There was only one battle inside the borders of Vermont during the Revolutionary War. Many people would point to Bennington as the location, but that battle actually took place in New York. The Battle of Hubbardton erupted on the morning of July 7, 1777 when the British forces (mostly Hessians) and their Native American allies pursuing Colonial Army forces retreating from Fort Ticonderoga caught up to them on this site.
The 11th Massachusetts Regiment was the rear guard and were late to join the larger forces commanded by St. Clair, who were marching to Castleton. Colonel Seth Warner commanded the Green Mountain Boys and Nathan Hale (not the spy) commanded the 2nd New Hampshire Regiment that waited for the 11th to catch up. Warner decided to spend the night instead of marching on, and the British caught up with them at dawn. The combined forces of the Massachusetts, New Hampshire Regiments and Green Mountain Boys stood their ground along the top of a ridge and laid fire on the pursuing British forces, retreated further and engaged again.
Casualties were high on both sides. On the Colonial Army side a combined 370 men were killed, wounded or captured, and New Hampshire’s Nathan Hale was captured in the battle and eventually died in captivity. On the British side, almost 200 were killed or wounded. The battle was technically won by the British, but it was a costly battle that, along with battles in Fort Anne and Bennington, were critical delays that helped lead the way to the American victory at Saratoga. General Burgoyne’s critical mistake was losing focus on the ultimate goal of controlling the British along the water routes from the St. Lawrence to the Hudson River, which would have cut off New England from the rest of the colonies. Saratoga proved a critical win as it prompted the French to join the Americans against the British.
I walked around the site of the Battle of Hubbardton on April 18th when I took a quick detour from my business meetings. Driving out to the battle site is an exercise in faith, as the signage is limited, cellular service ended for both my AT & T and Verizon phones, and you’re driving for what feels like a long time from the highway to the site. But I’m not easily intimidated by such things.
The actual battle site looks a lot like it did that day. If anything, it’s even less developed now than it was then, as the fields once planted with corn, beans or hay have been taken back by the forest. The battle site remains fields, with mown paths that carry you to signs that tell you where you are and what happened at that location. This was the moment when I recognized that my old dress shoes were no longer waterproof, as the soggy grass transported water to my dress socks with ease. I normally keep boots in my car but this side trip wasn’t anticipated and, well, it’s only water.
The Battle of Hubbardton site is an active museum, but it doesn’t open until May and there’s a sign that let me know it’s okay to walk around the grounds. There’s a small building that likely offers much more information on the battle and the related action at Lake Champlain, Fort Ticonderoga, Fort Independence and Saratoga. But that will have to wait for another day. A white marble monument surrounded by an iron fence offers a stoic tribute to the events of that day, and I spent a few minutes walking around it reading the engravings on each side. I was alone that day, and that solitude made the experience all the more moving as I reflected on the quiet ground that once roared with violent conflict.