Sunday, April 26, 2020

Episode 146 The Battle of Hubbardton




Last week, we followed the British down Lake Champlain as they captured the remaining American fleet at Skenesborough and forced the Americans to abandon Fort Ann.  At the same time that was happening, the main American force from Ticonderoga was retreating through the woods toward Castleton.

St. Clair Retreats

General Arthur St. Clair marched his main column of about 2000 men away from Fort Ticonderoga in the early pre-dawn hours of July 6, 1777.  His soldiers traveled down the Hubbardton Road, which was little more than a stump-filled path cut through the woods, leading away from the fort.  The men stumbled through the dark.  Remember many of the soldiers had panicked and run into the woods after General Mattias de Fermoy set his house on fire atop Mount Independence, thus alerting the enemy to the American retreat.  Many of those men joined up with the column along the way.

St. Clair attempted to organize the column with Continentals in front, militia units in the middle and more Continental units in the rear.  He kept the militia in the middle because he feared they might break and run.  Several company commanders had informed St. Clair the day before, that their enlistments were over and that they felt no compunction to remain with the army as it retreated.  Since they expected a British pursuit, St. Clair put some of his most capable units in the rear of the column to form a rear guard.

The Rear Guard

Colonel Seth Warner commanded the Green Mountain Boys, who were mostly local to this area and were defending their homes.  Warner and many of his men had been with the force that originally captured Ticonderoga in 1775 under Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold.  When the regiment joined the Continental Army a few months later, they voted Warner as their commander, and ousted Ethan Allen.  These men had participated in the invasion of Quebec, and the subsequent retreat, before ending up back at Fort Ticonderoga.  Warner had brought 800 militia to the fort from the self proclaimed independent Republic of Vermont just days before the decision to abandon the fort.  Most of his militia had dispersed.  In the rearguard, he commanded a regiment of less than 200 men.

British and native allies at Ticonderoga (from British Battles)
The head of St. Clair’s column reached the small town of Hubbardton, actually just a few farm houses, in the afternoon of July 6.  The men had about a 17 mile march from Mount Independence, after spending the previous night preparing to abandon the fort.  The men were exhausted and demoralized.  St. Clair gave his men a few hours rest at Hubbardton.  But after learning that enemy Indian warriors had passed through the area before they had arrived, St. Clair determined that his force should continue on to Castleton, about seven miles further to the south.  He left Colonel Warner’s regiment in Hubbardton to await the arrival of the rear guard that was still marching there.

To supplement Warner's force, St. Clair also left the Second New Hampshire Regiment, commanded by Colonel Nathan Hale, no relation to the captain of the same name who had already given his one life for his country.  Hale had been with the army since the Battle of Lexington.  He was a veteran of Bunker Hill.  His regiment had also participated in the Quebec campaign and retreat, then marched south in time to participate in the battles of Trenton and Princeton before moving back north to Ticonderoga.  His regiment of 360 soldiers was highly experienced and battle hardened.

These two regiments awaited the rearguard regiment, the 11th Massachusetts, commanded by Ebenezer Francis.  Francis was an up and coming officer who had served with distinction during the Siege of Boston.  It was only a few months earlier that he had received his promotion to colonel and led the 11th Massachusetts to Fort Ticonderoga.  His large regiment of 420 Continentals formed the bulk of the rearguard once they arrived in Hubbardton.

Seth Warner
(from Wikimedia)
Although Warner commanded the smallest of the three regiments, he was the most senior colonel among the leaders, which put him in overall command.  St. Clair left Warner with orders to wait for Colonel Francis and then march immediately to Castleton to catch up with the main column.  Instead, when Francis’ regiment arrived in late afternoon, Warner decided to rest for the night, and leave at dawn the following morning.

It’s not entirely clear what Warner’s motives were in disobeying orders to march.  It could be that he was still awaiting some stragglers that he expected to march in overnight.  It could also be that he feared losing men in a nighttime march.  Most of these men had been awake for the last 36 hours and had been hard at work loading equipment and marching that whole time.  A night march would mean that men would almost certainly fall out of line in the dark and fall asleep, making them easy prey for the advancing enemy or for the Indians prowling the woods.

Instead, Warner deployed his three regiments in a defensive position in case the enemy approached before they were ready to leave in the morning.  Knowing the enemy was in the area, he set out pickets and placed his thousand or so men in defensive lines where they could sleep, but then if needed, wake and be in a position to fight in a moment’s notice.

British Pursuit

Only a few miles away, General Simon Fraser had led his British regulars along with Indian and loyalist scouts totaling about 850 in pursuit of the Americans.  Fraser had marched his troops across the footbridge across Lake Champlain the only hours after the last Americans had left on July 6.  Although his force was smaller than the American column, he was confident that he could capture the retreating and demoralized garrison if he could catch up with them.

Simon Fraser
(from Fandom)
Fraser also wanted to stay ahead of General Friedrich Von Riedesel who commanded a force of over one thousand German troops.  This was the division that had been too slow to cut off the American retreat, but was now also in pursuit of the retreating column.  Riedesel outranked Fraser and could take command of the entire operation if the two forces combined.

Riedesel got frustrated with the slow pace of his own column.  He took a small division of Jaegers and rode ahead to find Fraser.  By early evening, he caught up with Fraser’s column.  Although Riedesel was the senior officer, he did not try to take command.  Instead, he said only that he was there to assist.  Riedesel said that his soldiers were exhausted and needed to rest for the night.  However, he allowed Fraser to take his regulars a few miles closer to the rearguard at Hubbardton before they also camped for the night.  As aggressive as Fraser was, he was not read to lead his exhausted men into a night raid in unknown territory.

At the same time, he did not want the American column to escape. After a few hours of rest, Fraser roused his men from sleep in the middle of the night, and had them ready to march by 3:00 AM.  The first few hours of marching in the dark were slow and difficult.  But by dawn, Fraser’s Indian and Tory scouts encountered Continental pickets near Hubbardton.

Battle of Hubbardton

Fraser knew that his German reinforcements under Riedesel were at least a few hours behind him.  He could have waited for the reinforcements to arrive.  Charging in without reinforcements was a dangerous move.  There were hills all through the area which the Americans could use to ambush the regulars.  Despite the risks, Fraser opted to charge the Americans and engage them.

Americans at Hubbardton (from Revolutionary War)
Although alerted by the pickets, the Americans were still in camp when the British attacked.  Pickets engaged the enemy, who exchanged volleys as both sides attempted to form their lines.  The Americans only hoped to delay the British assault as they continued to pull back.  Both sides stood their ground and fired, leading to dozens of casualties on each side.

About the same time fighting began, Colonel Warner received a message from General St. Clair telling him that the British had captured the American baggage and wounded at Skenesborough, and that Warner should bring his men immediately to Rutland, further to the east.  From there, the column would move south through the woods to link up with General Philip Schuyler’s forces.

With the British attacking though, the Americans could not simply march away.  Colonel Francis formed the main line behind a stone wall.  His men repelled several British charges with devastating volleys.  General Fraser personally led a company of light infantry in an attempt to break the American line, but the American lines held.

Next, Fraser sent his grenadiers against the American left flank.  This would have cut off the American line of retreat.  However, deploying these reinforcements against the American left also weakened his own left flank and risked his own army being surrounded.  The Americans advanced on the British left and threatened to break the British lines.

By this time General Riedesel was only a few miles away and was able to observe the firefight from a nearby hill.  He rushed a few companies of jaegers on the double to the scene of the battle in hopes of shoring up the British left flank and preventing the Americans from breaking the enemy line.

Much of this battle took place in heavy woods, meaning that it was almost impossible to know what was happening in other parts of the battlefield.  Colonel Hale’s regiment had taken the brunt of the first British assault and was mostly gone by now.  Some had been captured, many had fled into the woods and were in hiding as the British overwhelmed the area.

Friedrich von Riedesel
(from Wikimedia)
According to British sources, at one point about 60 patriot soldiers approached a British line with their muskets clubbed.  That is when a soldier holds his weapon so that the stock is pointing up and the barrel to the ground.  This was understood at the time as meaning the soldier was surrendering.  The British allowed the soldiers to advance to within about thirty feet.  Then suddenly, the Americans turned their muskets toward the enemy, fired, and then ran back into the woods.

The actions grew fierce as the grenadiers pushed on the American left flank.  The Americans refused to pull back, engaging in hand to hand combat with the enemy.  Warner’s Green Mountain Boys pulled back across a field to a low stone wall. From there, they dared the grenadiers to charge, knowing they would take heavy losses in doing so.

As the American left flank pulled back, the right flank under Colonel Francis advanced against the weakened British line on that side of the battle.  For a time, it appeared that the Americans might surround the British regulars and force a surrender. But then events took a different turn.

The arrival of Riedesel’s jaegers provided the British with the necessary reinforcements to hold up the American advance.  Around this same time, as Colonel Francis attempted to rally the Americans, a British volley struck him down, killing him.  With the loss of Francis and the arrival of the German reinforcements, the American lines began to falter.

Colonel Hale found himself in between British and German forces.  His force began to scatter.  Hale and about 70 of his men were taken prisoner.  More of Riedesel’s soldiers were arriving at the battle scene giving the British the support they needed.

Map of Hubbardton (from British Battles)
Colonel Warner, the only American commander still fighting on the field, observed another group of Germans working their way behind his lines in an attempt to cut off retreat and surround his remaining men.  He yelled out to the remaining forces “meet me in Manchester” by which he meant it was time to flee as best they could and regroup back in the town of Manchester.  The remaining Green Mountain Boys, along with the remnants of the second New Hampshire and Eleventh Massachusetts scattered into the woods, each man attempting to evade the enemy and escape as best he could.  By 9:00 AM, the battle of Hubbardton was over.  The British and Germans held the field.

About an hour later, the British and Germans were still regrouping and surveying the battlefield.  They came across the body of Colonel Francis and began going through his papers.  Suddenly, a rifle shot rang out.  An American sniper had taken a long distance shot at the group of officers and then disappeared into the woods.  A British captain, John Shrimpton fell wounded, the final casualty of the Battle of Hubbardton.

Estimates of American casualties vary greatly.  Estimates of battle death range from around 40 to over 150.  Wounded estimates range from about 100 to over 450.  Somewhere between 230 and 290 became prisoners of war.  That is a pretty substantial casualty rate for an American force of less than 1000 men.  The British and Germans had suffered losses of just under 200 killed or wounded, the bulk coming from Fraser’s smaller force that had engaged the enemy first.  The Germans only reported ten killed and fourteen wounded.

British Do Not Pursue

The British had taken the field that day, which is to say they forced the Americans to retreat from the field.  But the Americans had never intended to hold the field.  It only meant to delay the much larger British and German force in order to prevent them from catching up with St. Clair’s main column of retreating Americans.  In that, the American rear guard action succeeded.  The ground on which they fought was itself meaningless.  Neither side intended to remain there and it had no strategic value.

British General Fraser and German General Von Riedesel both agreed that they should not pursue the enemy any further.  They were quickly becoming detached from the main force still at Ticonderoga and had no idea what might be awaiting them down the road.  It did not help that an afternoon rain soon turned into a downpour.

The army remained in Hubbardton for the rest of the day.  Soldiers spent some time searching through the woods, still rounding up hiding enemy, but mostly finding wounded and dead on the field.  Despite the enemy having fled, the woods were still dangerous.  One British officer reported an American straggler had jumped out from behind a tree and pointed a musket at his head.  The British officer was faster and shot the soldier.  He then ran over to the fallen many to say he hoped he was not hurt too badly, only to realize the shot had killed the man instantly.

Of course, looting bodies was always a good source of supplies.  There is a story of a British soldier stripping the shoes off the body of a sixteen year old fifer.  It turns out the young man had been shot in the back but was only playing dead.  He decided he would rather be taken prisoner than lose his shoes.  He opened his eyes and startled the British soldier by letting him know he was not dead and that he surrendered.  An officer with the soldier ordered him to return the shoes to the boy and bring him back to camp where doctors could attend to his wounds.  Young Ebenezer Fletcher would become one of the American prisoners taken back to Fort Ticonderoga.  After a few weeks, he escaped his captivity and returned home to New Hampshire.  He eventually recovered from his wounds and returned to service.

After spending most of the day and night in Hubbardton, the British and German forces planned to move back to catch up with Burgoyne’s forces at Skenesborough while sending a smaller detachment with prisoners back to Fort Ticonderoga.  However, continuing torrential rains the following day forced them to remain in camp another day.  The force finally departed on the morning of July 9.  After a miserable day-long march, they reached Skenesborough that evening.

The British and Germans left behind a group of wounded soldiers who were considered too hurt to travel.  There were no stretchers to carry them anywhere and no wagons could get through the woods.  They had to await stretchers sent from Fort Ticonderoga to carry back the wounded.  At least some of the wounded had to linger in the woods for nearly three weeks.

The British buried their own dead, and gave Colonel Francis the honor of being buried with them.  Most of the American casualties, however, were left in the woods to rot and be eaten by wolves.  Some of their bones were still being found by locals a decade later.

St. Clair Escapes

General St. Clair, with the main American column heard the battle in the distance and dispatched officers to find out what was happening and return back.  By the time his aides got near the battle, the shooting was over and retreating soldiers told them the American rear guard was now fleeing for their lives.

Arthur St. Clair
(from Wikimedia)
By this time St. Clair also knew that the other smaller force with the baggage had been captured or destroyed at Skenesborough, so marching to the rendezvous point at Castleton did not make much sense.  Instead St. Clair took his remaining forces to Rutland, further to the east and away from enemy forces. The next day, before even reaching Rutland, he rerouted again to Dorset, which was 25 miles further south.

The American column arrived in Dorset on July 9.  There, St. Clair gave his men time to rest, and spent a few hours writing reports for General Schuyler and others to explain why he had abandoned Fort Ticonderoga without putting up a fight.  Many of the men who were feared lost from desertion or capture, eventually found their way back to the army in Dorset as men had used the cover of the woods to escape but were still ready to rejoin the army for its next fight.

The battle of Hubbardton succeeded in preventing the British from catching the main column that had left Fort Ticonderoga.  But the fleeing Americans were demoralized and isolated as they marched through the woods, still not entirely sure of their destination.  Meanwhile the British consolidated their gains and took control of the region.

- - -

Next Episode 147 Kidnapping General Prescott

Previous Episode 145 Retreat from Ticonderoga


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Further Reading

Websites

Hubbardton: https://www.battlefields.org/learn/revolutionary-war/battles/hubbardton

Hubbardton Battlefield: https://historicsites.vermont.gov/hubbardton-battlefield

Battle of Hubbardton: https://www.britishbattles.com/war-of-the-revolution-1775-to-1783/battle-of-hubbardton

Battle of Hubbardton, Animated Map: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pdCdykHbP4s

Barbieri, Michael “Ti’s Evacuation and the Battle of Hubbardton” Journal of the American Revolution, July 24, 2014: https://allthingsliberty.com/2014/07/tis-evacuation-and-the-battle-of-hubbardton

Schenawolf, Harry “A Desperate Affair: The Battle of Hubbardton July 7, 1777” Revolutionary War Journal, Dec. 18, 2018: http://www.revolutionarywarjournal.com/battle-of-hubbardton-july-7-1777

Duling, Ennis “Thomas Anburey at the Battle of Hubbardton, How a Fraudulent
Source Misled Historians” Vermont History Vol. 78, No. 1 (Winter/Spring 2010): 1–14:
https://vermonthistory.org/journal/78/VHS780101_1-14.pdf

Free eBooks
(from archive.org unless noted)

Anbury, Thomas Travel through Various Parts of North America, Vol. 1, William Lane, 1789.

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):.

Digby, William The British Invasion from the North: The Campaigns of Generals Carleton and Burgoyne from Canada, Joel Munsell’s Sons, 1887.

Eelking, Max von, (translated by Stone, William L.) Memoirs of Major General Riedesel, Vol. 1, J. Munsell, 1868.

Fletcher, Ebenezer The Narrative of Ebenezer Fletcher: A Soldier of the Revolution, New York: Private Printing, 1866.

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.

Nickerson, Hoffman The Turning Point of the Revolution; or, Burgoyne in America, (Houghton-Mifflin Co. 1928 (Hathitrust.org).

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.

Smith, William Henry (ed) The St. Clair Papers: The Life and Public Services of Arthur St. Clair, Vol. 1, Cincinnati: Robert Clarke & Co, 1882.

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.

Chipman, Daniel Memoir of Seth Warner, Middlebury: L.W. Clark, 1848 (Also in this same volume is The Life of Ethan Allen, by Jared Sparks).

Books Worth Buying
(links to Amazon.com unless otherwise noted)*

Davis, Robert P. Where a Man Can Go: Major General William Phillips, British Royal Artillery, 1731-1781, Praeger, 1999.

Furneaux, Rupert The Battle of Saratoga, Stein and Day 1971.

Ketchum, Richard M. Saratoga, Turning Point of America’s Revolutionary War, Henry Holt & Co, 1997.

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.

Ventnor, Bruce M. The Battle of Hubbardton: The Rear Guard Action That Saved America, Arcadia Publishing, 2015 (book recommendation of the week).

* As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.



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