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The Battle of Bunker Hill

( Originally Published 1927 )

THE advance of the British army was like a solemn pageant in its steady headway, and like a parade for inspection in the completeness of its outfit. It moved forward as if by the very force of its closely-knit columns it must sweep away every barrier in its path. Elated, sure of victory, with firm step, already quickened as the space of separation lessens, there is left but a few rods of interval, a few steps only, and the work is done ! But right in their way was a calm, intense, and energizing love of liberty, represented by men of the same blood and of equal daring.

A few shots impulsively fired, but quickly restrained, drew an innocent fire from the advancing column. But the pale men behind the scant defense, obedient to one will, answered not. . . . The left wing is near the redoubt. It surely is nothing to surmount a bank of fresh earth but six feet high ; and its sands and clods can almost be counted, it is so near, so easy, sure! Short, crisp, and earnest, low-toned, but felt as an electric pulse from redoubt to river, are the words of a single man, Prescott. Warren, by his side, repeats them. The word runs quickly along the impatient line. The eager fingers give back from the waiting trigger. " Steady, men ! Wait until you see the white of the eye ! Not a shot sooner ! Aim at the handsome coats ! Aim at the waistbands ! Pick off the officers ! Wait for the word, every man ! Steady ! "

Already those plain men, so patient, can count the buttons, can read the emblems on the belt-plate, can recognize the officers and men whom they have seen at parade on Boston Common. Features grow more and more distinct. The silence is awful ! These men seem breathless, dead ! It comes, that word, the word waited for," Fire ! " That word had waited behind the center and the left wing, where Putnam watched, as it lingered behind breastwork and redoubt. Sharp, clear, and deadly, in tone and essence, it rings forth, " Fire ! "

From redoubt to river, along the whole sweep of devouring flame, the forms of men wither as in a furnace heat. The whole front goes down. For an instant the chirp of the grasshopper and the cricket in the freshly-cut grass might almost be heard; then the groans of the suffering; then the shouts of impatient yeomen, who leap over obstacles to pursue until recalled to silence and to duty.

Staggering but reviving, grand in the glory of their manhood, heroic in the fortitude which restores self-possession, with a steady step, in the face of fire and over the bodies of their dead, the remnant dare to re-new battle. Again the deadly volley ; and the shattered columns, in spite of entreaty or command, move back to the place of starting, and the first shock of battle is over.

A lifetime when it is past seems but as a moment! A moment sometimes is as a lifetime. Onset and re-pulse ! Three hundred lifetimes ended in twenty minutes !

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