How to Use
Reading 1: The British Forces
By the summer of 1777, the British were well into their third year of trying to quell the American revolutionaries. Gen. John Burgoyne and his 8,000 troops, artillery, baggage train, and supply boats had been moving south from Quebec towards Albany, New York, for three months. He had captured several American forts along the way, encountering no significant opposition. By August, however, he found himself short of provisions, wagons, cattle, and horses. Burgoyne decided to send an expeditionary force into New England under Lt. Col. Friedrich Baum, one of the German officers in his command. The goal of the expedition was to capture military supplies that were being stockpiled at Bennington (now called Old Bennington), Vermont, and to collect cattle and horses for shipment back to the main army.
Philip Skene, a prominent local Loyalist landowner, was acting as an interpreter for Baum, who spoke no English. He assured Burgoyne that he would find extensive support from residents of New York and Vermont on his march to Albany. He had good reason for his belief. New York was a Tory stronghold and many colonists living in Vermont were also ready to join the Loyalist cause. This support was important to the success of Burgoyne's campaign. The British had to carry most of what they needed with them, relying on supply trains from distant Quebec for resupply. They hoped that local supporters would provide them with fresh food, horses, and cattle.
Baum's forces included about 650 professional British and German soldiers, as many as 500 Canadian and Loyalist volunteers, and more than 100 American Indians. The Mohawks had fought with the British during the French and Indian War. They were difficult allies because they preferred to fight in their own way and at their own time. The Loyalist forces included about 300 members of the Queens Loyal Rangers, recruited by Col. John Peters of Bradford, Vermont, and several hundred local Tories. One colonist who fought with the British at Bennington recalled:
I lived not far from the western borders of Massachusetts when the war began. . . . Believing that I owed duty to my King, I became known as a loyalist, or, as they called me, a tory; and soon found my situation rather unpleasant. I therefore left home, and soon got among the British troops who were coming down with Burgoyne, to restore the country to peace, as I thought.¹
Most of the German soldiers came from the small states of Hesse and Brunswick, whose rulers rented out their armies to whoever would pay for them. Many of these "Hessians," as they were usually called, were dragoons, heavily armed men who normally fought on horseback, but were at that time in search of horses. A British eyewitness, Thomas Anburey, described their appearance as they moved towards Bennington:
The load a soldier generally carries during a campaign, consisting of a knapsack, a blanket, a haversack that contains his provisions, a canteen for water, a hatchet and a proportion of the equipage belonging to his tent, these articles (and for such a march there cannot be less than four days provisions), added to his accoutrements, arms and sixty rounds of ammunition, make an enormous bulk, weighing about sixty pounds. . . . [The dragoons] have in addition a cap with a very heavy brass front, a sword of an enormous size, a canteen that cannot hold less than a gallon, and their coats, very long skirted. Picture to yourself a man in this situation, and how extremely well calculated [he is] for a rapid march.²
As Lt. Col. Baum prepared to set off toward Bennington, Gen. Burgoyne gave him these instructions:
It is highly probable that the corps [of Green Mountain Rangers] under Mr. Warner, now supposed to be at Manchester, will retreat before you; but should they, contrary to expectations, be able to collect in great force, and post themselves advantageously, it is left to your discretion to attack them or not, always bearing in mind that your corps is too valuable to let any considerable loss be hazarded on this occasion. . . . All persons acting in committees, or any officers acting under the directions of Congress, either civil or military, are to be made prisoners.³
Questions for Reading 1
1. Why did Burgoyne send out troops to raid Bennington?
2. Who were the main groups fighting on the British side? How many men were in each group? Why were they fighting? Who were their leaders?
3. What do you think it would have been like to march on rough roads through woods carrying 60 pounds of equipment? In what ways would it have been even more difficult for the dragoons?
4. Based on Lt. Col. Baum's orders, what sort of opinion did Gen. Burgoyne have of American soldiers?
Reading 1 was compiled from Richard Greenwood, "Battle of Bennington" (Rensselaer County, New York) National Historic Landmark documentation, Washington, D.C.: U. S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1975 and Philip Lord, Jr., compiler, War Over Walloomscoick: Land Use and Settlement Patterns on the Bennington Battlefield--1777 (Albany: The State Education Department, 1989).
¹Philip Lord, Jr., compiler, War Over Walloomscoick: Land Use and Settlement Patterns on the Bennington Battlefield--1777 (Albany: The State Education Department, 1989), 54.