Battle of Bennington commemorated during history weekend

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WALLOOMSAC, N.Y. — Historical re-enactors, musicians and speakers came together on Saturday in recognition of the Battle of Bennington.

Entitled "History on the Hill," it was one of 250 historic and culture events in New York's Path Through History weekend.

David Pitlyk, historic site assistant for the Bennington Battlefield Historic Site in Walloomsac, N.Y., said researchers are still not completely sure about some details of the battle on August 16, 1777.

"We're fortunate enough to have accounts from journals, interviews, claim papers and English and journal battle maps to base our conclusions," he said, addressing attendees at the battlefield's "Hessian Hill." He continued, "And recent advancement in scholarship on the study of some loyalists have started to fill in that picture."

The historic site along Route 67 partnered with Brown's Brewing Company for the event. At the company's Walloomsac Taproom in Hoosick Falls, visitors could visit an encampment that portrayed life of a 1777 British soldier. The brewery also offered a "Then and Now Bite and Beer," in which attendees tried foods and beer that soldiers may have consumed in that era.

At the battlefield site, several speakers touched upon various aspects of the fight. Matthew Shelley, a musician who studies American folk songs, played three selections. Among them, "Banks of the Dee," would have been sung both in England and the colonies, he said. And re-enactors representing the 34th Regiment of Foot, a British Army regiment of which General Burgoyne's army was a part, gave a firing demonstration.

Most of what is known about the battle comes from a map drawn by Lt. Desmaretz Durnford, an engineer with the British Army during General John Burgoyne's expedition, according to Peter Schaaphok, president of the Friends of the Bennington Battlefield. But two more maps surfaced from Germany. They differ on details like the size and orientation of the fortification, he said.

Some details may never be known, in part an unintended consequence of when the state built a road and made a parking lot at the site in the 1930s.

Driven by a need for ammunition, food and arms, Burgoyne sent Lt. Colonel Friedrich Baum to raid the Bennington storehouse for supplies. But Baum's detachment was met by at least 1,500 militiamen led by General John Stark and Colonel Seth Warner leading the Green Mountain Boys.

Burgoyne's army — comprised of German, or "Hessian" soldiers, as well as Canadians, loyalists and Indians — was reduced by a quarter, with 200 killed and another 700 captured. Baum himself was mortally wounded and died two days later. Of the rebels, about 20 were killed and 40 wounded. Historians credit the rebel victory as leading to Burgoyne's surrender at Saratoga.

A solider injured in the course of battle could expect little in the way of medical care, according to Phyllis Chapman. Battle medicine was quick, brutal and done without anesthesia — an officer would have been given a bottle of whiskey, while soldiers, a rag or stick to bite on.

Surgeons varied in skill and form, she said. Little was known about the body or how to cure it.

Close quarters in camps led many men to die from disease and it may have been that for every seven deaths, six are believed to have died from disease.

Patrick Niles, a retired high school history teacher and president of the Washington (New York) County Historical Society, called Stark a natural at deploying men. And he recognized Stark for accomplishing what he did with militia men, who were trained far less than the British Army.

"The battle plan he put together was phenomenal," Niles said.

Contact Edward Damon at 413-770-6979


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