Last Updated on January 19, 2017, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 220
Context: Whether Prescott ever said these words is conjectural. As a matter of history, however, Colonel William Prescott occupied Breed's Hill (usually reported as Bunker Hill) and built earthworks there on the evening of June 16, 1775. On the following day he and his men repulsed three rash frontal attacks made by seasoned British troops commanded by General Howe, and finally withdrew only because of lack of ammunition. It was just before the first attack that Prescott supposedly uttered the famous words, though they have also been ascribed to Israel Putnam, who was with him. He is also alleged to have said, "The redcoats will never reach the redoubt, if you will but withhold your fire till I give the order, and be careful not to shoot over their heads." And Putnam is reported to have passed on the order as, "Wait till you see the whites of their eyes, aim at their waistbands, pick off the handsome coats, steady my lads." Two parallels of the famous words are as follows: "Silent till you see the whites of their eyes."–Prince Charles of Prussia, at Jagerndorf, May 23, 1745; "By push of bayonets; no firing till you see the whites of their eyes."–Frederick the Great, at Prague, May 6, 1757. The historical American version is:
Don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes.
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