Today is a state holiday in Vermont – Bennington Battle Day, commemorating the Battle of Bennington in the American Revolution on August 16, 1777.
The year 1777 was a pivotal year in our history.
For Vermonters, that was the year we declared ourselves an independent republic, six months after the Thirteen Colonies declared themselves to be “free and independent States.” For our country, that was the year that the American Revolution turned in our favor. The Battle of Bennington was “the turning point that led to the turning point.”
The American Revolution began in April 1775 with the Battles of Lexington and Concord: “the shot heard round the world.” The following month colonial forces led by Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold captured Fort Ticonderoga on Lake Champlain without a fight. In June 1775 the British technically won the Battle of Bunker Hill, but at a punishing cost. In the winter of 1775-1776 the cannon from Fort Ticonderoga were moved to heights overlooking the British warships anchored in Boston Harbor, thereby persuading the British to evacuate Boston in March 1776. The first year of the American Revolution was looking good for the colonists.
But the British regrouped in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and returned in the summer of 1776. They landed near New York City which they captured and made their base of operations for the duration of the war. The second year of the American Revolution was looking good for the British.
The year 1777 saw multiple British campaigns, including a successful campaign to capture Philadelphia, the colonists’ capital. But my interest here is in their campaign launched from Quebec.
In June 1777 a large British army marched south from Quebec into New York along Lake Champlain toward the Hudson River Valley. Their plan was to link up with British forces from New York City and cut off troublesome New England from the rest of the colonies.
The British initially encountered little resistance. The colonists abandoned Fort Ticonderoga without a fight. The British engaged retreating colonial forces on July 7 in the Battle of Hubbardton. This battle, a costly victory for the British, was the only battle of the American Revolution actually fought in Vermont.
In August the British sent a detachment east to raid a colonial supply depot at Bennington, Vermont. The colonists decisively defeated this British force on August 16 in the Battle of Bennington. This victory, which we celebrate with Bennington Battle Day, was historic:
For the first time in the war, Patriot militiamen had defeated an entrenched force of professional soldiers.
This victory started the unraveling of the British campaign. The colonists harassed the British relentlessly, leading in two months to the surrender of General John Burgoyne’s army at Saratoga, New York, on October 17, 1777. This was the turning point in the American Revolution, although hostilities continued until the Battle of Yorktown (Virginia) in 1781, and a peace treaty was not signed until 1783.
Then, following adoption of a new constitution in 1787-1788, the United States of America began to consider accepting additional states. Vermont led the way, becoming the 14th state in 1791. But none of that would have happened without the military victories of 1777.
As an aside, what role did Ethan Allen, the Vermont hero of the capture of Fort Ticonderoga in May 1775, play in the momentous events of 1777? Alas, none. The overall colonial commander in the Battle of Bennington was General John Stark of New Hampshire, and the Vermont forces – the Green Mountain Boys – were led by Colonel Seth Warner. Ethan Allen had been captured in a failed raid on Montreal in September 1775 and was held in a British prison until 1778.
The Battle of Bennington was truly historic. Click here for a recent (2017) VTDigger column about the strategic importance of this battle. Vermont author Phil Holland describes the battle and explains why the surrender at Saratoga was the turning point in the war: because it convinced France to aid the colonists. We likely would not have won the American Revolution without naval and financial assistance from France. The quote above about “Patriot militiamen” came from this column.
The Battle of Bennington was actually fought 10 miles northwest of Bennington, Vermont, in the hamlet of Walloomsac in the town of Hoosick, New York. So why does Vermont celebrate this battle? Click here for a recent (2018) VTDigger article that answers that question. Vermont historian Mark Bushnell discusses the name of the battle, the history of the Bennington Battle Monument (photo above), and the history of the state holiday. This article is the source of the “turning point” quote in the 3rd paragraph above.
And, yes, Bennington Battle Day really is a Vermont state holiday per 1 V.S.A. § 371.