Don’t Fire Until You See The Whites of Their Eyes!

The man behind the quotation that serves as the title of this post was William H. Prescott.  Born on February 20, 1726, Prescott served at the siege of Louisbourg in 1745.  In 1755 he participated in the taking of  Fort Beausejour on June 16 of that year.  As an experienced officer, Prescott was made a colonel of Massachusetts militia and placed in charge of the militia company in Pepperell, Massachusetts.  On June 17, 1775 he commanded the American forces at the battle of Bunker Hill.  One of the secrets of commanding relatively untrained men is to make your commands simple.  His statement about not firing until his men saw the whites of the eyes of the British troops was to make certain that they did not waste their ammunition, which was in short supply, and it worked.  During the three charges of the British the Americans held their fire until the British were close enough so that their vollies would have maximum effect.  General Thomas Gage who was observing the American position prior to the battle with a spyglass.  Noting that Prescott  seemed to be in command, he asked his aide who knew Prescott whether he thought the Americans would fight.  The aide replied:  “Prescott is an old soldier, he will fight for as long as a drop of blood is in his veins.”   Prescott and his men, although ultimately driven from the hill, and sustaining 450 American casualties, of which 140 were killed, inflicted 1,054 casualties, including 226 dead on the British.

Prescott went on to command the Seventh Continental Regiment during the campaign for New York in 1776 and fought in the Saratoga campaign in 1777.  After that he retired from the Army, probably due to injuries he sustained on his farm.  After the War he served in the Massachusetts legislature and commanded militia called out during the Whiskey Rebellion.  He died on October 13, 1795.  The year after his death his son and namesake William H. Prescott was born.  The grandson would go on to become a noted American historian writing The History of the Conquest of Mexico and The History of the Conquest of Mexico.  In one of those small historical ironies, which convince me that God has a sense of humor, the grandson of the man who is ever famous due to his statement about eyes, suffered from poor eyesight, and had his research material read to him since his eyes could not stand the strain of lengthy reading.  Because of his infirmity he became interested in the education of the blind, and was a trustee of the Perkin’s School for the Blind, raising the sum of $50,000.00 for the school in 1833, the equivalent of over a million and a half dollars in today’s currency.

Published in: on February 7, 2022 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Don’t Fire Until You See The Whites of Their Eyes!  
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