Friday, August 21, 2015

Book Review: Bunker Hill

 My brother has a keen interest in the American Revolution (aka The American War of Independence, often abbreviated by wargamers as the AWI).
After visiting him in New England, the "epicenter" of the Revolution, I remembered I had a couple books about the AWI taking up space in my "TBR File" (To Be Read).
One of these was Bunker Hill by Howard Fast
I must admit this is the first book I've read by the author of Spartacus, which I didn't know he wrote, along with a slew of other well-known works.
Which means I've got a lot of catching up to do--or at least more books to shove into my TBR File.
Anyway, getting back to the AWI...
(Image from:
...Bunker Hill is an engrossing semi-fictionalized account of the actual battle, which was mostly fought on nearby Breed's Hill.   
By semi-fictionalized, I mean that the story follows the actual course of historical events leading up to, during, and after the battle.  However, Fast places historical figures in social situations that may, or may not have happened, along with providing dialogue that may or may not have been spoken.
And speaking of speech, the language used by our forefathers, both British and Colonial, was quite different from the eloquent and carefully preserved letters in museums and archives on both sides of the Atlantic.
Translation:  Their manner of speaking, especially when talking about war--or sex--was heavily laced with F-Bombs.  (One reviewer on gave the book a 2-star rating because of this).
Apparently, sex was foremost on the minds of William Howe, "Gentleman Johnny" Burgoyne and Henry Clinton, who spent as much time trying to hook up with Boston's Loyalist babes than dealing with "those damned rebels."
It was the "rebel scum" however, who snuck onto the Charleston Peninsula during the night of 16 June, 1775 and erected a redoubt.  
(Image from The Bunker Hill Museum via The Miniatures Page)
According to Fast, they managed to pull this off because His Majesty's Trysting Trio were dealing with erections of a different sort.
While scandalously delightful to think about, in actuality; the British were planning to re-occupy the Charlestown Heights, but a spy tipped-off the rebels, who stole a march on the redcoats.
The American cast of characters is much larger, featuring Israel Putnam, William Prescott, Joseph Warren, John Stark and Thomas Knowlton, just to name a few.  In fact, it was rather difficult for me to keep such a large cast straight and I had to refer to the Major Characters page quite often.  The American point of view often rested with a Dr. Feversham, a fallen Catholic and cashiered British Army surgeon, who finds acceptance among the rebels.
 Bunker Hill weighs-in at 223 pages, divided into a dozen chapters organized according to the date, or time.  The first six chapters take place from 12 June to the early morning hours of 17 June 1775. 
The first shots of the battle, which occurs on page 104, were fired by HMS Lively, when it's crew discovered the rebels toiling away at their redoubt on Breed's Hill.
Chapters 7-11 focus on crucial points of the battle, from 9 AM until 5 PM, when the rebels are finally driven off.
(Image:  Howard Pyle's famous painting, The Battle of Bunker Hill, 1897)
 While it seems like a lot of pages are devoted to everything but the actual fighting, Fast's prose easily conveyed how decisions were made and events unfolded, which lead to the Charlestown showdown.  The only thing that I found annoying was the author's repetitious use of the date in most chapters. 
The final chapter takes place the following day, when Dr. Feversham and another physician attempt to exchange, or at least provide medical care for the wounded rebels captured by the British.  They receive a cold response from the British, which convinces Dr. Feversham to continue his support of the AWI.
A lot of this had to do with the high number of casualties the British suffered during their three assaults...
(Image from Lora Innes' The Dreamer, Act I, Issue 14, Page 43)
I give Bunker Hill a solid 4-star rating.  While it was an entertaining tale, the narrative didn't strike any low notes, but neither did it strike epic high ones either, especially for a battle that had such lasting repercussions for both the British and Colonials.

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