American Heroes in Spotlight: Andrew McClary and Bunker Hill

Andrew McClary was one of the early great leaders in the American Revolution and his patriotic sacrifice should be taught and appreciated today.

By way of background, he grew up in an immigrant Irish family in New Hampshire and eventually worked his way up the rungs of the New Hampshire colonial society and became a town clerk and local leader. He operated a tavern on family farming property with his father that was the hub of social activity in Epsom, New Hampshire and had an acute understanding of business.

As neighboring Indian tribes threatened the colonial settlement and local towns, he eventually ventured into leading missions to track and find the Indians in the surrounding areas. The people looked up to him and trusted him as he sought to keep them safe by engaging in militia activity for the New Hampshire Rangers. During the French and Indian War he developed his tracking skills to help the locals defend their towns and families. He aggressively pursued the threatening Indian tribes with the skills he cultivated.

As a business operator in the social hub in the town, McClary also openly provided a forum for dialogue and commentary regarding the upcoming Revolution among the locals. In October 1774, King George III had issued an order restricting the export of arms and powder to the colonies. The colonists had begun to take action in response and in December 1774, six months prior to the Battle of Bunker Hill, McClary helped lead a raid at Fort William & Mary (also known as “The Castle”) in New Castle, New Hampshire that was near the Portsmouth Harbor. The patriots had ascertained that an upcoming major conflict with Great Britain was on the horizon and during the raid had captured gunpowder and cannons for their communities.

In April 1775, McClary was tending to his farmland when he was notified that the burgeoning conflict with the British forces was growing closer to New Hampshire after the Battles of Lexington and Concord in neighboring Massachusetts. He organized his local militia to join with other colonial pockets and they embarked on their mission to join forces at the looming Battle of Bunker Hill, in what would come to be one of the early major battles in the American Revolution.

During the Battle of Bunker Hill, McClary served as a major. There are accounts that during the Battle of Bunker Hill, McClary emerged as a fiery and strong leader of his men while galvanizing them to fight with courage. He emphasized to his men to target the British officers in battle so as to force the Redcoats into confusion and endure unexpected losses at the hands of an impassioned American force. This would be a battle in which the Redcoats would in fact suffer heavy losses to their officers despite winning from a strategic view. It would help usher in a new method of warfare that would become prevalent during the American Revolution. There was a drift away from the organized and formal militaristic battle sequences that the British were most familiar with at times of war. The targeting of officers and crafty fighting style of the Americans would become a major part of the American military tradition.

Following the battle, McClary began to tend to the wounded American soldiers during the retreat. After helping for some time, he returned to the area near where the Battle of Bunker Hill was fought to continue with reconnaissance and track the British. He made observations and was on his way to other officers to discuss his findings with them when a stray canon ball from a nearby frigate mortally wounded him. He was given the proper respects and was remembered as a hero and the highest officer to sacrifice his life at the Battle of Bunker Hill.

Fort McClary in Maine is named after Andrew McClary and a memorial is present in Epsom, New Hampshire that commemorates his patriotic and heroic legacy. We reflect on his sacrifice for our country and will continue to spotlight heroes in American history.

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