The Battle of Bennington 1777

War: American Revolutionary War

Date: 16th August 1777.

Place: New York state on the road east of the Hudson River towards Vermont.


The Battle of Bennington

Combatants: Germans, British, Canadians, Indians and loyalist Americans from Major General John Burgoyne’s British Army against American Colonists, largely New England militia.

Generals: Colonels Baum and Breyman commanded the Germans. Brigadier John Stark commanded the Americans troops.

Size of the armies:
Baum’s force numbered 650. Stark lead around 2,000 Americans. Breyman came up with 600 men. Baum and Breyman each had two 3-pounder guns.

Uniforms, arms and equipment:
The German infantry wore blue coats and retained the Prussian style grenadier mitre with brass front plate. The Brunswick dragoons wore light blue coats, cocked hats and thigh length boots. The cavalrymen carried broadswords in spite of being on foot. The Americans dressed in whatever clothing they had and carried such weapons as were available. Few had bayonets.

Winner: Resoundingly the Americans.

Account:
By August 1777, Major General John Burgoyne’s army had forced its way south from Canada down Lake Champlain and then to Fort Edward on the Hudson River. General Schuyler lay with the American Army to the south of the Mohawk River junction on the Hudson, covering the New York State capital, Albany. The rebel colonists’ affairs in the North seemed at a low ebb, after the abject abandoning of Fort Ticonderoga and the hurried retreat.

But Burgoyne’s circumstances were far from promising. His army had struggled through the heavy forest from Ticonderoga, building a road to carry the artillery and carts. Schuyler had systematically wasted the country leaving Burgoyne short of supplies and proper transport. His army had so few horses that the Brunswick dragoons were still on foot. The difficulties proved yet another reminder of the problems of campaigning in the vast forests of North America, experienced by every British general since Braddock in 1755.

The final blow was a letter from General Howe at New York. Howe informed Burgoyne that the main British Army was leaving to invade Pennsylvania, rather than attacking up the Hudson to meet him, as envisaged in the original plan for Burgoyne’s campaign.

Brigadier Stark
Brigadier Stark

Burgoyne directed Colonel Baum to take a force to Manchester in Vermont, to the East of Fort Edward, to find horses for his dragoons and for the army’s transport, to collect supplies of food and to overawe the area’s rebellious colonists. At the last moment Baum’s objective was changed to the town of Bennington on the basis of reports of quantities of supplies being held there.

The retreat of the Continental Army from Ticonderoga with the advance of the British Army had caused considerable alarm in Vermont and New Hampshire. Distrusting the aristocratic New Yorker, General Schuyler, who with General St Clair was suspected of treachery in giving up Ticonderoga, the New Hampshire Council formed a militia brigade to be commanded by Brigadier John Stark. Stark, a veteran of the French and Indian War and the New Jersey campaign, was highly regarded in the region and colonists flocked to join his force. His brigade lay in camp at Bennington. Warner’s Green Mountain Boys, licking their wounds after Hubbardton, were at Manchester.

Map of the Battle of Bennington
Battle of Bennington

As Baum advanced on Bennington his Indians ravaged the countryside. After a skirmish with a small force under Colonel Gregg, Baum advanced to the Wolloomsac River outside Bennington. From there Baum sent a dispatch to Burgoyne saying he intended to give battle to the Americans. It became clear to Baum that he was substantially outnumbered by Stark’s force. He sent further more urgent messages to Burgoyne requesting support and Burgoyne ordered Colonel Breyman with his regiment to march to Baum’s assistance.

The battle took place on 16th August 1777 before Breyman’s slow moving column came up.

General Stark leads the attack on the redoubt
General Stark leads the attack on the redoubt
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Baum’s force lay in positions around the bridge over the Walloomsac River. Some of his troops were in hastily prepared fortification on the south side of the river while others were on the north side. The main position was a redoubt built by the Brunswick dragoons and British riflemen on a hill half a mile back from the bridge.

For much of that day movement for both sides was held up by heavy rain. In mid-afternoon the Americans began their assault on the dragoon redoubt; Colonel Nichols and Colonel Herrick attacking from the rear and flank. On hearing the firing, Colonel Hobart attacked the Tory militia entrenched on the near side of the river and Brigadier Stark stormed the main advanced body of troops.


General Stark leading the American attack on the redoubt at the Battle of Bennington

All of Baum’s positions collapsed, most of the soldiers and Indians escaping into the woods, other than the dragoon redoubt, which became the focus of heavy fighting. Finally lack of ammunition forced a severely wounded Baum and the remnants of his dragoons to surrender. His force had been annihilated.

Some time later Breyman’s column approached the area. Stark, with Warner’s newly arrived troops, after an initial setback, attacked the Germans forcing them to retreat, suffering a continuous galling fire from the pursuing Americans until rescued by nightfall.

Casualties:
The German force suffered 900 casualties, killed and captured. The Americans suffered 70 casualties. The Americans captured the 4 guns and many small arms.

Follow-up:
Prior to the battle a serious clash was impending between Congress and the New Hampshire Council over Stark’s refusal to comply with the instructions issued by Schuyler to bring his brigade into the army on the Hudson. Following the battle Stark was appointed brigadier in the Continental Army.

Bennington was a major battle in establishing the ability of the Americans to hold their own against regular European troops. It also made Stark one of the leading soldiers of the Revolution.

As with every one of the American victories it did much to revive the colonists’ flagging morale.

Bennington caused major casualties to Burgoyne’s army that could not be replaced.

References:

  • History of the British Army by Sir John Fortescue
  • The War of the Revolution by Christopher Ward