September 9, 2023 at 12:12 a.m.

The Battle of Bennington, Vermont

Jennifer Baker, DAR Vesuvius Furnace Chapter | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

The Battle of Bennington, Vermont

Compiled by Jennifer Baker, DAR Vesuvius Furnace Chapter

For many Americans, when challenges with our German friends come up in conversation, the immediate thoughts go to the Nazi Regime in World War II. Our challenges with the Germans go back to the time of the Revolution. Some in the German government supported the British but there were MANY Americans of German descent living in the colonies which only added to the complexity. Germans were involved in the Revolutionary War from the very beginning, on both sides of the conflict. German Americans, especially in the area around Philadelphia, chose sides (or tried to remain neutral) like everyone else. Meanwhile, in the principalities of today’s Germany, most young men were subject to compulsory military service.

Hessians were German soldiers who served as auxiliaries to the British Army during the American Revolutionary War. The term is an American synecdoche for all Germans who fought on the British side, since 65% came from the German states of Hesse-Kassel and Hesse-Hanau. Known for their discipline and martial prowess, around 30,000 Germans fought for the British during the war, around 25% of British land forces and between 33–37% overall. The German troops ranged greatly in effectiveness and ability.

Many Germans served as allies of the Kingdom of Great Britain, whose King George III was also the Elector of Hanover. Large numbers of Germans had emigrated to Pennsylvania, New York, and other American colonies, and they were generally neutral or supported the patriot cause. Some belonged to pacifist sects such as the Amish, but many were drawn into the Revolution and the war.

While regarded, both contemporaneously and historically, as mercenaries, Hessians were legally distinguished as auxiliaries: whereas mercenaries served a foreign government of their own accord, auxiliaries were soldiers hired out to a foreign party by their own government, to which they remained in service. Auxiliaries were a major source of income for many small and relatively poor German states, typically serving in wars in which their governments were neutral. Like most auxiliaries of this period, Hessians served with foreign armies as entire units, fighting under their own flags, commanded by their usual officers, and wearing their existing uniforms.

Hessians played an essential role in the Revolutionary War, particularly in the northern theater. They served with distinction in many battles, most notably at White Plains and Fort Washington The added manpower and skill of German troops greatly sustained the British war effort, though it also outraged colonists and increased support for the Revolutionary cause. The use of "large armies of foreign. mercenaries" was one of the 27 colonial grievances against King George III in the United States Declaration of Independence, while the Patriots used the deployment of Hessians to support their claims of British violations of the colonists' rights.

On Aug 16, 1777, there was a battle in Bennington, VT that speaks to some of these challenges. Gen. John Burgoyne’s army moved south from Canada as part of the overall British strategy to divide New England from the rest of the rebellious American colonies. The British commander’s army was slowed by poor roads as well as trees and other obstacles strewn along the route by the Americans. Burgoyne’s supply line was stretched thin, forcing the general to explore opportunities to replenish his forces. 

When Burgoyne learned of horses and supplies in Bennington, Vermont – south of his position and east of the Hudson River – the 55-year-old commander divided his army, sending German, British, Loyalist, and Native American forces toward Bennington under the leadership of Lt. Col. Friedrich Baum.

As Baum’s troops moved southeast, local militia units learned of his activity and began to prepare for action as the bulk of the American forces in the area pulled back under attack by Burgoyne’s vanguard. Baum sent couriers to Burgoyne asking for reinforcements as additional intelligence indicated a force of militiamen – he referred to them as “uncouth militia” – gathered to stop him.

American forces were led by Gen. John Stark, a hero of the Battle of Bunker Hill and a veteran of the Battle of Trenton. When Stark sent out calls for additional forces to rally to his side, a Continental Army regiment led by highly respected Col. Seth Warner was among the forces that responded. Loyalists also assembled in support of Baum. Finally, on August 16, 1777, after a day of non-stop rain, Baum’s command was attacked by over a thousand American militiamen in Walloomsac, New York, about 10 miles from Bennington.

Hoping that poor weather might delay an American advance and that reinforcements from Burgoyne would soon arrive, Baum’s troops constructed a series of breastworks on a hill. When the weather cleared on the afternoon of August 16, the Americans made their move. To inspire his men, Stark reportedly proclaimed, "There are your enemies, the Red Coats and the Tories. They are ours, or this night Molly Stark sleeps a widow." Unfortunately for Baum, he was duped by men entering his camp professing to be Loyalist recruits. Some of them turned out to be Stark’s militiamen, whose aim was to gather intelligence and report back to their commander.

After heavy fighting, American forces were able to breach their enemy’s defenses. Stark later claimed it was “the hottest engagement I have ever witnessed, resembling a continual clap of thunder." For some combatants, the fight was personal. It was a desperate struggle; former friends who had grown up together in Vermont or the surrounding area found themselves facing off with each other.

A century later, a romanticized tale, known as the "Glick" account, reportedly written by a German veteran of the battle, gained popularity and currency in retellings of the battle. “For a few seconds the scene which ensued defies all power of language to describe,” he recalled. “The bayonet, the butt of the rifle, the saber, the pike were in full play as men fell, as they rarely fall in modern war, under the direct blows of their enemies.”

Within a short period of time, Patriot forces had Baum and his men surrounded. Baum himself was mortally wounded leading his Germans in dogged resistance on the knoll, where they were overrun. Many of his Native and Loyalist allies fled in the heat of the battle. The battle continued until nightfall when darkness brought the battle to a halt. Unfortunately for Baum, his reinforcements arrived just after the battle. Burgoyne’s detachment suffered more than 200 dead and seriously wounded; more than 700 were taken prisoner or missing. American casualties were about 70.

The Battle of Bennington statue was (and may still be) the tallest man-made structure (306 ft.) in the state of Vermont.  The adjacent statue pays tribute to Col. Seth Warner who was one of three brothers who fought in the battle (one of them was one of the Patriots who was killed.)

 The defeat put a major strain on Burgoyne’s army, which, in addition to the casualties suffered, never secured the provisions the British commander needed. Burgoyne's Native American allies lost confidence in him and his mission and left his army to fend for itself in the New York wilderness – deprived of its best-scouting forces. The Battle of Bennington was the precursor to the defeat of Burgoyne’s army two months later at Saratoga, turning the tide of war in favor of the Americans.


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