History of Prescott's Battalion, 1775

William Prescott at Bunker Hill
On the night of June 16, 1775, Colonel William Prescott of Pepperell, Mass., led a rag-tag collection of 1200 citizen soldiers to a low hill in Charlestown, a neck of land overlooking Boston Harbor. At his direction, this nascent army - Prescott’s Battalion - began digging, and within 12 hours had erected a string of earthworks on what was later identified as Breed’s Hill, the elevation south of Bunker Hill, closer to the harbor and strategically a better location than Bunker Hill.

The next morning, June 17, the series of attacks by the British regulars on the crude fortifications and the Americans’ repulse became the now-famous Battle of Bunker’s Hill. To Col. William Prescott is attributed the cry, “Don’t fire until you see the white of their eyes,” a caution to conserve limited ammunition by making every shot count.

Prescott’s Massachusetts Regiment was formed of militia companies from around Pepperell which had responded in April 1775 to the Lexington Alarm and “the shot heard ‘round the world.” During the Siege of Boston,  the regiment quartered with the rest of the raw, young army for nearly a year in Cambridge and Roxbury Camps, on the outskirts of the British-occupied city. After the British evacuated Boston in March 1776, many soldiers re-enlisted, serving throughout the American Revolution in various companies and regiments.

Ten companies, each of a hundred men, formed a regiment. Ideally, each company had one fifer and one snare drummer; this music was massed into a music company for regimental or battalion activities, including camp duties, relay of commands, and entertainment. The Musick of Prescott’s Battalion represents that massed regimental music.