Following the bloody Battle of Bunker Hill, Gen. George Washington and other commanders awarded fourteen decorations to Peter Salem the unsung hero of the battle. Yet there is no mention of him in today's history books; however, students before the 1900s read about him and other unsung heroes in the early history books. These heroes are part of our American heritage and were truly great Americans
At the Bunker Hill battle, which actually started at Breed’s Hill, the 3000 British force out gunned and outnumbered the Continental Army of 2000 volunteers. Yet the Continental Army persevered and did put up a deadly fight against the British forces inflicting 1,054 casualties. The colonists suffered 450 casualties.
The final British charge was under the command of Major John Pitcairn, who had led the British relief force into Lexington two months earlier and saved the British forces from defeat who were in a disorderly retreat from the minutemen. On the battle road from Concord, the minutemen were decimating the King’s troops who were fleeing to Lexington with the intention to surrender.
Two months later, the providential forces on Breed’s Hill were almost down to their last cartridges and almost out powder. Most of the Americans had already retreated to Bunker Hill, as the British were charging up the hill. Peter Salem stood his ground at Breed’s Hill covering for his comrades and was one of the last soldier to fall back to Bunker Hill.
At Bunker Hill, total carnage began as the Redcoats with fixed bayonets began to overrun the defensive berms. They were bayoneting everyone including the wounded. American blood was everywhere. The Continental soldiers out of ammo valiantly fought back with swinging muskets but to no avail were they able to stop the slaughter by the British.
Peter Salem with at least one cartridge left took aim with his musket and shot Major John Pitcairn in the head. That one bullet immediately changed the battle. Without a commanding officer to lead, the British Army attack faltered and could not continue the battle and they retreated with their fallen leader. Providence allowed the Americans to make a hasty retreat from Bunker Hill.
Peter Salem became a member of the famous Massachusetts Minutemen in the fifth Massachusetts Regiment and serve seven years when the normal enlistment was only one year. He entered service as a slave and was discharged with full pension as a free man.
Connecticut painter, John Trumbull immortalized Peter Salem in the famous painting "The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker Hill," hanging in the Capitol Rotunda and a copy at the Wadsworth Athenaeum in Hartford. You will find Peter Salem in the lower right-hand corner of the painting standing just to the right of Lt Grosvenor just before his famous shot.
In 1882, the people of Massachusetts erected a stone monument to honor Peter Salem at Framingham, Massachusetts, in 1882.