The quote comes from a line delivered by Patriot leader Dr. Joseph Warren (portrayed by Walter Coy) the 1957 Disney movie “Johnny Tremain,” to General Thomas Gage (portrayed by Ralph Clanton). The encounter was fictional, but the sentiments attributed to Warren’s character were very real.
Gage’s own wife Margaret Kemble Gage is thought to have been the spy that informed Dr. Warren of the gun control raids that General Gage set in motion against Lexington and Concord, and it was Dr. Warren that sent William Dawes and Paul Revere out as alarm riders to let the patriot militias of Massachusetts know that “the Regulars are about!”
I encourage you to find out more about that first day of our fight for liberty at an Appleseed event near you.
Warren was commissioned as a Major General in the militia shortly before the Battle of Bunker Hill, but fought as an infantry private during the battle, most of which actually occurred in a redoubt on Breed’s Hill.
The colonial militia devastated Regulars and Royal Marines during their first two attempts to take Breed’s Hill, but the defenders ran out of ammunition during the third assault.
Dr. Warren was among those who refused to retreat even though the redoubt he was defending was out of ammunition, covering the rear in hopes of giving other militia the time to escape. He was killed instantly by a shot to the head by a British officer who recognized him. Regulars then stripped his body bare, and mutilated his remains with bayonets out of spite.
The Patriots lost the field, but the battle was a Pyrrhic victory for the British, who suffered more than twice as many casualties as the Americans, totaling 1/3 of their troops. British General Clinton noted that “A few more such victories would have shortly put an end to British dominion in America.”
One month later, George Washington took command of the militia and turned them into an army.
On March 4, 1776, the Americans fortified Dorchester Heights with cannon, putting British naval and Army forces in an untenable situation. The British left Boston in strategic withdrawal by sea on March 17, 1776.