Battle of Bennington
The Battle of Bennington was a pivotal victory for American forces on the New England front of the American Revolution. On August 16, 1777, Vermont’s Green Mountain Boys, the New Hampshire Militia, and volunteers from Massachusetts, defeated British troops who were charged with capturing provisions stored at the Bennington supply depot—the site were the Bennington Battle Monument stands today.
The American troops were under the direction of John Stark, a Continental Army colonel who fought at the battles of Bunker Hill, Trenton, and Princeton. He resigned in March of 1777 after being passed over for a promotion. Only four months later, Stark returned to service as a brigadier general in the New Hampshire Militia (independent of the Continental Army). He led American forces consisting of approximately 2,000 mostly untrained volunteers from Vermont, New Hampshire, and Berkshire County, Massachusetts.
The British troops were led by General John Burgoyne, who was nicknamed “Gentleman Johnny” due to the humane treatment of his soldiers. His forces included Brunswick dragoons, Hessian artillery and other German detachments, French Canadians, Native Americans, Loyalists, and British marksmen.
Burgoyne’s plan in the summer of 1777 was to divide New England from the rest of the United States, down along Lake Champlain and the Hudson River to New York. On July 5 and 6, American forces withdrew from Fort Ticonderoga, New York, and Mount Independence, Vermont, leaving these fortifications to the British. As the British followed the Americans southward, they were delayed on July 7 by a rearguard action at Hubbardton. The only Revolutionary War battle fought entirely on Vermont soil, the Battle of Hubbardton gave American forces a chance to regroup for what would become the first successful resistance to Burgoyne’s plan.
Heading to Bennington: The British continued southward from Mount Independence and Fort Ticonderoga toward Albany, New York, and soon found themselves far removed from their supplies in Canada. Learning of American military stores held at Bennington, Burgoyne sent two of his units to capture the supply depot located at the site now marked by this monument. These units under the command of Lieutenant Colonels Friedrich Baum and Heinrich Von Breymann were made up of British, Native American, Loyalist, and German soldiers.
The Battle: The Americans, under Stark, received word about the advancing British troops and decided to head them off rather than defend the Bennington supply depot. The battle too place approximately five miles northwest of Bennington near Walloomsac Heights, New York.
Fighting began at three o’clock on the afternoon of August 16, 1777. By five o’clock, British troops were retreating, Baum was mortally wounded, and the Americans had captured many of his demoralized soldiers. In a surprise second engagement, Colonel Breymann appeared with a unit of Burgoyne’s army, and the exhausted and hungry Americans began to weaken. Fortunately, reinforcements consisting of Colonel Seth Warner and the Green Mountain Boys arrived from Manchester, causing Breymann’s ranks to flee with the Americans in pursuit.
The Outcome: The Battle of Bennington had significant consequences. American military stores were saved. Untrained American soldiers overwhelmingly defeated some of Europe’s best trained and equipped troops—a large number of whom were killed, wounded or captured. After the battle, many Native Americans who had accompanied the British chose to return to Canada. Without them it became even more difficult for Burgoyne’s forces to maintain supply lines and obtain information about the movement of American forces. Less than two month later, General Burgoyne would surrender at Saratoga in what is considered a major turning point of the American Revolution.
Statues and Commemorative Markers on the Monument Grounds
Anthony Haswell (1756-1816) was an editor and publisher of the Vermont Gazette in Bennington. Born in England, Haswell apprenticed in Boston with printer Isaiah Thomas, who published the Massachusetts Spy. Haswell, a witness to the Boston massacre, was a member of the Sons of Liberty and would eventually publish Thomas’s paper as Haswell’s Massachusetts Spy. He relocated to Bennington in 1783, becoming the second printer established in Vermont. He was appointed as Postmaster General of Vermont and served as official government printer. Together with David Russell, he founded the Vermont Gazette and built the state’s first paper mill. Haswell gained notoriety in 1785 for publishing Ethan Allen’s controversial deist traction: Reason, the Only Oracle of Man: Or, A Compendious System of Natural Religion. He opened offices through Vermont and founded the first newspaper in Rutland, The Herald of Rutland, in 1792. Publishing Thomas Jefferson’s democratic-republican party politics and Benjamin Franklin Bache’s claim the government employed Tories, Harwell was a target under the Sedition Act of 1798. He was convicted by trial in May 1800 of seditious libel and sentenced to a two-month imprisonment and $200 fine. He was released on the Fourth of July 1800. Active in state politics, he became Clerk of the Vermont House of Representatives in 1803 and was active in the Vermont Masonic movement. He died in May 1816.
John Stark (1728-1822), a native of New Hampshire, was a veteran of the French & Indian War and lieutenant in light infantry force of Rogers’ Rangers. Returning to military service at the start of the American Revolution, Stark commanded the 1st New Hampshire Regiment in the Battle of Bunker Hill. Stark and his men reinforced General George Washington’s troops with victories at Trenton and Prince in January 1777. He resigned his commission with the Continental Army, joining the New Hampshire militia of 1,500 men as brigadier general. Upon learning that a detachment of Hessians soldiers intended to raid Bennington, Stark moved his troops along with 350 men under Colonel Seth Warner to attach the enemy at the Battle of Bennington on August 16. For his efforts at the battle that contributed to the ultimate triumph at Saratoga, Stark was reinstated with the Continental Army as brigadier general. He was part of the board of inquiry investigating the betrayal of Major General Benedict Arnold and British spy Major John Andre. He left military life as a major general, returning to New Hampshire where he died in 1822 at the age of 94.
Seth Warner (1743-1784), a resident of Bennington, joined the para-military “Green Mountain Boys” Regiment of Continental Rangers, where he became second in command to Ethan Allen. At the outbreak of the American War of Independence, Warner took part in the capture of Fort Ticonderoga on May 10, 1775 and, more importantly, the capture of several cannons at Crown Point on May 11, 1775. He was appointed commanding officers of the “Green Mountain Boys” Regiment of Continental Rangers on 26 July. In the fall and winter of 1775/76, he took part in the Canada Campaign under General Montgomery, an event that ended in failure when the siege of Quebec had to be abandoned in May 1776. It was on the retreat from Canada that Warner learned some of the skills as militia commander and citizen soldier that bore fruit at the battle of Hubbardton on July 7, 1777. Warner’s role in the second phase of the Battle of Bennington in August was decisive when his timely arrival blunted the German advance and turned the tide of the battle. Following the Battle of Bennington, Warner took his regiment toward Saratoga, and witnessed the surrender of General Burgoyne in October 1777. In March 1778, the Vermont assembly appointed Warner the only brigadier general in Vermont, but his regiment was disbanded in late 1780, and Warner retired from service. He died December 26, 1784 at age 41.
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