“The Sword of Bunker Hill”


An old veteran, dying, bid his son to bring "the sword of Bunker Hill." Grasping the sword, in a burst of energy, he tells the boy how he captured the blade from a British officer. The old man dies

Supplemental text

Sword of Bunker Hill, The
  Partial text(s)

          *** A ***

From Helen Hartness Flanders and Marguerite Olney, Ballads
Migrant in New England, pp. 224-225. From Edward Richards of
Warren, Connecticut. Collected 1949.

He lay upon his dying bed.
His eyes were waxing dim
When with a feeble voice he called
His weeping son to him.
"Weep not, my boy," the veteran cried,
"I bow to Heav'n's high will,
But quickly from yon antlers bring
The sword of Bunker Hill;
But quickly from yon antlers bring
The sword of Bunker Hill."

(3 additional stanzas)


Although this song, by implication at least, praises American conduct at Bunker Hill, the record of the Colonials at that battle was in fact rather poor. Sent on the night of June 16 to garrison Bunker Hill, American troops instead occupied Breed's Hill, which was lower, less defensible, and closer to the British artillery. The British under General Gage attacked the next day. The Americans did show unaccustomed discipline, which caused the battle to last longer than usual, but ultimately the British forced them back.

The battle was a dreadful strain on the British, though, who suffered more than 1100 casualties (see Stanley Weintraub, _Iron Tears: America's Battle for Freedom, Britain's Quagmire: 1775-1783_, Free Press, 2005, p. 9), compared to 441 American losses.

The "Warren" of the song is Dr. Joseph Warren, the man who had organized Paul Revere's Ride and a leading figure in the rebel forces (although not one of their commanding officers). He was killed in the battle. (It will tell you something about conditions at the time that Warren, although he worked as a physician, actually earned his degree in theology, because that was the only curriculum taught at Harvard College at the time; see Weintraub, p. 8).

I have in my collection a damaged songster, date unknown but almost certainly from the period 1865-1885, attributing this to "Covert"; in the same songster, a piece called "Follow the Drum" is credited to "B. Covert." The Flanders/Olney text is nearly identical to the songster version. - RBW

Historical references

  • June 17, 1775 - American defeat at the Battle of Bunker Hill


  1. Flanders/Olney, pp. 224-225, "The Sword of Bunker Hill" (1 text, 1 tune)
  2. Thomas-Makin', p. 88, (no title) (1 fragment, very likely not this song but associated by the informant with Bunker Hill, and it fits better here than anywhere else)
  3. ST FO224 (Partial)
  4. Roud #4684
  5. BI, FO224


Author: "Covert"?
Earliest date: 1949 (Flanders/Olney)
Keywords: battle dying patriotic
Found in: US(NE)