Vermont State Holiday Marks Battle Fought In New York
Today is a state holiday in Vermont. August 16th marks Bennington Battle Day, a Revolutionary War clash that was actually fought in nearby New York.
The August 16, 1777 Battle of Bennington pitted British General John Burgoyne and Colonel Friedrich Baum against American Brigadier General John Stark and Colonel Seth Warner at Walloomsac, NY.
Vermont marks the skirmish with a state holiday. There is a 306-foot tall limestone monument in Bennington to commemorate the battle. But if it was fought in New York, why does Vermont celebrate and commemorate it?
Kutztown University of Pennsylvania Professor of History Dr. Mike Gabriel is the Bennington Museum’s most current authority on the Battle of Bennington. His book The Battle of Bennington: Soldiers and Civilians uses firsthand accounts to tell the story of the battle to stop the British from raiding supplies in the town. “The place the British were heading for was definitely in Vermont. There are several hundred Vermont soldiers, Vermont militia, who fight at the Battle of Bennington. It was the Independent Republic of Vermont that asked New Hampshire to send John Stark and his men to Bennington. And it made sense to try to stop them before they got to Bennington. Had they gotten to Bennington and the British gotten all these supplies the Revolution might have been different. Vermont sees this, I believe, as a time where they play a very significant role even if the battle’s not fought on their soil.”
Bennington Battlefield State Historic Site is in Walloomsac in New York’s Rensselaer County. Historic Site Assistant David Pitlyk (pit-lick) says the battle has been called the turning point before the turning point of the Revolutionary War. “Everyone is aware of the battles, plural, at Saratoga. However it’s the defeat at Bennington that really puts Burgoyne on the back foot as he commits to continuing on and making his push on Albany.”
Gabriel notes that if Burgoyne had won, history might have changed. “The British would’ve probably arrived at Saratoga three or four weeks earlier. And the American army at Saratoga wouldn’t have been as big and it wouldn’t have been as prepared. Burgoyne would have had more men, because he loses a large number at Bennington. So, you know, there’s no way of doing exact ‘what if’ history but certainly if the Battle of Bennington is lost the revolution is different.”
Pitlyk adds that the Battle of Bennington occurred at a crucial time in the formation of Vermont’s state identity. “At various times it was an open question whether they would be forced to accept the authority of the state of New York; whether they would continue on as an independent republic or even whether they would rejoin the British Empire. So their participation in this battle really made a huge difference and they take a lot of pride in it.”
The Bennington Battlefield State Historic Site will hold a commemoration at 7 o’clock with a cannon salute and people in period costume sharing accounts of the battle.
Bennington will celebrate the 125th anniversary of the opening of the Bennington Battle Monument this weekend.