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Saturday, September 26, 2015

Bennington, Stark and Warner

The Battle of Bennington, on August 16, 1777, occurred in Hoosick, New York, although the storehouse that was the subject of the raid was just across the border in the recently "independent" Vermont.  Burgoyne was advancing on Albany, and by early August 1777 Burgoyne knew Howe was not moving northward to meet up with him.  Burgoyne needed supplies.  He sent a predominantly Hessian force, with Indian components, led by Colonel Friedrich Baum to procure the supplies.  Burgoyne's intelligence was flawed, and he was unaware that Colonel John Stark had become Major General John Stark, and had nearly 1500 militia at Bennington.

The hilltop where the battle occurred gives a real sense of why the Hessians thought they had a defensible position, and what the Americans had to overcome.  This is a view looking north


The American victory Bennington was significant because it further weakened Burgoyne's already finite force; he lost 15% of his men at Bennington.  Beyond this, of course, was the failure to obtain the necessary supplies.  He continued to move deeper into hostile territory, and into the cataclysm that was Saratoga. 

Bennington is the story of two of the great commanders of the Revolution, John Stark and Seth Warner.  Both were veterans of prior battles, and fought throughout the Revolution.  Warner never made general; he ended his career as a colonel and died in 1784 at the age of 41 in poverty. 

The battles of the Revolution, unlike those of the American Civil War, generally had far fewer casualties, and yet the stakes were certainly as high as in any war.  These small battles and these small victories resonated far beyond their superficial aspects.  Burgoyne sent this force to obtain supplies for his main force that was suffering from attrition.  The effort not only failed, but further depleted Burgoynes' forces.  To whatever measurable extent this depletion affected the result at the battles of Freeman's Farm and Bemis Heights, collectively known as the Battle of Saratoga, the efforts of Stark and Warner contributed not only to that victory, but also to the consequential decision of the French to formally enter the war.  

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