending seamen, ammunition, and boats to their smaller sisters.
As the morning ticked by, Glasgow and Symmetry hammered Charlestown Neck from an anchorage west of the peninsula, supported by a pair of scows, each mounting a 12-pounder. But the ebbing tide kept them from nosing near the milldam, and Graves regretted his failure to build more floating batteries and gun rafts. Lively, Falcon, and little Spitfire glided into the Charlestown channel, popping away while preparing to cover Howe’s landing. The roar of the cannonade carried to Cambridge, Roxbury, and other villages; one terrified minister’s wife draped blankets over her windows in hopes of deflecting stray bullets.
Shortly before noon, as meridian heat began to build in Boston, long columns of regulars tramped to fife and drum through the town’s cobbled streets from the Common to the docks. Each man carried, as ordered, sixty rounds, a day’s cooked provisions, and a blanket. The 52nd Foot had been issued gleaming new muskets and bayonets that very morning; they would soon grow filthy with use. By chance, a portion of the 49th Foot had just arrived after a long passage from southern Ireland. Wide-eyed privates, wobbly on their pins after weeks at sea, disembarked on Long Wharf and marched toward the Common with flags flying and drums beating even as the grenadier and light infantry companies from other regiments clambered into the bobbing boats at Long Wharf for the first lift to Charlestown.
At one-thirty p. m., a blue pennant appeared on Preston’s signal halyard. Twenty-eight yawls, longboats, cutters, and ketches carrying twelve hundred soldiers pulled away from Long Wharf in a double column, oars winking in syncopation, with a half dozen brass field guns nestled into the lead boats. The cannonade from the ships had ebbed, but now it grew heavier than ever, balls flying, smoke billowing, and the din reverberating like a terrible thunder. Thousands crowded Boston’s rooftops and hillsides, perching on tree boughs and clinging to steeples. Among the spectators were regulars left behind and the wives of troops now gliding across the Charles. Loyalists and patriots stood together, aware that sons and fathers and lovers were down there somewhere in harm’s way, on the glinting water or the distant hillside.
Here again was an ancient, squalid secret: that war was an enchantment, a sorcery, a seductive spectacle like no other, beguiling the eye and gorging the senses. They looked because they could not look away. Atop Bunker Hill, a Connecticut chaplain named David Avery watched the sculling boats approach Morton’s Point, then raised both arms to heaven before asking God’s indulgence on “a scene most awful and tremendous.”
Astride a lathered white horse, his own halo of tangled white hair instantly recognizable, General Israel Putnam trotted back and forth across the American line in a sleeveless waistcoat, smacking shirkers with the flat of his sword. To an officer pleading with a reluctant militiaman, Putnam snapped, “Run him through if he won’t fight.” One captain would later reflect that Old Put resembled not a field commander so much as the foreman of “a band of sicklemen or ditchers.. He might be brave, and had certainly an honest manliness about him; but it was thought, and perhaps with reason, that he was not what the time required.”
Nine Massachusetts regiments had been ordered to Charlestown from Cambridge, but at best only five had reached the peninsula; the others were delayed, misdirected, or misinformed. No one seemed to have a map. Roads were confusing, the terrain foreign. Troop discipline was “extremely irregular,” one officer wrote, “each regiment advancing according to the opinions, feelings, or caprice of its commander.” Putnam had ordered entrenching tools carried back from the redoubt to belatedly build a fortification on Bunker Hill; eager volunteers grabbed a shovel or an ax, then retreated toward the Neck and beyond, never to return. By one count, fewer than 170 men remained with Prescott to hold his redoubt, officers included. “To be plain,” an observer would write Samuel Adams, “it appears to me there never was more confusion and less command.”
Happily for the American cause, some men knew their business. Colonel Prescott continued to improve his imperfect fort and the adjacent breastwork, positioning men and shouting encouragement. Roughly two hundred yards behind the breastwork, a tall, enterprising captain from eastern Connecticut, Thomas Knowlton, recognized the defensive potential of a rail livestock fence that extended northeast for several hundred yards, from the middle of the peninsula almost to the Mystic. The fence had been laid on a slight zigzag course and assembled with a method known as stake-and-rider; a portion of it straddled a two-foot stone wall. Two hundred men helped Captain Knowlton reinforce the southwestern length of the barrier with additional rails and posts scavenged from other fields. They then stuffed the gaps with haycocks and sheaves of cut grass to give the illusion of a solid parapet. Several small field guns hauled by horses from Cambridge were emplaced nearby.
As the British boats beat from Boston, the most critical rebel reinforcements reached Charlestown Neck to the thrum of fife and drum: hundreds of long-striding New Hampshire militiamen, described as a “moving column of uncouth figures clad in homespun.” Millers, mariners, and husbandmen, they included the largest regiment in New England, commanded by Colonel John Stark, the lean, beetle-browed son of a Scottish emigrant. Stark’s picaresque life had included capture by Indians while hunting in 1752 and his release six weeks later for a hefty ransom. As a Ranger officer in the last French war, he had plodded more than forty miles in snowshoes to fetch help for comrades wounded in an ambush. After surviving the bloody Anglo-American repulse by the French at Fort Carillon in 1758, he and two hundred men subsequently built an eighty-mile road from Crown Point to the Connecticut valley. Upon hearing the news of Lexington, Stark, now forty-six, left his sawmill and his wife, pregnant with their ninth child, and was elected colonel by a unanimous show of hands in a tavern; so many men rallied to him that thirteen companies filled his regiment. At eleven this morning, General Ward’s initial order to reinforce Charlestown reached Stark’s camp in Medford, four miles up the Mystic. As he would tell the New Hampshire Provincial Congress a few days later, “The battle soon came on.”
Stark sent an advance detachment of two hundred men to the peninsula, then tarried long enough at a house converted into an armory for the rest of his force to draw ammunition: fifteen balls, a flint, and a gill cup of powder-five ounces-for each musketman. Crossing the narrow isthmus shortly after two p. m., harassed with round, bar, and chain shot from Royal Navy guns, the Hampshiremen ascended Bunker Hill at a deliberate pace, then descended to the northeast lip of the peninsula. “One fresh man in action,” Stark told a captain, “is worth ten fatigued ones.” A quick glance disclosed the American peril: despite Knowlton’s deft work along the rail fence, and the hasty construction of three small triangular earthworks known as fleches closer to the redoubt, Prescott’s position could still be outflanked by redcoats advancing up the Mystic shoreline. To block the narrow, muddy beach, Stark’s men scooted down the eight-foot riverbank and quickly stacked fieldstones to build a short, stout wall. Most Hampshiremen took positions behind the fence to extend Knowlton’s line, further stuffing it with hay, grass, and stray rails. But sixty musketmen arranged themselves on the beach in a triple row behind the new barricade. There they awaited their enemy.