Quote: [Battle of Bunker Hill] white of their eyes (attrib Israel Putnam 1804)

Garson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Fri May 28 17:12:21 UTC 2010

Regarding: Don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes.

Vic Steinbok found a great earlier cite in 1800 for Putnam and Bunker
Hill that he will probably post later today. Meanwhile, here is a
citation showing usage in the Royal Navy before the Revolutionary War.

Waiting to attack until the whites of ones opponents eyes are visible
was a strategy of the Royal Navy according to the 1756 citation below
where it is referred to as "their old way". So the term was in use in
the English language, and it is plausible that it might be used in the
Bunker Hill land battle.

Cite: 1756 July 10, The Monitor: or British Freeholder, Issue Number
49, Page 469, Printed for J. Scott, London.

... you must needs have heard, Sir Andrew, how the French captains are
reported to have addressed their crews in the last war, when they
spied any of our great ships;
"Chear, my good boys; you are in no danger, the ships look formidable
indeed, but they have p-l-y captains; very worthy peaceable men, who
will do you little harm; possibly they may make a flourish and give
you a broadside or two at a distance; but they have dropt their old
way of not firing till they see the whites of your eyes."
Were there not many examples to countenance this sarcasm?



The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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