William Prescott

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

William Prescott (February 20, 1726October 13, 1795) was an American colonel in the American Revolutionary War who commanded the rebel forces in the Battle of Bunker Hill.


  • The Reward due to so great and Distinguished a Character. The Subscribers beg leave to Report to your Honorable. House (Which We do in justice to the Character of so Brave a man) that under Our Own observation, we declare that A Negro Man Called Salem Poor of Col. Fryes Regiment, Capt. Ames. Company in the late Battle of Charleston, behaved like an Experienced Officer, as Well as an Excellent Soldier, to Set forth Particulars of his Conduct would be Tedious, We Would Only beg leave to say in the Person of this Negro Centers a Brave & gallant Soldier.


  • Don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes.
    • These are instructions often attributed to Prescott at the Battle of Bunker Hill, but though little doubt exists that he declared them, many reports indicate they originated with Major General Israel Putnam, and even earlier instances of similar instructions have been attributed to others.
    • Don't fire until I tell you; don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes.
      • Prescott, as quoted in The New England Magazine Vo. XI (September 1894 - February 1895), p. 367
    • Powder is scarce and must not be wasted. Do not fire until you see the whites of their eyes. Then aim low. Aim at their waistbands, aim at the handsome coats; pick off the officers.
      • Instructions of Israel Putnam as quoted in "Revolutionary Heroes — No. I" in National Magazine (February 1858). p. 104. In An Essay on the Life of the Honourable Major General Israel Putnam (1818) by David Humphreys, it is indicated that these instructions were first given by Putnam and then reiterated by veteran officers Prescott, Pomeroy, John Stark, and others.
    • Men, you are all marksmen — don't one of you fire until you see the whites of their eyes.
      • Philip Johnson of Newburyport is quoted as having distinctly heard Putnam say this in the History of the Siege of Boston (1873) by Richard Frothingham, p. 140. This work also indicates such instructions were repeated by many of the officers.
    • By push of bayonets — no firing till you see the whites of their eyes!
    • Silent until you see the whites of their eyes.
      • Attributed to a Prince Charles against the Austrian army at Jägendorf (22 May 1745) in A Popular History of the United States (1879) by William Cullen Bryant and Sydney Howard Gay, Vol. III, p. 403
    • Dinna fire till ye see the whites o' their e'en!
      • Attributed to Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Andrew Agnew of Lochnaw, as instructions to the Royal Scots Fusiliers at the Battle of Dettingen (27 June 1743), in The Agnews of Lochnaw : A History of the Hereditary Sheriffs of Galloway (1864) by Andrew Agnew, Ch. 33 : The twelfth Hereditary Sheriff, p. 543

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