The Odd Form Of Ammunition The Patriots Resorted To In The Battle Of Bunker Hill

On June 16, 1775, in the first days of the American Revolution, Colonel William Prescott led 1,000 American troops to Breed's Hill, south of Charlestown Peninsula. The British were threatening the peninsula, a strategically valuable piece of land from which they could control Boston Harbor. Prescott had been ordered to fortify Bunker Hill, which is how most of us refer to the battle to this day. For whatever reason — he was working the dark and mistook one hill for another, perhaps — he positioned his men atop Breed's Hill, where they worked through the night, digging makeshift fortifications consisting of a trench surrounded by six-foot dirt walls, per Mental Floss. The next day, after an artillery barrage from their ships, the British landed and charged the fortress.

The Americans weren't professionals, unlike the British army they faced; they were volunteer militia, as History reports. They lacked experience, training and, perhaps more importantly, they were low on ammunition, and had to use what little they had as effectively as possible. Legend has it that either Prescott or Major General Israel Putnam instructed the American troops, "Don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes," so that they wouldn't use up all their ammunition. However, according to historian Nathaniel Philbrick, author of 2013's "Bunker Hill: A City, A Siege, A Revolution" (via Mental Floss), that wasn't the real phrase. "We know that someone said 'Hold your fire until you see the whites of their half-gaiters,' which [were] the splash guards on the regulars' feet," Philbrick said. "That doesn't have the same ring to it."

The Americans had to get creative with their weapons when fighting the British

Whatever the exact wording, the Americans would wait until the British were as close as possible before firing at them, causing the British to retreat — for a little while. They were able to regroup and come back at the Americans, who fired at them again. The Americans forced the British to retreat for a second time. By the third time the Redcoats charged the Americans, the colonials had very little ammunition left. The patriots didn't quit. Instead, they threw rocks and loaded their muskets with nails, scrap metal, and broken glass, per Mental Floss. The Americans fired what they had left, then fought hand-to-hand. The land on Breed's Hill was itself a weapon, as its unmown hay covered rocks, holes, and other hazards the British had to run through to get to the Americans, per Smithsonian Magazine. Even though the Americans fought back, there were just too many British soldiers. The Americans were forced to retreat.

Ron Chernow, writing in 2010's "Washington: A Life," calls the British victory "Pyrrhic" — they suffered more than a thousand casualties, compared to the Americans' 450. General William Howe, one of the British commanders, called their success "too dearly bought." Although the British would win the Battle of Bunker Hill, the Americans earned something even more important: a boost in confidence, and the realization that they had the power and competence to fight, and defeat, Great Britain and win independence.