Observed annually on August 16th, Bennington Battle Day commemorates a crucial 1777 battle victory during the American Revolutionary War. The Battle of Bennington in Vermont was a turning point that helped convince France to formally ally with the American revolutionaries. This state holiday honors the battle’s historical significance and the brave militia who secured victory against British forces.
Overview of the Battle
The Battle of Bennington was fought on August 16, 1777 between American militia and Hessian mercenaries allied to the British. The American victory inflicted significant casualties on the British forces and led to France recognizing American independence.
Causes of the Battle
By 1777, the Revolutionary War had been raging for over a year. Control of military supplies and strategic territory was imperative for both sides. A British expedition to seize American supplies ultimately precipitated the Battle of Bennington.
Importance of Supplies
With resources limited, military stores of weapons and provisions were vital. The British aimed to seize American colonial supplies to strengthen their armies while depleting the rebels.
Parts of upstate New York and Vermont held strategic value. Controlling the Hudson River Valley region would separate rebellious New England from the other American colonies.
British Expedition Launched
A British expedition under General John Burgoyne set out in mid-1777 to gain control of the Hudson River Valley. Burgoyne dispatched a contingent towards Bennington, Vermont to capture American supplies and horses for transport. This troop movement provoked the impending battle.
Strength of Forces
The clash at Bennington pitted American militia against a mixed British and German contingent. Both sides cobbled together an irregular assemblage of available forces.
The American forces comprised New Hampshire and Massachusetts militia together with Green Mountain Boys from present-day Vermont led by General John Stark. They were volunteer civilian fighters defending their homes.
British and Hessians
The British contingent was led by Lieutenant Colonel Friedrich Baum. It consisted of British marksmen, Canadian loyalists, and German Hessians from Hesse-Hanau. The Hessians were professional mercenaries allied to the British crown.
The American militia outnumbered the British-Hessian force by almost 2:1 with over 2000 men compared to Baum’s 1,100 soldiers. But the British had more regular army experience. The Americans had motivation defending their homeland.
Course of the Battle
Despite being outnumbered, the British nearly won early on. But American reinforcements turned the tide, encircling and decisively defeating the British.
Baum’s forces raided Bennington for horses on August 13th but were repelled. On August 16th, Baum established a defensive position hoping for reinforcements. American troops attacked repeatedly but sustained heavy casualties from Hessian marksmen.
The retreating Americans were reinforced by additional militia led by Colonel Seth Warner that swung the numbers further against the British. Together they surrounded Baum’s position, bombarding from all sides.
Overwhelmed by envelopment tactics, many Hessians broke rank and fled. Baum was mortally wounded. With escape paths cut off, the remaining British eventually surrendered, resulting in an American victory. But both sides suffered significant casualties of over 200 men each.
Aftermath and Impact
The first major American victory at Bennington proved a psychological boost while crippling British strength. This influenced France’s decision to openly ally with the revolutionaries.
Boost to American Morale
After a series of defeats, Bennington finally gave the American rebels a morale-lifting success. It forced the British to delay their Hudson River campaign and retreat to Canada.
Bennington underscored American military viability. Combined with the patriot victory at Saratoga months later, it convinced France to formally ally with the revolutionaries. French troops tipped the scales later in the war.
Depleted British Forces
Around 200 British soldiers were killed at Bennington and over 600 more captured, comprising a quarter of Burgoyne’s entire invasion force. This severe depletion of troops and supplies crippled British operations.
State Holiday Instituted
Recognizing the battle’s significance, Vermont made August 16th an official state holiday in 1891 called Bennington Battle Day. It honors the crucial victory that paved the way for American independence.
Why the Militia Won
Despite being outnumbered and lacking cavalry, the American militia prevailed at Bennington due to several key factors:
The militia’s familiarity with the local terrain allowed them to stealthily surround the enemy using natural cover and high ground. Baum’s forces were hemmed in.
The American volunteers were highly motivated fighting on home soil, for their farms and families. By contrast, many Hessian mercenaries had little motivation for the British cause.
Repeated flanking strikes by the mobile militia wore down the British defenses. The encirclement cut off reinforcements, trapping Baum’s forces in an impossible situation.
Burnoyne failed to adequately scout American numbers and positions around Bennington. This left Baum’s detachment exposed to surprise encirclement by a larger force.
Legacy of the Battle
The Battle of Bennington proved pivotal not just for the Revolutionary War’s outcome but also in shaping early American identity and traditions.
Boost to American Nationalism
The fledgling nation’s first major victory stirred a groundswell of patriotism and sense of national destiny among the populace. Bennington became a symbol of colonial resolve.
The reliance on volunteer civilian militia established America’s strong volunteerism ethic of self-reliance and community spirit that remains integral to national character.
First US Military Monument
The Bennington Battle Monument erected in 1891 is regarded as the USA’s first military monument. At over 300 feet, it memorializes the battle as a foundational event in safeguarding the nation’s hard-won liberty.
How Bennington Battle Day is Celebrated
Bennington Battle Day is commemorated through battlefield remembrances, parades and community events across Vermont.
Bennington Battle Monument hosts an annual memorial ceremony with governor’s remarks, martial music and musket firing salutes. Wreaths are laid honoring those who fell in the battle.
Parades and Costumes
Parades feature marching bands, antique military vehicles, ROTC units and local organizations. Many don 18th century revolutionary era costumes, militia uniforms and tricorn hats to add historical color.
Town Fairs and Festivals
Many towns organize fairs and festivals with battle reenactments, colonial cooking displays, arts, crafts, games and fireworks creating a festive holiday atmosphere recalling Revolutionary times.
Speeches and Awards
Speaking events and lectures discuss the battle’s details and historical impact. Descendants of original combatants participate. Awards recognize scholarly work related to Revolutionary history and education.
Revolutionary War Battlefields
Bennington Battle marked a turning point in America’s fight for independence from Britain. Many significant battle sites have become cherished places of national memory.
Lexington and Concord
The first skirmishes between American minutemen militia and British troops at Lexington Green and the Old North Bridge in Concord, Massachusetts in 1775 launched the Revolutionary War.
American victory against the British here in 1777 convinced France to formally ally with the revolutionaries, dramatically improving their prospects.
Daniel Morgan led American forces to a pivotal 1781 victory over British cavalry at Cowpens, South Carolina, boosting waning revolutionary morale.
The decisive last major battle where George Washington trapped British general Cornwallis led to his surrender and British capitulation, securing American independence.
The Continental Army’s 1777-78 endurance of a harsh winter camp here demonstrated their resolute spirit sustaining the revolution.
Bennington Battle Day commemorates a vital early American victory that rejuvenated morale and turned the tide towards eventual independence. The success demonstrated the militia’s resolve and tactical edge that would carry them through the long Revolutionary War. Bennington established a legacy of volunteerism and resilience central to American identity. The day honors those fallen patriots whose sacrifices helped create the United States and secure the liberties enjoyed today as their legacy.