How to Use
Reading 3: The Battle of Bennington
Lt. Col. Friedrich Baum set out on August 11th. The heavily loaded German troops, slow moving under the best of circumstances, plodded towards Bennington. On August 14th, Baum encountered an American scouting party at the Sancoick Mill--about eight miles west of Bennington. His report early that day to Burgoyne was confident:
Sancoick, Aug. 14, 1777, 9 o'clock
The scouts headed back with news of Baum's approach. Far from retreating, Stark immediately advanced to meet the Germans as they moved towards Bennington. Although Baum had little respect for the fighting ability of Stark's poorly trained and poorly equipped backwoodsmen, he realized he was outnumbered and sent for reinforcements. By the close of the day on August 14, the American and British forces were at a standoff about four miles east of Sancoick. Stark's advantage of superior numbers was offset by Baum's strong position on a high elevation with professional troops supported by cannons and protected by earthen fortifications.
The steamy summer heat produced heavy rains throughout the next day. Both armies waited for the rain to stop, contemplating their strategies. Baum spent the day improving and expanding his position on "Hessian Hill," and posting a small force of Loyalists on a lower hill across the river, later known as the "Tory Fort." At dawn Burgoyne had sent about 500 German troops under Col. Breymann to reinforce Baum, but the heavily burdened army made little progress over the rain-sodden roads.
On the 16th, the weather cleared. Stark set in motion an elaborate plan to dislodge the British:
I divided my army into three Divisions, and sent Col. Nichols with 250 men on their rear of their left wing; Col. Hendrick in the Rear of their right, with 300 men, order'd when join'd to attack the same. In the mean time I sent 300 men to oppose the Enemy's front, to draw their attention that way; Soon after I detach'd the Colonels Hubbert & Stickney on their right wing with 200 men to attack that part, all which plans had their desired effect.²
At three o'clock in the afternoon, the colonial militias that had gradually surrounded the British position attacked from all sides.
By five o'clock, the British were routed. A German observer described the fight on Hessian Hill:
Our Dragoons fired at the enemy with cool deliberation and much courage but it did not last long. They loaded their carbines behind the breastworks but, as soon as they raised up to aim their weapons, a bullet went through their heads, they fell backwards and no longer moved a finger. Thus in a short time our largest and best Dragoons were sent to eternity.³
Their ammunition exhausted, the remaining Germans were overrun, and the fleeing survivors were pursued down the wooded slopes to be captured or killed. Baum himself was mortally wounded. The Indians escaped early in the fighting and slipped away to the west to rejoin Burgoyne's main force.
The Patriots also drove the Loyalists from their hill, picking off the fleeing Tories as they attempted to escape across the river. Col. Peters described the fierce action there:
The Rebels pushed with a Strong party on the Front of the Loyalists where I commanded. As they were coming up, I observed A Man fire at me, and I returned, he loaded again as he came up & discharged again at me, and crying out Peters you Damned Tory I have at you, he rushed on me with his Bayonet, which entered just below my left Breast, but was turned by the Bone. By this time I was loaded, and I saw that it was a Rebel Captain, an Old School fellow & Playmate, and a Couzin of my wife's: Tho his Bayonet was in my Body, I felt regret at being obliged to destroy him. 4
The colonial troops had suffered few losses, but were widely dispersed--looting, guarding prisoners, and pursuing the retreating survivors. At this point, Breymann's reinforcements, ignorant of Baum's disaster, finally arrived. Col. Stark described the contest that saved his victory from reversal:
Luckily for us Col. Warner's Regiment [of Green Mountain Rangers] came up, which put a stop to their career. We soon rallied, & in a few minutes the action became very warm & desperate, which lasted till night; we used their own cannon against them, which prov'd of great service to us. At Sunset we obliged them to retreat a second time; we pursued them till dark, when I was obliged to halt for fear of killing my own men.5
The end of the day on August 16 found the British foraging force virtually annihilated and Burgoyne in a more dangerous position than before. His army had lost approximately 10 percent of its men and was still short of supplies. The defeat at Bennington greatly discouraged Burgoyne's uneasy Indian allies. For the Patriots it was a great psychological victory, bringing in hundreds of new militia enlistments. Three months later, on October 17, Gen. Burgoyne surrendered his entire army following his humiliating defeat at the decisive Battle of Saratoga. By the terms of the Convention of Saratoga, Burgoyne's depleted army, some 6,000 men, marched out of its camp "with the Honors of War" and stacked its weapons along the west bank of the Hudson River. Many historians believe that the outcome of that battle might have been different if Burgoyne had gathered the support that he expected from Baum's expedition to Bennington, making it possible for the British to engage the Americans before they could collect enough men to oppose them.
Questions for Reading 3
1. What do you think Baum meant by describing the enemy firing "in their usual way"?
2. What intelligence did Baum learn from prisoners?
3. Why might people have been "flocking in hourly"?
4. Based on Peters' recollection, how did the Loyalists and the Patriots feel about each other?
5. What effect did the Battle of Bennington have on the Patriots? On the British?
6. What support had Burgoyne expected from Baum's expedition to Bennington? How might it have changed the outcome of the battle? If needed, refer to Reading 1.
Reading 3 was compiled from Philip Lord, Jr., compiler, War Over Walloomscoick: Land Use and Settlement Patterns on the Bennington Battlefield-1777 (Albany: The State Education Department, 1989) and from Richard Greenwood, "Battle of Bennington" (Rensselaer County, New York) National Historic Landmark documentation, Washington, D.C.: U. S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1975.
¹Translated from the German. As cited in Philip Lord, Jr., War Over Walloomscoick, 7.