This Place In History: Battle of Bennington

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BENNINGTON, Vt.

At ‘This Place in History’ we visit the Bennington Museum to learn about the Battle of Bennington with Executive Director of the Vermont Historical Society Steve Perkins.

“We’re talking about the American Revolution now. We’re going way back in time, 1777. Ethan Allen, two years earlier captured Fort Ticonderoga. We had some battles on Lake Champlain. The British need to end this war now. So there was this guy, Gentleman Johnny Burgoyne, who was a general, was quite a dandy. He ended up in Canada and said, “I’ve got this plan. I’m going to call it my ‘grand plan’. I’m going to cut the head off this snake.” That’s the American Revolutionaries, and by doing that they were going to separate New England from the rest of the colonies. And so he said, “I’m going to come down from Canada. I’m going to use Lake Champlain as a highway.” And there’s actually a map behind me on the wall right here.”

“Burgoyne is going to come down from Canada, down from lake Champlain. And then General Howe, who was in New York, was going to come up the Hudson. And then Colonel St. Leger, who was over here, was going to come down the Mohawk River. They were all going to meet at Albany. And what does this do? It cuts New England off from everything else.”

“Now the plan was pretty much doomed from the beginning because Howe, he didn’t like Burgoyne. So his answer was kind of like, “Whatever, I’m not doing that. I’m going to stay in New York.” St. Leger, he’s coming down. Benedict Arnold, not yet a traitor, stops him at Fort Stanwix So this army’s defeated. Only Burgoyne is coming down.”

“His other big flaw in his plan is he was like, “Everybody loves us! There’s only a few colonists that don’t want to be a part of England. So when we come down Lake Champlain, everyone’s going to come out of the woodwork and they’re going to give us cattle and arms and everything else.” Well, that didn’t happen. And so he’s got this large army that’s mostly made up of hired German soldiers. Their uniforms are torn, they’re running out of ammunition. He’s got a whole bunch of unseated calvary. These guys are called dragoons and they’re meant to ride into battle on horses. They have no horses!”

“So they’re trooping through the wilderness carrying all their gear that would need for their horses with the expectation that would find some. He hears, through the grapevine that there’s a great storehouse in Bennington and he can send a raiding party over to Bennington and get horses and food and troops under Colonel Baum, a German colonel.”

“Now the Bennington folks hear that they’re coming and go “Hey, who’s going to come help us?” So New Hampshire sends over General Stark of the New Hampshire militia. The militia comes up from the Berkshires of Massachusetts. And of course, you have all the Vermont Boys who turned out. They put together a pretty good army and they net Baum’s troops outside of Bennington, in what is now New York, but at the time it was just the countryside around Bennington.”

“Because this was such a big defeat for the British, they didn’t have a chance to haul off all their war material. So the Americans captured it and a lot of it stayed right here in Bennington. So we’re in the Bennington museum and they really have a great collection. We have one of the cannons here in Vermont that was captured from British troops. It’s got a great story because the cannon was then used by the Americans during the American Revolution. They used it in the War of 1812. It was recaptured by the British in the War of 1812, used by the British, recaptured by the Americans, used in the Mexican-American War and then ultimately came back to the state of Vermont. Also, great exhibits show British Brown Bess Muskets and the German muskets and swords. You can see the huge calvary swords that Germans had to carry through the pucker brush. You can see the trouble they had because of really bad planning.”

“There’s some great American pieces. The American forces weren’t regular forces, so they brought whatever they had to battle with them. We have hunting swords, British Brown Bess Muskets. We have French Charleville muskets, which most Americans used at the time; even farming implements were used in this battle. One of my favorite displays at the Bennington Museum is a case called The Mythology of the Battle of Bennington. There’s so many stories that grew up over the years and a lot of objects are associated. Probably the best one is this little thing called ‘Colonel Baum’s Camp Stove’. It’s been in this museum for years. All you have to do is look at it and you go, ‘It’s not a camp stove. It’s a plate warmer from about 1790.” And remember, the battle took place in 1777. It was in this museum as such for years, but now it’s on view just showing those stories that happened about everything we talk about in history about the Battle of Bennington. Now you know why we celebrate this on August 16th every year.”

At ‘This Place in History’!

For a map of Vermont’s roadside historic markers, click here.

To view more from our ‘This Place in History’ series, click here.

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