Thursday, August 23, 2012

Intern's Corner: August in the Revolution

The Battle of Bennington August 16, 1777
By Mark Relation, DLAR Intern

               The campaigning season of 1777 looked especially bleak to the Americans.  General Burgoyne’s army had marched down from Canada and had come dangerously close to capturing the whole Lake Champlain-Hudson River waterway, which would have divided the colonies and dealt a crippling blow to the American cause.  Burgoyne had already won at Hubbardton and captured Ft. Ticonderoga, and the Patriots desperately needed a victory to both save the campaign and the whole Revolution. 
               However, the situation was not set entirely against the Americans.  The British were facing a serious problem of supply.  Though ostensibly supplied by their base in Canada, the slow trickle of provisions that reached Burgoyne was not sufficient to keep his army moving.  General Sir Guy Carleton, commander in Canada, was resentful of Burgoyne’s power and popularity and did not put forth every effort to support his rival.  The British supply problem was also exacerbated by the scorched earth policy of American General Philip Schuyler, who convinced the majority of the locals to flee with their crops and livestock, further starving the British forces.
               In order to secure food and draft animals for his army, Burgoyne dispatched Lt. Col. Friedrich Baum with 800 Brunswick, Canadians, Tories, and Indians into Vermont to raid the American supply base at Bennington.  Although this was intended to be a surprise move against unsuspecting and undefended farmers, all did not go according to plan.  Baum did not speak a word of English, and grossly underestimated his opposition.  Baum moved his troops slowly and stopped frequently to redress formations, giving the Americans the initiative and plenty of time to organize resistance.  Colonel John Stark, promoted to Brigadier General of Vermont Militia, and General Benjamin Lincoln gathered nearly 1,500 men together to oppose Baum’s men. 
               After some initial skirmishes with Stark’s men, Baum sent for reinforcements, but Burgoyne misunderstood the gravity of the local resistance and so sent only 640 men under Lt. Col. Heinrich Breymann on August 15th.   When the opposing armies came within sight of each other, Baum set up a defensive position on what later became known as Hessian Hill to wait for reinforcement.  A number of local patriots, mistaken for loyalists by Baum, were able to infiltrate the German camp and give detailed information on its defenses to Stark, and were later credited with hitting the Germans in the rear while Stark attacked from the front.  Based on this intelligence, Stark was able to easily surround the German position and set up his attack for 3 PM August 16, 1777.  After two hours of fighting, the Americans had won a decisive victory.  One by one, every single German position was captured or destroyed.  But this was not the end of the battle; around 5 PM, Lt. Col. Breymann arrived on the scene.
               Breymann arrived and began pushing the American line, attempting to hit their flanks with his light infantry.  However, the Americans were able to steadily retreat in order and delay the German advance until more American forces arrived on the scene.  Seeking revenge for their defeat at Hubbardton, Warner’s men arrived on the battlefield at precisely the right time and place to hit both of Breymann’s flanks and rout the German force. 
               All told, the day ended in a decisive victory for the Americans.  During the fighting, nearly 700 Germans were taken prisoner and 200 dead, compared to only 100 American casualties.  Stark was proclaimed an American hero and given full commission by Congress.  Burgoyne also lost most of his light infantry, and so would later have to fight Gates’ troops without good scouts, putting him at a serious disadvantage.  More immediately, the Battle of Bennington changed the progress of the campaign.  Previously, Burgoyne was supremely confident that his forces would reach Albany and link up with St. Leger, but the battle revised Burgoyne’s attitudes and priorities.  Survival became a goal, and the loss of supply made Burgoyne much more willing to gamble it all rather than retreat in the face of earlier successes.  It was this attitude that persuaded Burgoyne to give a last ditch effort to reach Albany that set the stage for the crushing American victory at Saratoga that changed the whole War.
Blanco, Richard L., and Paul J. Sanborn. The American Revolution: 1775-1783 : An Encyclopedia. New York: Garland, 1993. Print. p. 108-115.

Unknown, Portrait of John Stark.

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