Permit the reviewer to linger on this for a moment, as Philbrick does, for there is hardly any story of New England grit and grandeur to match this one. The hope was for snow (the easier to slide the sledges), but there was more than hope involved. There was Yankee ingenuity: piercing the surface of the Hudson River, for example, so small gushers of water leaked upward, resulting in much-thicker ice. There were great dangers, especially on downslopes of the Berkshire Hills (the cannons outran their escorts).
Many of these weapons ended up on Lechmere Point, with a growing patriot threat in and around Dorchester. Eventually the British determined their position was perilous and indicated they would refrain from razing Boston if the patriots let them escape, which they did. Off to Halifax they sailed, no goodbyes, many good-riddances.
So here the story comes full circle. “By purging itself of loyalists,’’ Philbrick argues, “Boston had, in a sense, reaffirmed its origins.’’ The original settlers were alone on these shores because they wanted to pray as they liked. The later Bostonians now also were alone, to govern themselves (or to tax themselves) as they liked.
“They were no longer fighting simply to preserve their ancient liberties,’’ Philbrick writes, but “were fighting to create a new nation.’’ Thus this is not only a story about Bunker Hill (which in truth occupies only about 15 percent of the book), nor is it only the greatest American story. It is also the American story.
David M. Shribman, executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, can be reached at email@example.com.