We are but warriors for the working-day;

Our gayness and our guilt are all besmirch'd

With rainy marching in the painful field;

There's not a piece of feather in our host

(Good argument, I hope, we shall not fly),

And time hath worn us into slovenry.

But, by the mass, our hearts are in the trim,

And my poor soldiers tell me, yet ere night

They'll be in fresher robes.

--Henry V.

The battle of Saratoga is included by Sir Edward Creasy among his

fifteen decisive battles which have, by their result, affected the

history of the world. It is true that the American Revolution was saved

by Washington in the remarkable Princeton and Trenton campaign, but

it is equally true that the surrender of Burgoyne at Saratoga, in the

following autumn, turned the scale decisively in favor of the colonists

by the impression which it made in Europe. It was the destruction of

Burgoyne's army which determined France to aid the Americans against

England. Hence came the French alliance, the French troops, and, what

was of far more importance, a French fleet by which Washington was

finally able to get control of the sea, and in this way cut off

Cornwallis at Yorktown and bring the Revolution to a successful close.

That which led, however, more directly than anything else to the final

surrender at Saratoga was the fight at Bennington, by which Burgoyne's

army was severely crippled and weakened, and by which also, the hardy

militia of the North eastern States were led to turn out in large

numbers and join the army of Gates.

The English ministry had built great hopes upon Burgoyne's expedition,

and neither expense nor effort had been spared to make it successful. He

was amply furnished with money and supplies as well as with English and

German troops, the latter of whom were bought from their wretched little

princes by the payment of generous subsidies. With an admirably equipped

army of over seven thousand men, and accompanied by a large force of

Indian allies, Burgoyne had started in May, 1777, from Canada. His plan

was to make his way by the lakes to the head waters of the Hudson, and

thence southward along the river to New York, where he was to unite with

Sir William Howe and the main army; in this way cutting the colonies in

two, and separating New England from the rest of the country.

At first all went well. The Americans were pushed back from their posts

on the lakes, and by the end of July Burgoyne was at the head waters of

the Hudson. He had already sent out a force, under St. Leger, to take

possession of the valley of the Mohawk--an expedition which finally

resulted in the defeat of the British by Herkimer, and the capture

of Fort Stanwix. To aid St. Leger by a diversion, and also to capture

certain magazines which were reported to be at Bennington, Burgoyne sent

another expedition to the eastward. This force consisted of about five

hundred and fifty white troops, chiefly Hessians, and one hundred and

fifty Indians, all under the command of Colonel Baum. They were within

four miles of Bennington on August 13, 1777, and encamped on a hill just

within the boundaries of the State of New York. The news of the advance

of Burgoyne had already roused the people of New York and New Hampshire,

and the legislature of the latter State had ordered General Stark with

a brigade of militia to stop the progress of the enemy on the western

frontier. Stark raised his standard at Charlestown on the Connecticut

River, and the militia poured into his camp. Disregarding Schuyler's

orders to join the main American army, which was falling back before

Burgoyne, Stark, as soon as he heard of the expedition against

Bennington, marched at once to meet Baum. He was within a mile of the

British camp on August 14, and vainly endeavored to draw Baum into

action. On the 15th it rained heavily, and the British forces occupied

the time in intrenching themselves strongly upon the hill which they

held. Baum meantime had already sent to Burgoyne for reinforcements,

and Burgoyne had detached Colonel Breymann with over six hundred regular

troops to go to Baum's assistance. On the 16th the weather cleared, and

Stark, who had been reinforced by militia from western Massachusetts,

determined to attack.

Early in the day he sent men, under Nichols and Herrick, to get into the

rear of Baum's position. The German officer, ignorant of the country

and of the nature of the warfare in which he was engaged, noticed small

bodies of men in their shirtsleeves, and carrying guns without bayonets,

making their way to the rear of his intrenchments. With singular

stupidity he concluded that they were Tory inhabitants of the country

who were coming to his assistance, and made no attempt to stop them. In

this way Stark was enabled to mass about five hundred men in the rear

of the enemy's position. Distracting the attention of the British by a

feint, Stark also moved about two hundred men to the right, and having

thus brought his forces into position he ordered a general assault,

and the Americans proceeded to storm the British intrenchments on every

side. The fight was a very hot one, and lasted some two hours. The

Indians, at the beginning of the action, slipped away between the

American detachments, but the British and German regulars stubbornly

stood their ground. It is difficult to get at the exact numbers of the

American troops, but Stark seems to have had between fifteen hundred and

two thousand militia. He thus outnumbered his enemy nearly three to

one, but his men were merely country militia, farmers of the New England

States, very imperfectly disciplined, and armed only with muskets and

fowling-pieces, without bayonets or side-arms. On the other side Baum

had the most highly disciplined troops of England and Germany under

his command, well armed and equipped, and he was moreover strongly

intrenched with artillery well placed behind the breastworks. The

advantage in the fight should have been clearly with Baum and his

regulars, who merely had to hold an intrenched hill.

It was not a battle in which either military strategy or a scientific

management of troops was displayed. All that Stark did was to place his

men so that they could attack the enemy's position on every side, and

then the Americans went at it, firing as they pressed on. The British

and Germans stood their ground stubbornly, while the New England farmers

rushed up to within eight yards of the cannon, and picked off the

men who manned the guns. Stark himself was in the midst of the fray,

fighting with his soldiers, and came out of the conflict so blackened

with powder and smoke that he could hardly be recognized. One desperate

assault succeeded another, while the firing on both sides was so

incessant as to make, in Stark's own words, a "continuous roar." At the

end of two hours the Americans finally swarmed over the intrenchments,

beating down the soldiers with their clubbed muskets. Baum ordered his

infantry with the bayonet and the dragoons with their sabers to force

their way through, but the Americans repulsed this final charge, and

Baum himself fell mortally wounded. All was then over, and the British

forces surrendered.

It was only just in time, for Breymann, who had taken thirty hours to

march some twenty-four miles, came up just after Baum's men had laid

down their arms. It seemed for a moment as if all that had been gained

might be lost. The Americans, attacked by this fresh foe, wavered; but

Stark rallied his line, and putting in Warner, with one hundred and

fifty Vermont men who had just come on the field, stopped Breymann's

advance, and finally forced him to retreat with a loss of nearly one

half his men. The Americans lost in killed and wounded some seventy men,

and the Germans and British about twice as many, but the Americans took

about seven hundred prisoners, and completely wrecked the forces of Baum

and Breymann.

The blow was a severe one, and Burgoyne's army never recovered from

it. Not only had he lost nearly a thousand of his best troops, besides

cannon, arms, and munitions of war, but the defeat affected the spirits

of his army and destroyed his hold over his Indian allies, who began

to desert in large numbers. Bennington, in fact, was one of the most

important fights of the Revolution, contributing as it did so largely to

the final surrender of Burgoyne's whole army at Saratoga, and the utter

ruin of the British invasion from the North. It is also interesting as

an extremely gallant bit of fighting. As has been said, there was no

strategy displayed, and there were no military operations of the higher

kind. There stood the enemy strongly intrenched on a hill, and Stark,

calling his undisciplined levies about him, went at them. He himself was

a man of the highest courage and a reckless fighter. It was Stark who

held the railfence at Bunker Hill, and who led the van when Sullivan's

division poured into Trenton from the river road. He was admirably

adapted for the precise work which was necessary at Bennington, and he

and his men fought well their hand-to-hand fight on that hot August day,

and carried the intrenchments filled with regular troops and defended by

artillery. It was a daring feat of arms, as well as a battle which had

an important effect upon the course of history and upon the fate of the

British empire in America.

Washington Charles Russell Lowell facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail