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Decisive Day: The Battle for Bunker Hill Paperback – May 15, 1999


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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

On the morning of June 17, 1775, British troops moved to secure the heights around Boston. Marching up an incline called Breed's Hill, they engaged a battered gathering of farmers and tradesmen who, the night before, had hastily constructed a defensive wall within range of the Royal Navy's artillery. Richard M. Ketchum tells the story of the ensuing fight in his breathtaking Decisive Day: The Battle for Bunker Hill.

Ketchum explores what made that bloody, but relatively small, action decisive by probing the deteriorating relationships between New England and Britain during the months before the battle. He forcefully argues that both the British and American commanders were still seeking ways to make peace even as the guns began to fire. After June 17, 1775, the Americans and the British could view each other only as enemies.

The author of two other books on the Revolutionary War (Saratoga and The Winter Soldiers), Ketchum has written an authoritative history of how Americans--especially the rank-and-file soldiers--won their nation through combat. In Decisive Day he argues that the remarkable transformation of American rebels into soldiers was a crucial, if intangible, episode within the battle. Indeed, as those tired and shell-shocked colonials waited on their ramparts for some of the most disciplined fighters in the world, they did not shoot haphazardly, but held their fire until they saw the whites of British eyes. --James Highfill

Review

"A fine job . . . a marvelous feat." (Bruce Bliven, Jr., The New York Times Book Review)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Holt Paperbacks (May 15, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805060995
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805060997
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #913,739 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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Ketchum also does a good job of placing the Battle of Bunker Hill in context of the entire war.
T. Parry
His flair for detail that explains and expounds without overwhelming the reader adds color and excitement to the narrative.
Corybant
It is a book of outstanding scholarship, and "must read" for anyone interested in American history.
Mike Powers

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Mike Powers on March 4, 2000
Format: Paperback
This is a beautifully written book, the first of three written so far by Richard Ketchum, on famous Revolutionary War battles. It tells the story of the first major military engagement of the American Revolution as does no other book I've ever read on the same subject.
The author brings to life the main characters and events of the story. He briefly introduces the major figures - British Generals Thomas Gage and William Howe, and American leaders Joseph Warren, General Israel Putnam, Colonel William Prescott, and Henry Knox - and traces the story of the conflict in the Boston area in the spring of 1775. Ketchum then sets the scene of the battle by describing how the Americans, chronically short of munitions, supplies and manpower, successfully avoided British detection and entrenched themselves on Breed's Hill (mistaking it for the higher Bunker Hill), and how the British reacted once they discovered the fortifications. Drawing on letters and other first-person accounts of the battle's participants and observers, both the American and British, Ketchum vividly describes the military action of June 17, 1775; I found myself almost able to hear the firing of guns, and smell the smoke of battle, as I read the final chapters of the book.
As an avid reader of American History, I thought I knew everything about battle of Bunker Hill; however, Ketchum's powerfully written narrative introduced me to many new facts about the people and events of this, the first major battle in America's war for independence. It is a book of outstanding scholarship, and "must read" for anyone interested in American history.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By R. J. O'Hara on October 13, 2000
Format: Paperback
This is an excellent, fast-moving account of the first great set-piece battle of the American Revolution. Ketchum is a very good writer, and his narrative succeeds in placing the reader in the event by providing many fine details of weather, sounds, ground conditions, and the like. The whole volume covers the events of only two or three days.
One of the main themes that Ketchum brings home -- a theme common to all good histories that practice "thick description" -- is how contingent the outcome of the battle was. If the British had not sent over the wrong size ammunition for their artillery at first, or if the tide had allowed the British to land earlier, the Americans probably would have been cleared off the hill in short order. If the Americans had had just one resupply of powder from the rear, they might have held the hill and driven the British back.
Along with Fischer's Paul Revere's Ride and Galvin's The Minute Men, this is one of the best works I have read on the opening of the American Revolution.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Kevin F. Kiley on December 26, 2000
Format: Paperback
This is one of the best retellings of the bloody series of assaults on Boston that was the first pitched battle of the Revolution. Ketchum, an experienced historian, author, and editor, has skillfully woven a tale that is rich in color, yet is accurate. The author's sources are impeccable, and his research goes deep. The only account of this battle that I believe is superior is that done by John Elting, The Battle of Bunker Hill. Both sides are given their due, and you can actually picture yourself in the redoubt or along the rail fence, wiping sweaty palms and counting the rounds remaining in your cartridge box. From the initial horror of young Asa Pollard's head being crushed by a bouncing cannon ball to the unbelievable three volleys fired by John Stark's militiamen to smash and slaughter the British light infantry companies along the beach the reader is given all but a ringside seat to the carnage. The leaders of both sides from the calm, fearless Howe to the indefatigable Prescott in the redoubt are given life with Ketchum's pen bringing the noise, smoke, and horror to life. One can almost feel the balls ripping into flesh as Captain Harris falls with a seemingly mortal wound to the head and admired Major Pitcairn being fatally wounded in sight of his officer-son. The bottom line is: if it is written by Ketchum, you should not only read it, but have it in your collection. All of his work is excellent, being both informative and colorful, as well as accurate.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Michael E. Fitzgerald on January 23, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The Battle of Bunker Hill was a most singular event. It signified a complete break with Mother England: physically, mentally, and morally. It was a point of no return, a rupture which would never be healed.
Bunker Hill was a remarkably savage battle. As battles go, it was not particularly large affair. Twelve hundred Americans fought twice as many British. Yet, as the author points out in his introduction, nearly half of the British and one third of the Americans fell. It was a slugfest from which neither side ran, one whose ramifications still define us to this day.
Richard Ketchum has written a winner. He presents both sides views and is quite sympathetic to each. His prose is clear, precise, and compact. His maps and depictions are excellent. You will not find a more complete, fairer rendering of this event. You can almost hear the sound of battle and smell the gun powder.
This is an altogether excellent effort penned by a gifted writer.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Matthew Gunia VINE VOICE on February 10, 2000
Format: Paperback
Richard Ketchum has written a fantastic narrative history of this important early battle of the American Revolution. For years, early American history has been one of my biggest interests and I can honestly say I've never read a book from this period that was as gripping as Ketchum's. It rivals David McCullough's "Truman" with its ability to pull the reader in, making him feel as if he's in the midst of the battle. Furthermore, he displays an intimate knowledge of both the particulars of Bunker Hill as well as 18th century warfare in general. Highly recommended.
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