Battle of Bennington - Hessian
A Hessian's Account of the Battle of Bennington
The Hessian Glich
[August 16, 1777].... The morning of the sixteenth rose beautifully serene; and it is not to the operation of the elements alone that my expression applies. All was perfectly quiet at the outposts, not an enemy having been seen nor an alarming sound heard for several hours previous to sunrise So peaceable, indeed, was the aspect which matters bore that our leaders felt manuly disposed to resume the offensive without waiting the arrival of the additional corps for which they had applied; and orders were already issued for the men to eat their breakfasts, preparatory to more active operations. Bur the arms were scarcely piled and the haversacks unslung when symptoms to a state of affairs different from that which had been anticipated began to show themselves, and our people were recalled to their ranks in all haste, almo.st as soon as they had quitted them. From more than one quarter scouts came in to report that columns of armed men were approaching though whether with friendly or hostile intention, neither their actions enabled our informants to ascertain.
It has been stated that during the last day's march our little corps was joined by many of the country people, most of whom demanded and obtained arms, as persons friendly to the royal cause. How Colonel Baume became so completely duped as to place reliance on these men, I know not; but having listened with complacency to their previous assurances that in Bennington a large majority of the populace were our friends, he was somehow or other persuaded to believe that the armed bands, of whose approach he was warned, were loyalists on their way to make tender of their services to the leader of the king's troops. Filled with this idea, he dispatched positive orders to the outposts that no molestations should be offered to the advancing columns, but that the pickets retiring before them should join the main body, where every disposition was made to receive either friend or foe. Unfortunately for us, these orders were but too faithfully obeyed. About half past nine o'clock, I, who was not in the secret, beheld, to my utter amazement our advanced parties withdraw without firing a shot from thickets which might have been maintained for hours against any superiority of [lumbers; and the same thickets occupied by men whose whole demeanor, as well as their dress and style of equipment, plainly and incontestably pointed them out as Americans.
I cannot pretend to describe the state of excitation and alarm into which our little band was now thrown. With the solitary exception of our leader, there was not a man among us who appeared otherwise than satisfied that those to whom he had listened were traitors, and that unless some prompt and vigorous measures were adopted, their treachery would be crowned with its full reward....
We might have stood about half an hour under arms, watching the proceedings of a column of four or five hundred men, who, after dislodging that pickets, had halted just at the edge of the open country, when a sudden trampling of feet in the forest on our right, followed by the report of several ~ muskets, attracted our attention. A patrol was instantly sent in the direction .of the sound, but before the party composing it had proceeded many yards from the lines, a loud shout, followed by a rapid though straggling fire of musketry, warned us to prepare for a meeting the reverse of friendly. Instantly the Indians came pouring in, carrying dismay and confusion in the countenances and gestures. We were surrounded on all sides; columns where advancing everywhere against us, and those whom we had hitherto trusted as friends had only waited till the arrival of their support might justify then~ in advancing.
There was no falsehood in these reports, though made by men who spoke rather from their fears than their knowledge. The column in our front no sooner heard the shout than they replied cordially and loudly to it; then, firing a volley with deliberate and murderous aim, rushed furiously towards us Now then, at length, our leader's dreams of security were dispelled. He found himself attacked in front and flanked by thrice his number,who
pressed forward with the confidence which our late proceedings were calculated to produce, whilst the very persons in whom he had trusted, and to
whom he had given arms, lost no time in turning them against him. These followers no sooner heard their comrades' cry than they deliberately`charged their muskets among Reidesel's dragoons and, dispersing before any steps could be taken to seize them, escaped, excepting one or two, to their friends.
If Col. Baume had permitted himself to be duped into a great error, it is no more than justice to confess that he exerted himself manfully to remedy the devil and avert its consequences. Our little band, which had hitherto remained in column, was instantly ordered to extend, and the troops lining the breastworks replied to the fire of the Americans with extreme celerity and considerable effect. So close and destructive, indeed, was our first volley that the assailants recoiled before it, and would have retreated, in all probability, within the woods; but ere we could take advantage of the confusion produced, fresh attacks developed themselves, and we were warmly engaged on every side and from all quarters. It became evident that each of our detached posts were about to be assailed at the same instant. No one of our dispositions had been concealed from the enemy, who, on the contrary, seemed to he hare of the exact number of men stationed at each point, and they were one and all threatened with a force perfectly adequate to bear down opposition, and yet by no means disproportionately large or such as to render the main body inefficient. All, moreover, was done with the sagacity and coolness of veterans, who perfectly understood the nature of the resistance to be expected and the difficulties to be overcome, and who, having well considered and matured their plans, were resolved to carry them into execution at all hazards and at every expense of life.
It was at this moment, when the heads of columns began to show themselves in rear of our right and left, that the Indians, who had hitherto acted with spirit and something like order, lost all confidence and fled. Alarmed at the prospect of having their retreat cut off, they stole away, after their own fashion, in single files, in spite of the strenuous remonstrances of Baume and of their own officers, leaving us more than ever exposed by the abandonment of that angle of the entrenchments which they had been appointed to maintain But even this spectacle, distressing as it doubtless was, failed in affecting our people with a feeling at all akin to despair.
The vacancy which the retreat of the savages occasioned was promptly filled up by one of our two field pieces, whilst the other poured destruction amoung the enemy in front, as often as they showed themselves in the open country or threatened to advance. In this state of things we continued upwards of three quarters of an hour. Tho' repeatedly assailed in front, flank and rear, we maintained ourselves with so much obstinacy as to inspire a hope that the enemy might even yet be kept at bay till the arrival of Breyman's corps, now momentarily expected; when an accident occurred, which at once put an end to this expectation and exposed us, almost defenseless, to our fate.
The solitary tumbril which contained the whole of our spare ammunition became ignited and blew up with a violence which shook the very ground under our feet and caused a momentary cessation in firing, both on our side and that of the enemy. But the cessation was only for a moment. The American officers, guessing the extent of our calamity, cheered their men to fresh exertions. They rushed up the ascent with redoubled ardor, in spite of the heavy volley which we poured in to check them, and, finding our guns silent, they sprang over the parapet and dashed within our works.
For a few seconds the scene which ensued defies all power of language to describe. The bayonet, the butt of the rifle, the sabre, the pike, were in full
play, and men fell, as they rarely fall in modern war, under the direct blows of their enemies. But such a struggle could not, in the nature of things, be of long continuance. Outnumbered, broken and somewhat disheartened by lat events, our people wavered and fell back, or fought singly and unconnectedly, till they were either cut down at their posts, obstinately defending themselves, or compelled to surrender. Of Reidesel's dismaunted dragoons, fev~ survived to tell how nobly they had behaved; CoL Baume, shot through the body by a rifle ball, fell mortally wounded; and all order and discipline being lost, flight or submission was alone thought of.
For my own part, whether the feeling arose from desperation or accident I cannot tell, but I resolved not to be taken. As yet I had escaped almost unhurt, a slight flesh wound in the left arm having alone fallen to my share; and gathering around me about thirty of my comrades, we made a rush where the enemy's ranks appeared weakest, and burst through. This done, each man made haste to shift for himself without pausing to consider the fate of his neighbor; and losing one third of our number from the enemy's fire,
remainder took refuge, in groups of two or three, within the forest.