The Battle of Bennington

When I first started thinking about A Broth of Betrayal, the second book in the soup lover’s mystery series, I realized the village needed a break — it was time for a change in the weather.  My original plan was spring.  After all, A Spoonful of Murder had taken place in that chilling dead zone, the long days of winter yet to come after the holidays, and far too early for warm weather to arrive in Snowflake, Vermont.  But I also wanted to choose a time when a festival or a celebration of some sort might be taking place.  Originally, I thought of Patriot’s Day (April) but soon learned only those outliers in Massachusetts celebrate that particular holiday.  In Vermont, the Battle of Bennington is remembered on August 16th.

Backtracking, I thought okay, summer’s great, heat waves and all that stuff and all sorts of things going on in the village underscored by the reenactment on Snowflake’s Village Green of the Battle.  (I won’t tell you what happens when all the cheering stops, that would a spoiler.)  So Lucky, her grandfather Jack, and all the other inhabitants of the town would have to suffer through the dog days of August.

The battle itself, one that was crucial in the ultimate defeat of British and Hessian forces, started at 3 o’clock in the afternoon on August 16, 1777.  Just imagine those Brits and Hessians in their heavy wool uniforms struggling through an untamed forest in the heat — all the better for the colonists.

British General John Burgoyne

British General John Burgoyne, who held a very low opinion of New England’s militiamen, planned to capture Albany and then march south along the Hudson River Valley in an effort to divide the colonies in half.  He was sure his plan would separate the rebellious New Englanders from those he believed more loyal in the south.  Burgoyne was in desperate need of supplies and food to feed his army.  His plan included raiding the countryside (i.e., pillaging the food, cattle and horses of the colonists) for provisions as he headed toward Bennington where he knew the colonists’ cache of ammunition and gunpowder was stored.The core of Burgoyne’s first march was comprised of Hessians, Tories, Canadians, Indians and English under the command of German Colonel Frederich Baum.  When Baum learned that John Stark, an American general, had gathered a force of 1,500 troops at Bennington, he sent couriers to Burgoyne for reinforcements.  But Stark, learning of Baum’s march, moved north to attack immediately.

General John Stark

By 3 o’clock in the afternoon of August 16, 1777, Stark led the assault.  According to legend, Stark said, “There are the Red Coats. They will be ours or tonight Molly Stark sleeps a widow.”  The battle raged for several hours until Baum was mortally wounded and his demoralized troops offered surrender.  Unfortunately for the American militia, Burgoyne had received Baum’s request for reinforcements and had sent a second unit of his army, commanded by Colonel Heindrich von Breymann.  Stark was caught unaware and the battle raged on.  The Americans fought back, but exhausted from the previous battle, began to lose ground.  In the very nick of time, Colonel Seth Warner and his Green Mountains Boys arrived on the scene and the scales were soon tipped in the colonists’ favor.  By sunset, Breymann’s troops were fleeing with the colonists in hot pursuit.

Molly Stark

The Battle of Bennington is remarkable in that mostly untrained Yankees defeated the best disciplined and equipped troops Europe had to offer.  At the end of the day, a high percentage of Burgoyne’s army was dead, wounded or captured.  The colonists’ supplies were saved and Burgoyne’s ambitious plan for a quick march throughNew York had been foiled.  Two months later, on October 17, 1777, General John Burgoyne surrendered his entire command of 8,000 troops to the Americans.

Leave a reply