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Burgoyne's movements convinced Schuyler that he would shortly be attacked by the whole British army, as Burgoyne had intended and foreseen. Schuyler therefore again urged Stark to come to his assistance without more delay, if he would not have the burden of defeat lie at his own door. This appeal took present effect. 

Nothing happened till the thirteenth. Meantime, Stark had decided to go to Schuyler's assistance. His brigade was under arms, ready to march, when a woman rode up in haste with the news that hostile Indians were running up and down the next town, spreading terror in their path. She had come herself because the road was no longer safe for men to travel it. Stark quickly ordered out two hundred men to stop the supposed marauders, and gain further intelligence.

This detachment soon sent back word that the Indians were only clearing the way for a larger force, which was marching toward Bennington. Swift couriers were instantly despatched to Manchester, to hurry forward the troops there to Stark's aid.

The next day Stark moved out toward the enemy, in order to look for his detachment. He soon fell in with it, fighting in retreat, with the enemy following close behind. Stark halted, formed his line, and gathered in his scouts. This defiance brought the enemy to a stand also.

Seeing before him a force as strong as, or stronger than, his own, Baum was now looking about him for ground suitable to receive an attack upon; making one himself was farthest from his thoughts, as Burgoyne had given him express orders not to risk an engagement if opposed by a superior force, but to entrench, and send back for help at once. This was precisely Baum's present situation. He, therefore, lost no time in sending a courier to headquarters.

On his part, Stark did not wish to fight till Warner could come up, or delay fighting long enough for the enemy to be reinforced. Baum's evident desire to avoid an action made Stark all the more anxious to attack him, and he resolved to do so not later than the next morning, by which time he confidently reckoned on having Warner's regiment with him. Though small, it had fought bravely at Hubbardton, and Stark felt that his raw militia would be greatly strengthened by the presence of such veterans among them.

Rain frustrated Stark's plan for attacking the next day, so there was only a little skirmishing, in which the Americans had the advantage. Baum improved the delay by throwing up a redoubt of logs and earth on a rather high, flat-topped hill, rising behind the little Walloomsac River. In this, he placed his two field pieces. His Canadians and loyalists took up a position across and lower down the stream, in his front, the better to cover the road by which his reinforcements must come, or the Americans attempt to cut off his retreat. These dispositions were all that time, the size of his force, and the nature of the ground would permit.

 

Illustration: BATTLE OF BENNINGTON. August 16, 1777
Illustration: BATTLE OF BENNINGTON. August 16, 1777

 

Rain also kept back the reinforcements that each side was so impatiently expecting. Stark chafed at the delay, Baum grew more hopeful of holding out until help could reach him. Burgoyne had, indeed, despatched Breyman to Baum's assistance at eight o'clock in the morning, with eight hundred and fifty men and two guns. This corps was toiling on, through mud and rain, at the rate of only a mile an hour, when an hour, more or less, was to decide the fate of the expedition itself. The fatigue was so great, that when urged on to the relief of their comrades, the weary Germans would grumble out, "Oh, let us give them time to get warm!"

Warner's regiment could not leave Manchester till the morning of the fifteenth, but by marching till midnight, it was near Bennington on the morning of the sixteenth. Breyman put so little energy into his movements that he was nowhere near Baum at that hour. Stark, however, was strengthened by the arrival of several hundred militia from Massachusetts, who came full of fight and demanded to be led against the enemy without delay. Stark's reply was characteristic: "Do you want to go out now, while it is dark and rainy?" he asked. "No," the spokesman rejoined. "Then," continued Stark, "if the Lord should give us sunshine once more, and I do not give you fighting enough, I will never ask you to turn out again."

The day broke clear and pleasant. Both parties prepared for the coming battle. Stark had the most men, but Baum had the advantage of fighting behind entrenchments, and of having artillery, while Stark had none.

At midday, Stark formed his men for the attack. All were yeomanry, in homespun, rudely equipped with pouches and powder-horns, and armed with the old brown firelocks, without bayonets, they had brought from their homes. Some had served in the preceding campaign, but not one in fifty had ever fired a shot in anger; while many were mere lads, in whom enthusiasm for their leader and cause supplied the want of experience. The work now required of them was such as only veterans were thought capable of doing. They were to storm entrenchments, defended by the trained soldiers of Europe; yet not a man flinched when Stark, with a soldier's bluntness and fire, pointed his sword toward the enemy's redoubt and exclaimed, "There, my lads, are the Hessians! Tonight our flag floats over yonder hill, or Molly Stark is a widow!"

His men answered with loud cheers, grasped their weapons, and demanded to be led against the enemy. Stark then gave the wished-for order to march.

Meanwhile, dismay reigned in Bennington. Every man who could load a musket had gone out to fight with Stark. Their household goods had been loaded upon wagons, ready to move off in case the day went against them. Their wives and little ones stood hand in hand along the village street, throughout that long summer afternoon, listening to the peal of cannon and musketry, in fear for those who had gone forth to the battle, and expecting the moment that was to make them homeless wanderers.

The story of the battle is soon told. Stark so divided his force as to attack the enemy in front, flank, and rear, at once. The nature of the ground was such as to hide the march of the several detachments from Baum's view, but he had no other idea than to keep close in his entrenchments.

At three in the afternoon, firing began in Baum's rear. This was the signal that the several attacking columns had reached their allotted stations. All the Americans then rushed on to the assault. Baum found himself everywhere assailed with unlooked-for vigor. Never had he expected to see raw rustics charging up to the muzzles of his guns. In vain he plied them with grape and musketry. The encircling line grew tighter and tighter; the fire, hotter and hotter. For an hour he defended himself valiantly, hoping for night or Breyman to come. At last, his fire slackened. The Americans clambered over the breastworks and poured into the redoubt. For a few moments, there was sharp hand-to-hand fighting. The Germans threw down their muskets, drew their broadswords, and desperately attempted to cut their way out. Most of them were beaten back or taken. A few only escaped. The Tories and Canadians fared no better. The victory was complete and decisive.

Now, at the eleventh hour, Breyman was marching on the field to the sound of the firing. He had taken thirty-two hours to get over twenty-four miles. Supposing the day won, Stark's men were scattered about in disorder. Not even Stark himself seems to have thought of a rescuing force. Some were guarding the prisoners, some caring for the wounded, and some gathering up the booty. All had yielded to the demoralization of victory, or to the temptation to plunder. Most opportunely, Warner's men now came fresh into the fight. This gallant little band flung itself boldly in the path of the advancing foe, thus giving Stark the time to rally those nearest him, and lead them into action again.

At first, Breyman gained ground. With steady tread his veterans fired and moved on, pushing the Americans back, toward the scene of the first encounter; but Baum was no longer there to assist, the scattered militiamen were fast closing in around Breyman's flanks, and Stark had now brought one of Baum's cannon to bear, with destructive effect, upon the head of the enemy's advancing column.

In no long time, the deadly fire poured in on all sides, began to tell upon Breyman's solid battalions. Our marksmen harassed his flanks. His front was hard-pressed, and there were no signs of Baum. Enraged by the thought of having victory torn from their grasp, the Americans gave ground foot by foot, and inch by inch. At last, the combatants were firing in each other's faces; so close was the encounter, so deadly the strife, that Breyman's men were falling around him by scores, under the close and accurate aim of their assailants. Darkness was closing in. His artillery horses were shot down in their traces, his flanks driven in, his advance stopped.

As soon as they perceived their advantage, the Americans redoubled their efforts. The firing grew tremendous. It was now Breyman who was forced back. Soon all order was lost. Favored by the darkness, he began a disorderly retreat. In an instant, his guns were taken. Exhausted by fighting two battles in one afternoon, no longer able in the darkness to tell friend from foe, the Americans soon gave over the pursuit. But, for the second time, they stood victors on the hard-fought field. All felt it to be a narrow escape from defeat, for if Breyman had loitered, by the way, he had fought like a lion in the toils of the hunter.

Thus Washington's sagacity had been vindicated, Stark's insubordination nobly atoned for, Schuyler's worst fears set at rest, by the fortunes of a single day.

Four cannon, one thousand stands of arms, and seven hundred prisoners were the trophies of this victory. The enemy left two hundred of his dead on the field. Baum's corps was virtually destroyed, Breyman's badly cut up, Burgoyne's well-laid plans scattered to the winds.

FOOTNOTES:

[33] BATTLE OF BENNINGTON. Both actions actually occurred in the town of Hoosic, N.Y. (we cannot be held responsible for the absurd variations in spelling this name), though the troops were formed for the attack within the limits of Bennington, and Stark's despatch announcing his victory is dated at this place. A battle monument, designed to be three hundred and one feet high, is now being built on a commanding site at Bennington Centre, which is the old village. No more beautiful spot than this hill-environed valley, overlooked by Mount Anthony, could possibly commemorate to future centuries one of the decisive conflicts of the War for Independence.