Bennington Battle Day

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.

Bennington Battle Day

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.

Geographic Significance

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.

American Militia

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.

Relative Strength

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.

Initial Skirmishes

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.

Tide Turns

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.

British Defeat

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.

French Alliance

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:

Familiar Terrain

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.

Motivation

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.

Flank Attacks

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.

Poor Reconnaissance

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.

Volunteerism Ethos

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.

Battlefield Ceremonies

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.

Saratoga

American victory against the British here in 1777 convinced France to formally ally with the revolutionaries, dramatically improving their prospects.

Cowpens

Daniel Morgan led American forces to a pivotal 1781 victory over British cavalry at Cowpens, South Carolina, boosting waning revolutionary morale.

Yorktown

The decisive last major battle where George Washington trapped British general Cornwallis led to his surrender and British capitulation, securing American independence.

Valley Forge

The Continental Army’s 1777-78 endurance of a harsh winter camp here demonstrated their resolute spirit sustaining the revolution.

Conclusion

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.