This week we are back in upstate New York. By the beginning of August 1777, General Burgoyne’s Northern Army had reached the Hudson River. To the west, Fort Stanwix was still under siege, awaiting General Arnold’s relief force that I discussed a couple of weeks ago. We last left General Burgoyne following the murder of Jane McCrea which has helped to spur patriot opposition to his army and also preceded some of his Indian warriors abandoning the mission and going home.
The American defense, however, was still in complete disarray. General Phillip Schuyler was trying to rally an army of both Continentals and militia near Fort Edward to stop Burgoyne’s march on Albany. But after the loss of Fort Ticonderoga, many Americans had lost faith in the army. Desertions were far outnumbering the small numbers of reinforcements that General Washington had sent marching north to join Schuyler. General Burgoyne had taken Fort Edward, again without a fight.
General Schuyler moved to the other side of the Hudson River, using the river as a barrier between the Continentals and Burgoyne’s British. He moved the Americans further south toward Saratoga, still with no apparent plan to mount a stand.
With the bulk of the Continental Army still in New Jersey, and having to remain there to face General Howe’s army in New York City, the only way to stop Burgoyne’s northern army was to call out the militia and hope that they were up to the task.
A key figure in the effort to mobilize the militia was a former Continental colonel named John Stark. You may recall that Colonel Stark played a key role in the battle of Bunker Hill, which I discussed back in Episodes 65 and 66.
| Gen. John Stark |
As a member of the New Hampshire militia, Stark had fought in Canada during the French and Indian War. At that time, he had risen to the rank of captain in Rogers’ Rangers. Stark resigned his commission after refusing to attack the Abanaki village where he had lived a few years earlier. He had no wish to attack his adopted parents and fellow tribe members. Instead, he ended his military service in the French and Indian War early.
After the battle of Lexington, Stark accepted a colonelcy in the New Hampshire militia and marched his regiment to join the Provincial Army just outside Boston. He led one of the few units that actually marched out onto Bunker Hill to support Colonel Prescott’s defenders on Breed’s Hill. There, he commanded the American left wing where his men tenaciously fought off several British assaults. His men provided covering fire as the main force on Breed’s Hill was overrun and had to escape.
His leadership landed him a colonelcy in the new Continental Army once Washington took command. Stark’s regiment provided support for the northern army that had been pushed out of Canada. After British General Guy Carleton opted not to attack Fort Ticonderoga in late 1776, Stark’s regiment was redeployed to Pennsylvania in time to join General Washington’s campaign to take Trenton and Princeton. Stark commanded the American right wing at the Battle of Trenton.
So Colonel Stark had played a key role in most of the battles and campaigns of the war so far. His leadership was conspicuous, brave, and effective. He seemed to be one of the best field officers in the Continental Army.
|Gen. Enoch Poor|
Stark was outraged that Poor received the promotion for New Hampshire rather than him. Poor had also been promoted as a militia colonel just after Lexington. But Poor kept his regiment in New Hampshire while Stark’s was fighting multiple battles. Poor had participated in the Quebec campaign, but his combat experience was minimal compared to that of Stark. Poor had been a politician before the war and had contacts in the Continental Congress that probably resulted in him receiving the one general’s commission slated for New Hampshire. Poor’s promotion was one of a great many frustrations that Stark had experienced in the Continental Army. A month after Poor’s promotion, Stark resigned his commission in the Continental Army and returned home, once again cutting short his military service.
New Hampshire Militia
In July 1777, after Burgoyne captured Fort Ticonderoga, the patriots were in desperate need of soldiers to contest this invasion. However, most of their best leaders and soldiers were already with Continental Army, either with Washington in New Jersey or Schuyler in New York. There was no real front line defense of New England.
New Hampshire offered Colonel Stark a commission as a brigadier general in the New Hampshire militia. Stark was still embittered by his experience in the Continental Army, but wanted to put his military leadership to use in defending his home. He accepted the commission with the explicit understanding that he would not take orders from Continental officers. He would fight to defend New Hampshire, but he was finished with the Continental Army.
|John Langdon |
Langdon had accepted a colonelcy in the New Hampshire militia, but he was more politician than soldier. He had been Speaker of the New Hampshire Assembly and also served in the Continental Congress. Langdon also ran a fleet of privateers, which had earned him some serious coin in the first couple of years of the war.
When he put up the money, he figured he would be reimbursed if the Americans eventually won. If not, he would probably be hanged as a traitor anyway. Signing bonuses for soldiers and proper supplies to support them, along with the knowledge that they could be under attack any day, led militia to flock to New Hampshire’s defense. Knowing that General Stark would lead them also influenced many to join. He was a well respected officer and a leader of men.
Within a few weeks, General Stark had raised a force of nearly 1500 militia, about twenty-five companies. General Stark spent that time organizing and training his men. Most of his militia were frontiersman, familiar with the region and experienced Indian fighters. Many older men had combat experience from the French and Indian War. Stark focused on organizing the men into units and drilled fighting as a unit.
By early August, he sent about half of his force to Manchester, Vermont. Stark remained in New Hampshire organizing the remainder of his force and then marched to catch up with his advance force in Manchester.
When he arrived, he found his soldiers preparing to march south to join up with Schuyler’s Continentals near Fort Edward in New York. General Benjamin Lincoln had already arrived on the scene and issued the order. Stark and Lincoln had a private conversation, the details of which are not known. However, the gist of the discussion was that Stark told Lincoln that the New Hampshire militia would remain where they could defend New Hampshire. They were not under the command of continental officers and were not going to New York.
This actually fit in with General Schuyler’s original plans. He wanted to maintain a force in Burgoyne’s rear that could harass the enemy as it moved south toward Schuyler’s main army near Saratoga. General Washington had already approved this plan. But as Burgoyne moved south against Schuyler’s dwindling army, Schuyler changed his mind and wanted to consolidate his army for a large scale stand that would stop the British movement southward. To do that, he wanted Stark’s militia to move to join them in New York.
|Benjamin Lincoln |
But that did leave Lincoln with little to do. Schuyler had ordered Lincoln to command any New England forces while Schuyler commanded the main army in New York. But since the only significant forces still in New England were Stark’s militia army, which would not listen to him, Lincoln did not have much of a command. After a few days, Lincoln went back to New York to be with the main army under Schuyler.
On August 8, Stark moved his army from Manchester to Bennington. The town was a patriot supply depot and a likely target for a British attack. It was about thirty miles southeast of Saratoga. If the British opted to move into New England and march toward Rhode Island, Bennington would be a key transit point. Stark left the remnants of Seth Warner’s Continentals, who had survived the Battle of Hubbardton, to occupy Manchester and left General Lincoln with that small force as well. Stark’s militia army marched off to encamp in and around Bennington.
Burgoyne’s Raiding Party
As Stark prepared his army, General Burgoyne was looking at the region and planning his next steps. By this time, Burgoyne had accomplished what most British strategists thought would be the most difficult part of his campaign, capturing Fort Ticonderoga. The Americans had abandoned the fort without a fight, after seeing vulnerabilities in their defenses that would have resulted in the destruction or capture of the garrison. Instead, American General Arthur St. Clair retreated southward, hoping to get reinforcements so that he could make a stand. Burgoyne had continued to move south, albeit slowly as Americans felled hundreds of trees to block his army’s path, By the time his army reached the Hudson river, it had faced no serious and sustained opposition to his offensive.
|Stark leading NH Militia (from British Battles)|
After the difficult wilderness march to Fort Edward, Burgoyne found his army increasingly cut off from his resources in Canada. He had opened a supply route from Fort George, which had helped some of his artillery and heavier supplies to catch up with the main army. But an army of thousands also needed food. It also needed many more horses to carry all the equipment further south to engage with the enemy.
Burgoyne also learned that the main British Army under General Howe, would not be moving up the Hudson Valley to join forces. Rather, Howe had taken his army south to conquer Philadelphia. At the same time, the scattered Continental Army was collecting its soldiers and being supplemented by militia armies, particularly the large militia army under General Stark. All of that meant that Burgoyne found his army increasingly isolated.
The conservative move would have been to pull back to Fort Ticonderoga and call an end to the offensive until either Howe’s army would be ready to assist in the Hudson Valley, or London sent a larger army through Canada. But Burgoyne had gotten this command by criticizing his superiors for being too conservative. He was not going to fall into that same trap and delay his victory for another year. Doing so, might have resulted in London sending another general to finish the job for him. No, Burgoyne was determined to press on and capture Albany.
|Germans marching to Bennington (from British Battles)|
This was a pretty audacious mission. Less than a thousand soldiers, mostly Germans who did not speak English. Were marching out on a more than 200 mile round trip through wilderness with very little intelligence about what faced them. The leader of the German troops, and Burgoyne’s second in Command General Von Riedesel thought this was a crazy amount to expect from his soldiers. After a few days of discussions, Burgoyne reduced the scope of the march to move on the depot at Bennington, capture horses and supplies there, and recruit as many loyalists as they could to join Burgoyne’s army.
To lead the raid on Bennington, Burgoyne selected Lieutenant Colonel Friedrich Baum a German Brunswicker officer who led a regiment of dragoons. A dragoon is a soldier that normally rides a horse, but unlike a cavalry soldier, dragoons tend to dismount before going into battle and fight without their horses.
In Baum’s case, his men had no horses at all. They were marching around with heavy boots and equipment designed for riding. Baum hoped to capture hundreds of horses in the Connecticut Valley to equip both his own men, as well as for the army more generally.
Baum was a career officer who had seen combat in the Seven Years War. However, he had no experience with wilderness fighting and had never commanded more than a regiment. I also spoke no English at all.
Burgoyne also deployed with Baum a few British regulars, as well as some of the remaining Native American scouts that remained with the army. Also with Baum was Philip Skene, the Tory militia officer who had assured Burgoyne that most of the region held loyalist views and would rise up to support the army when they arrived. Burgoyne tasked Skene with raising local recruits and getting them to join local regiments in support of the king.
On August 9, Baum left Fort Edward with about 650 soldiers, almost all German speaking Brunswickers, and a few cannons. His men moved about eight miles downriver to Fort Miller, which the Americans had already abandoned. There, he waited for a day for the Native American warriors and the British regulars that would accompany them. When the regulars were not available, Baum received another one hundred Germans to supplement his detachment. He also collected several hundred local loyalist volunteers, either at Fort Miller or over the next couple of days while marching.
Movement was slow. The Germans, outfitted with heavy boots and long wool coats were sweltering in the August heat. Because they still did not have enough horses, the soldiers had to carry much of their supplies. The footpaths they used made transporting carts or the artillery exceedingly difficult. As a result, the column made slow progress over the next few days.
Among the civilians, a great many professed support for the king. Some of them joined the column as volunteers. Skene did his best at recruitment. Many others, after swearing an oath of allegiance, were given documents identifying them as loyalists and permitted to move about. Some of these were apparently American spies who counted troop levels and reported their intelligence about the size and direction of the force back to Stark.
At one point, Baum’s advance force captured a few patriot prisoners who had been herding cattle. From prisoner interrogations as well as information from loyalists, he learned that the supply depot at Bennington did not just have a small garrison but rather an army of between 1500 and 1800 men. Even with the loyalists volunteers that he had recruited, Baum had just a little over 1000 men himself. If this intelligence was correct, he could be marching toward a superior enemy who had entrenched defenses.
Baum forwarded this intelligence to Burgoyne, along with a request for reinforcements to join his column as soon as possible. Meanwhile he pressed forward, on toward Bennington.
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Next Episode 155 The Battle of Bennington
Previous Episode 153 Staten Island and Setauket
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Battle of Bennington: https://www.britishbattles.com/war-of-the-revolution-1775-to-1783/battle-of-bennington
Battle of Bennington: https://www.mountvernon.org/library/digitalhistory/digital-encyclopedia/article/battle-of-bennington
General John Stark: https://www.historynet.com/general-john-stark-a-patriot-who-rose-above-rank.htm
Law, Robert R. “GENERAL JOHN STARK.” Proceedings of the New York State Historical Association, vol. 5, 1905, pp. 104–112. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/42889852
Foster, Herbert D., and Thomas W. Streeter. “STARK'S INDEPENDENT COMMAND AT BENNINGTON.” Proceedings of the New York State Historical Association, vol. 5, 1905, pp. 24–95. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/42889850
(from archive.org unless noted)
Anbury, Thomas Travel through Various Parts of North America, Vol. 1, William Lane, 1789.
Baster, James (ed) The British Invasion from the North: The Campaigns of Generals Carleton and Burgoyne from Canada, Joel Munsell’s Sons, 1887.
Bird, Harrison March To Saratoga General Burgoyne And The American Campaign 1777,
Oxford Univ. Press, 1963
Brandow, John H. The story of old Saratoga; the Burgoyne campaign, to which is added New York's share in the revolution, Brandow Printing, 1919.
Clay, Steven E. Staff Ride Handbook for the Saratoga Campaign, 13 June to 8 November 1777, Combat Studies Institute Press, 2018 (US Army Website):.
Eelking, Max von, (translated by Stone, William L.) Memoirs of Major General Riedesel, Vol. 1, J. Munsell, 1868.
Hadden, James Hadden's Journal and Orderly Books, Joel Munsell’s Sons, 1884.
Hudleston, Francis J. Gentleman Johnny Burgoyne : misadventures of an English general in the Revolution, Bobbs-Merrill Co. 1927.
Luzader, John Decision on the Hudson, National Park Service, 1975.
Moore, Howard P. A Life of General John Stark of New Hampshire, New York self-published, 1949.
Riedesel, Friederike Charlotte Luise, Freifrau von Letters and journals relating to the war of the American Revolution, and the capture of the German troops at Saratoga, Joel Munsell, 1867.
Stone, William Leete, The Campaign of Lieut. Gen. John Burgoyne and the expedition of Lieut. Col. Barry St. Leger, Albany, NY: Joel Munsell, 1877.
Walworth, Ellen H. Battles of Saratoga, 1777; the Saratoga Monument Association, 1856-1891, Joel Munsell’s Sons, 1891.
Books Worth Buying
(links to Amazon.com unless otherwise noted)*
Furneaux, Rupert The Battle of Saratoga, Stein and Day 1971.
Gabriel, Michael P. The Battle of Bennington: Soldiers & Civilians, History Press, 2012.
Ketchum, Richard M. Saratoga, Turning Point of America’s Revolutionary War, Henry Holt & Co, 1997.
LaBree, Clifton New Hampshire's General John Stark, Peter E. Randall, 2007.
Logusz, Michael O. With Musket and Tomahawk, The Saratoga Campaign and the Wilderness War of 1777, Casemate Publishing, 2010
Luzader, John F. Saratoga: A Military History of the Decisive Campaign of the American Revolution, Casemate Publishers, 2008
Mintz, Max M. The Generals of Saratoga: John Burgoyne and Horatio Gates, Yale Univ. Press, 1990.
Polhemus, Richard & John Stark; The Life and Wars of John Stark, French and Indian War Ranger, Revolutionary War General, Black Dome Press, 2014 (book recommendation of the week).
Rose, Ben Z. John Stark: Maverick General, Treeline Press, 2007
* As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.