Tour the U.S.S. Constitution and the Bunker Hill Monument
The USS Constitution and the Bunker Hill Monument are two of the last sites of the Freedom Trail (when picking up the Freedom Trail on Boston Common) which are a bit further from the other 14 sites. Even-though it can be a bit of jaunt from the other sites, if you are interested in the history of the birth of our nation, both these sites are worth checking out. Both sites are wonderful, and just like the first four letters in the word Freedom they are FREE.
Because they are located at the end of the Freedom Trail and are about a 15 minute walk from the Copp’s Hill Burial Ground (if you follow our self-guided Freedom Trail stating at Boston Common, Copp’s Hill Burial Ground is stop Q), the best way to get there is using the MBTA Water Shuttle. One can walk there easily by following the Freedom Trail, but the water shuttle is a bargain at $3.25 (if you have a MBTA Subway Pass it is free), and is a short boat ride over to Charlestown, which also doubles a scenic harbor cruise.
The shuttle departs from Boston’s Long Wharf (map) at the New England Aquarium and will whisk you over to the USS Constitution in 10 minutes. Once you are there you are able to board the USS Constitution (launched in 1797), is the oldest commissioned warship in the US Navy. A quick note is that adults will need a picture ID and there is a small security check (metal detector, bag check, etc.) before you are allowed to enter the naval base. Not a big deal, but something to be aware of. Once on the base, the navel personal will take you on the ship for a short (about 10 to 15 minutes) guided tour.
The USS Constitution, one of six ships constructed in accordance with the Naval Act 1794, which called for the building of a navy to protect US Merchant Ships that were being raided by pirates and their crews kidnapped for ransom in the Mediterranean. The USS Constitution was made famous during its success in battle during the War of 1812 where it never lost an engagement and received the nickname “Old Ironsides” for the way British cannonballs fired at it would bounce harmlessly off the ship’s thick wooden sides.
The USS Constitution was marked for scrapping, but a poem written by Oliver Wendell Holmes in 1830 called “Old Ironsides” saved her from being dismantled and funds were raised for the ship’s repair. Today the ship is in dry-dock under-going repairs but can still be viewed, and depending on the day, can still be boarded. Repairs are forecasted to be completed in 2018. Here is the schedule for the USS Constitution during its reconstruction: Thursday and Friday: 2:30 p.m. – 4 p.m., Saturday & Sunday: 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Closed: Monday through Wednesday.
After touring the USS Constitution, follow the Freedom Trail to the Bunker Hill Monument (which actually sits on Breed’s Hill) and remembers the June 17, 1775 Battle of Bunker Hill. Even-though the battle itself wasn’t a victory for the colonist (British troops took the hill after three bloody charges), it was a huge moral victory for the Colonist as it proved that the colonist could inflect major casualties on their adversaries and showed that they were able to stand tall against the mighty British Empire. During the battle, one of the deadliest single battles of the American Revolution, the British suffered 226 killed and over 900 injured with many of the casualties being officers. The Colonist took a casualty count of 139 killed and over 250 wounded. Coming out of the Battle was one of the most famous battle cries of the American Revolutions, “don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes” which was shouted that day as the colonist were running low on ammunition. It is debatable which American Officer yelled this, but depending on which version you encounter, some sources credit Gen. Israel Putnam or Col. William Prescott. Regardless of who said it, the line is one of the best known quotes in American Military History.
The Monument took 16 years to create and was one of the first war monuments in the United States. It sits at the former site of a memorial for one of the falling heroes that day, Dr. Joseph Warren, who has a tavern named for him in Charlestown which was the first building erected after British forces burnt all the building in Charlestown to the ground following the battle. The memorial for Dr. Warren was an 18 foot wooden column with a gilt urn on top which was replaced by the Bunker Hill Monument.
The Bunker Hill Monument was dedicated on the anniversary of the battle on June 17, 1843 with the keynote address by Daniel Webster (not the dictionary guy).
The Monument stands at 221 feet, is an obelisk constructed of granite from nearby Quincy Quarry, and has 294 steps. Visitors can climb the structure and get a good view of the city when finally reaching the top. Just a note: if you do choose to climb the Monument, is not recommended for anyone with a heart condition or breathing issues as the climb can be a bit strenuous.
The Monument is a free site and opened to the public daily from March through November from 9:00am to 5:00pm and December to February, from 1:00pm to 5:00pm and 9:00am to 5:00pm on Saturdays and Sundays.
After you leave the monument, on the bottom of the Hill is a great little museum, the Bunker Hill Museum, which is free and will give you a great sense of the battle that took place on that fateful day. The Bunker Hill Museum is open daily from 9:00am to 5:00pm and has restrooms.