After the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the American troops were regrouping and organizing. In mid-June, they heard that the British were planning to fortify the hills surrounding the city. Colonial militiamen under Colonel William Prescott built up earthen fortifications on Breed’s Hill on June 16, 1775.
Threatened with Americans on the high ground, the British needed to strike the colonial forces. The next day, on June 17, 2,200 troops under British Major General William Howe and Brigadier General Robert Pigot landed on the peninsula. The British burned Charlestown and turned to face the Americans. They marched on Breed’s Hill, but were rebuffed by Prescott’s men. A second assault was also fought off.
On their third attempt, however, the British reached the colonial redoubts and entered into fierce hand-to-hand combat. They forced the Americans to retreat, but at a high cost. The British had over 1,054 casualties in just two hours of fighting, with 200 killed and over 800 wounded. Howe lost every member of his staff. 100 Americans were killed, with 300 wounded.
Although the British won the battle, it was a Pyrrhic victory. They realized that they would not quickly defeat the colonial forces. They also abandoned plans to seize the hills surrounding Boston and, eventually, left the city as well.