General John Burgoyne’s expedition to split the rebellious New England colonies from the rest of the nascent United States was running short of supplies by the beginning of August 1777. Adding to his unease Burgoyne had not had any contact with General William Howe in New York City who was supposed to be leading a column north up the Hudson to join with him. Loyalist scouts informed him that there was a well-stocked depot at Bennington, Vermont. He determined to send an expedition to seize anything of value.
Burgoyne detached a force of about 800 men under Hessian Lieutenant Colonel Friedrich Baum on August 11 toward Bennington. Baum was seriously hindered by his inability to speak English, the roughness of the track he was forced to march down, and the inappropriateness of his dragoons’ riding boots for marching through the American wilderness. The progress of his force was well-known to the Patriot leaders well before it reached the depot.
Brigadier General John Stark rallied a militia force variously described as being between 1500 and 2000 strong to meet the raiders. Baum received word on August 14 that the militia had been raised and that more than 1800 men held the Bennington depot. He sent back word to Burgoyne, halted his column and dug in. Unfortunately for Baum, he spread his small force widely in the broken country, with about 200 of his men (Tories and Canadians) on the south side of the Walloomsac River and the rest of his command to the north.
Colonel Moses Nichols led his regiment around Baum’s force to attack from the north. Colonel Samuel Herrick led his regiment to attack from the south and rear. Colonels David Hobart and Thomas Stickney attacked the Tory redoubt south of the river. Stark, with about 1000 men led the main attack on Baum’s main position, the “Dragoon Redoubt”. The American attack was launched about 3:00 pm and, incredibly, went off without any serious hitch.
Stark is reputed to have exclaimed as he exhorted his men forward, “There they are! We’ll beat them before night or Molly Stark will be a widow!” Baum’s Indian allies, having been unreliable from the start, abandoned him completely when the battle began. Hobart and Stickney quickly overran the Tory position. The Canadians, like the Indians, simply melted away. Likewise the other small outposts were overrun but Baum held desperately for two hours in the Dragoon Redoubt.
The German determined to cut his way out with his survivors about 5 pm. But then a bullet mortally wounded Baum and the remnants of his force surrendered. Only nine men of Baum’s column managed to return to Burgoyne’s army.
Meanwhile, on the morning of August 15, Burgoyne had sent a relief column based on Baum’s alarming report of American strength. This force, of 642 men under Lieutenant Colonel Heinrich Breymann, arrived late in the afternoon, after Baum’s fate had already been decided. Stark’s forces were badly scattered by their victory and could have been decimated by the new column but Breymann had the misfortune of running right into Seth Warner’s Vermont militia who arrived on the battlefield at the precise moment of need from Manchester.
Warner’s regiment and about 300 men that Stark rallied met Breymann on the road. A furious firefight ensued. Breymann attempted to flank the American in the woods but was bloodily repulsed. His ammunition running low and his force disintegrating, Breymann ordered a retreat. If not for the colonel’s personal bravery and skill, his force would have met the same fate as Baum’s. Wounded, with 5 bullet holes in his coat, Breymann personally led a small rear guard that held off the American pursuit of the broken column. As it was Stark and Warner captured both of the relief column’s cannons and inflicted 200 casualties on the small force, forced to halt their pursuit only by the fall of night.
Burgoyne was thus deprived of much needed supplies. His Indian allies almost completely abandoned the main army, and he lost about 900 combat troops killed, wounded, and captured. The Patriot victory at Bennington was a major contributor to the later ultimate defeat of Burgoyne at Saratoga. American losses were 30 killed and 40 wounded.
Order of Battle – Baum’s ColumnBrunswick Dragoons (dismounted, 200 men)
Jager Detachment (50 men)
Brunswick Infantry Detachment (37 men)
Hanau Artillery (2 3-pounders, 13 men)
British Light Infantry (50 men)
Peters’ Queens Loyal Rangers (about 150 men)
Local Loyalist companies (about 150 men)
Canadian Militia (about 100 men)
Indians (about 100 men)
Order of Battle – Breymann’s Column
Brunswick Grenadiers (about 330 men)
Light Infantry (about 280 men)
Hanau Artillery (2 6-pounders, 30 men)
Gregg’s New Hampshire Militia
Nichols’ New Hampshire Militia
Herrick’s Vermont Militia
Hobart’s New Hampshire Militia
Stickney’s New Hampshire Militia
Langdon’s New Hampshire Militia
Simond’s Massacusetts Militia
Warner’s Vermont Militia
Eggenberger, David. A Dictionary of Battles. Thomas Y. Crowell, New York, 1967.
Morrissey, Brendan. Saratoga 1777: Turning Point of a Revolution. Osprey, Oxford, 2000.
Peckham, Howard H. The War for Independence. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1979.
Wood, W. J. Battles of the Revolutionary War. Algonquin, Chapel Hill, NC, 1990.
Map from The Hoosac Valley: Its Legends and Its History by Grace Greylock Niles, published 1912.