Riedesel Reaction to Bennington

Baron Friedrich Adolf Riedesel, ca 1790. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Baron Friedrich Adolf Riedesel, ca 1790. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Late August 1777, to the Duke (after Bennington)

Fortune is often fickle, but especially so in war, a fact of which the following unpleasant event is a proof. Misfortune has fallen in an especial manner upon a portion of your troops, and that, too, after the glorious affair at Hubbardton.

Your highness will remember seeing in my last report how difficult and laborious our marches have been on account of the want of horses and vehicles for the transportation of the provisions, artillery and regimental baggage. When in camp at Skeensborough, I took the liberty of communicating my ideas on the subject to General Burgoyne. He accepted my memoir a copy of which I here enclose as proof, and answered me that my suggestions accorded with his views, and he would, therefore, endeavor to carry them out as soon as possible.

This memoir was written by me on the 22d of July, and was answered by him on the 27th. The troops were marching; everything was quiet; and I heard nothing more of this project until the 4th of August, when the whole army were together near Fort Edward. All at once, Burgoyne came in the afternoon into my tent, and handed me for my perusal, the instructions which had been made for Lieutenant Colonel Baum to join him in an expedition. He further stated that the latter was to carry out the instructions immediately, and that they had been given him in consequence of a plan which I had sent to himself (General Burgoyne). But how great was my astonishment at finding my plan so changed! My idea was to have Baum march behind the army, by way of Castletown and Clarendon, to the Connecticut River. Thus, the enemy’s army would not have discovered the movement soon enough to send a hostile force against Baum. It would also have been within our power to get in the rear of his army with a corps of our own men. But instead of this, it was ordered in the instructions that Baum should cross the Battenkill opposite Saratoga, and march straight to Bennington, where a hostile force was defending a strong magazine. It was hoped that Baum would be able to beat the enemy at Bennington and capture this magazine, after which he was to march to Manchester and so carry out his instructions.

This corps, also, was, contrary to my advice, formed much weaker than was advisable, and was likewise composed of so many different troops that it was not nearly as effective as I designed. Accordingly I did not fail to represent the danger to which Lieutenant Colonel Baum would be exposed, showing at the same time very plainly that he would be unable to attain his object. Nevertheless, General Burgoyne maintained his purpose, giving for it the following reasons:

1st. By the capture of the magazine at Bennington our army would be provided with rations for at least from ten to fourteen days; and thus we would be enabled to transfer a large magazine from Fort George to Saratoga, and continue the expedition.

2d. As he was about to advance himself with the entire army to Saratoga, and General Fraser being already as near as could be to Stillwater, where General Arnold was, the enemy most certainly would not dare to send troops in large numbers to Bennington. But even if he should do so he (General Burgoyne) would be ready at any moment to attack a corps thus sent, in the rear.

3d. Lieutenant Colonel St. Leger was then besieging Fort Stanwix on the Mohawk river. General Arnold desired to retain that fort, and would, therefore, detach a considerable force thither. In order to prevent him from doing this, we must engage the enemy’s attention.

All my representations were, therefore, in vain. General Fraser and Lieutenant Colonel Baum started on the 9th of August. The latter was to receive his several detachments from the former. He was instructed in everything according to the wishes of Burgoyne; and Captain O’Connell, also an engineer officer, was sent with him as an interpreter. Colonel and Governor Skene also accompanied him to assist in the dispatches and the different supplies.

When Lieutenant Colonel Baum arrived at Fort Miller, where he was to receive, on the following day, the necessary troops from Fraser, everything was wanted. Neither the savages, nor the Canadians could rally –most of them having advanced against the rebels near Stillwater. Baum was thus forced to remain at Fort Miller on the 10th, and I received orders, against my judgment, to furnish another 100 men of Breymann’s corps as a reinforcement to Baum.

On the 11th, the latter advanced to the Batten kill opposite Saratoga, and arrived on the 12th at Cambridge. His advance guard encountered a detachment of rebels which was repulsed. Eight men were taken prisoners, and a magazine, containing 100 bushels of corn, a large quantity of flour, 1,500 oxen, and a great many other things were captured. It was here that Baum was informed that the enemy at Bennington numbered from 15, OOO to 18,000 men, but that they were mostly militia men wh0 had little idea of fighting, and who, at his advance, would certainly fall back. He also learned that the stores at Bennington were considerable, containing upward of 2,000 oxen and 300 horses.

Animated by the result of his first encounter, and being a man of determined will, Baum made up his mind to march on Bennington on the 13th, and dislodge the enemy at that place. He sent a report of all that had happened up to that time to Burgoyne, who not only was well pleased with his whole conduct, but consented to the attack on Bennington, with, however, this remark, that he (Baum) should not advance until he was well informed of the enemy’s position and was sure of attacking it advantageously.

Lieutenant Colonel Baum halted on the 13th, four miles this side of Bennington. On the morning of the 14th, just as he was in the act of starting, he was attacked by about 700 men, who, however, fell back upon the firing of a few cannon. Baum, at this point, received intelligence from some royalists and a prisoner, that the enemy was well fortified at Bennington, and that he expected reinforcements when he would there make an attack. Accordingly, Baum very judiciously changed his plan; remained where he was, and asked for reinforcements. But the tone of his request was such as made Burgoyne believe that he did not wish to risk anything, and only asked for reinforcements that he might attack Bennington.

This was the time when Baum should have fallen back; because the distance between him and Breymann (some thirty miles) was too great for the latter to come to his assistance in season, in ease of attack But this was not thought of, and Breymann received orders on the morning of the 15th, to go to the assistance of Baum, who was informed of his coming.

The reason why Baum was not recalled was, that he was bent upon taking Bennington. I will not recapitulate the details of this expedition, but enclose herewith his re•eport. By this, as well as by other circumstances, it is plain that the distance between him and Breymann was too great for the latter to arrive in time. All, who were present, testify that Baum and the troops did well. . He had thoroughly beaten the enemy when he was forced, through want of ammunition, to retreat. This the enemy observing, again advanecd.

In regard to the commencement of this affair, its progress and its termination no one yet can state anything definite. The statements of those who have escaped are so at variance that no certain conclusion can be at present reached. But this much is certain; that Baum, after being informed that Breymann was coming to his assistance, would not leave his post. Several small bands of armed men were near his camp in the morning, but he was told that they were royalists. Between nine and ten o’clock, these hands growing stronger and stronger, he began to investigate and found that he was entirely surrounded by the enemy. These were the 1,800 men from Bennington, who, the previous day, had been reinforced by 2,000 men from Arnold’s army- a fact of which no one knew anything.

Upon a prearranged signal, he was attacked at about half past ten o’clock from all sides. He held out for two hours, repulsing the enemy twice, until having expended all his ammunition he was on the point of retreating with his dragoon regiment, being entirely cut off from the savages and Canadians. Twice he cut his way through the enemy. None of the dragoons having another shot, he ordered them to sling their guns over their shoulders and draw their swords. In this way he endeavored to cut his way through the third time. What has been the fate of the poor men God only knows. Of the dragoons, who are here one hundred and fifty men strong, only seven have returned. I have now about eighty men of this regiment with me, consisting of a camp guard, a few sick and some who remained behind.

General Burgoyne has publicly praised the men, but notwithstanding this, I cannot divest myself of the sorrow which I feel at this event, especially since the expedition was planned contrary to my wishes. I, myself, offered to go with Breymann’s corps, but Burgoyne refused me on the ground that there was no other general with the army but he and I. Aside from the great loss of so many brave men of your highness, and the boast of the rebels, this affair will not be of much consequence, for Lieutenant Colonel St. Leger has captured Fort Stanwix with many cannon and a strong garrison. It is also said that General Olin ton has won a battle near the highlands.

The army of Arnold has evacuated Stillwater, and, it is rumored, is in Albany. As soon as our provisions and the necessary bateaux, which are transported by land, shall have reached us, the army will advance, and will soon be in Albany in spite of our losses.

I would recommend to your favor Lieutenant Colonel Brcymann and Major Von Barner. They have acted bravely. This corps, with the exception of its losses, is in the best condition. I must not suffer many more such losses, otherwise I would rather sacrifice my life in the service of your highness, than to spend it in nothing but sorrow and misfortune.

Your most obedient and humble servant,

Riedesel

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