August 16 is a state holiday in Vermont, as we celebrate the historic victory by New England forces at the Battle of Bennington in 1777. There is a great, tall monument in Bennington to memorialize the event, but the battle was actually fought on New York soil, about six miles from the monument.
British General John Burgoyne was marching his army of about 6000 southward with the goal of reaching Albany. He had successfully driven the undermanned American forces out of Mount Independence and Fort Ticonderoga a month earlier. Now, however, he was feeling the pinch of his extended supply line and the loss of men needed to guard it. When word reached Burgoyne that the Americans had a supply depot in Bennington, he dispatched Lieutenant Colonel Friedrich Baum and a force of about 800, most of whom were Brunswick dragoons, to capture the supplies. Baum was also given the task of raising troops from among the many loyalists Burgoyne was assured lived in the area. Being a German and unable to speak English, Baum was a strange choice as a leader of an expedition to rally loyalists from among the provincial Americans. Needless to say, loyalists didn’t flock to Baum’s army, and when he ran into 1500 New Hampshire militia under command of John Stark, Baum’s army was soundly defeated and most of the men captured, wounded or killed — among the latter, Baum himself. A second British force commanded by Heinrich von Breymann and sent by Burgoyne to reinforce Baum arrived on the scene a few hours after the battle, and almost succeeded in staving off defeat. But Colonel Seth Warner and his force of Green Mountain Boys showed up just in time to ensure a total American victory.
Not only had this expedition failed in its mission, it also cost Burgoyne about 15% of his already dwindling army. The American fight for independence, which had been suffering defeat after defeat, was revitalized by the victory. The Battle of Bennington was a prelude, as well as one of the causes that led to the most important American triumph of the war, the surrender of Burgoyne’s forces at Saratoga in October.