Symposium on the Battle of Bennington
By Alex Brooks
The consensus that emerged from the Hoosick Township Historical Society’s Symposium on the Battle of Bennington, among all three of the presenters, is that at least in this region, the conflict we call the Revolutionary War had more of the character of a civil war than of a revolutionary war. The conflict that took place in this region in the summer of 1777 bore little resemblance to the customary notion of Americans soldiers facing off against British soldiers. At Bennington, there were only about 50 British soldiers involved, while there were ten times that many loyalists who fought on the British side in the battle. Furthermore, it appears that of soldiers from New York participating in the Battle of Bennington, loyalists outnumbered revolutionaries by about 10 to 1.
What emerges from the presentations is that the period was rife with conflicts of Americans against Americans. The question of loyalty vs. revolution was the central one, but it was greatly complicated by other conflicts. The greatest of these other conflicts was the ongoing skirmishing between Vermonters and New York authorities, amounting almost to civil war, over land titles given by the former Governor of New Hampshire to land that was really in New York. The eastern New York towns in which the Battle of Bennington took place had also become embroiled in this controversy, so much so that a decade later they would briefly secede from New York State and indeed from the United States, to join with the independent Republic of Vermont.
Another conflict developing in eastern New York at that time was between an aristocratic land-holding elite, and their tenant farmers. Resentments arising out of the patroon system, which several decades later would boil over in the rent wars, were already in play (perhaps aided by the example of the free and independent farmers in the neighboring New Hampshire Grants), and Tom Barker suggests that they were contributing to the loyalist sentiment in the area.
The question of why so much loyalist sentiment arose in this area is an intriguing one. Various answers were suggested by all three of our scholars in their talks. Some of these are:
- This area was extremely exposed to Burgoyne’s invasion, and therefore it may have seemed prudent to accept his offer of protection, as a practical matter. After the Battle of Bennington, when The British seemed much less likely to be able to hang on to the colonies, it became much more dangerous to be a loyalist, and persecution of loyalists became commonplace.
- In Vermont, where the Green Mountain Boys held sway, it was a bit dangerous to be a Loyalist, since loyalty to the Crown suggested loyalty to the hated New York authorities; in Whig Albany also, the powerful elite didn’t tolerate loyalism; but in eastern New York one was a bit out of reach of either, and therefore more free to express such sentiments.
- Many of those from this area who held revolutionary sentiments had left. Some of the local militia had gone to join Schuyler’s force in Stillwater to stop Burgoyne from entering Albany, and many local families had evacuated the area as ordered by General Schuyler. As Joe Parks points out, the ones that left were most likely to be the Revolutionary families.
- Simple prudence may have convinced some militiamen to fight on the British side. Lion Miles points out that many of the 56 militiamen who signed up to fight in Simeon Covell’s loyalist Cambridge regiment did so on the same afternoon that Baum’s little army pulled into town. These men (who may have been members of the Cambridge militia) probably had no idea that a force of 2500 or so soldiers would be assembled to fight Baum only a few days later.
- The presence of Loyalist leaders in the area, such as Pastor Schwerdtfeger, Francis Pfister, and others, may have encouraged loyalists to gather in the area, and won over some who would otherwise have gone with the revolutionary flow.
One thing that emerges from a close acquaintance with the milieu surrounding the battle is the menacing, lawless character of life in this area as war approached. Tales were heard of Indian attacks aided and abetted by the approaching British forces; as Joe Parks describes, everyone was subject to pressure, intimidation, or even attacks from either side in their recruiting efforts; and many had to leave their homes and go to Williamstown, Bennington, or Albany because it was not safe to stay (and because Schuyler had ordered it). A document shown by Lion Miles was poignant, in which families from Salem, refugees in Williamstown two weeks after the Battle, request permission to return home to Salem.
One area of disagreement and continuing uncertainty is the question of how many New Yorkers participated on the American side. Joe Parks counts only five, but Lion Miles’ best guess is 60. Mr. Parks says earlier historians from eastern NY have claimed even larger numbers. The documentary evidence is very poor, and we may never have a satisfying answer to this question, but new documents are still being discovered, and more light may yet be shed on it.
One of the issues discussed most in the plenary session was the question of whether John Williams’ regiment from Salem was involved in the battle. Lion Miles presented several documents that he believed demonstrated that Williams and a number of his regiment were at the battle, and it is primarily on this circumstantial evidence that Miles bases his estimate of 60 New York men at the battle. He said there are nine boxes of papers on John Williams in the New York State archives, which are currently inaccessible because of building renovations going on there, but he hopes at some point to go through them and learn more about Williams’ activities around the time of the battle.
New York’s Part in the Battle of Bennington
By Joe Parks
My interest in the part played by residents of eastern New York in the battle called Bennington, was first piqued by a series of letters from a Hoosick Falls resident published in a Troy newspaper in 1891. These letters were from Sylvanus Dyer Locke, a mid‑Westerner employed at the Walter A. Wood plant. He was angry over the celebrations in Bennington surrounding the dedication of the battle monument there, attended by much hoopla and the U.S. President.
Sylvanus Locke raised three questions which he thought would show Bennington in a bad light. Had not an anti‑N.Y. conspiracy caused the battle to be called Bennington when it should have been called Walloomsac? Why was the monument located in Bennington when it could only be properly erected where the battle took place? With so many New York militia units and individuals having fought in the battle, why did New England cheat New York of its rightful share of glory in the victory?
The first answers coming back to Locke through the Troy newspaper were written by fellow New Yorkers with historical credentials, who were critical of Locke’s facts and assumptions, but that seemed not to bother him. He was a man who loved a fight.
No one group or individual decided on the name of the battle. In the first days and months after the battle, it was written in different ways, including Bennington (a fact Locke denied), plus Hoosick, Sancoick, and White Creek, but apparently not including Walloomsac, which doesn’t appear to have been a place name at that time. Over a few decades after 1777 the battle took the name Bennington by public usage, as battles are usually– if not always – named. For Locke, Bennington was the wrong name substituted under-handedly for the right name, which he insisted for some reason should be Walloomsac. He might better have looked at the situation as a problem of competing names for the same event from which one will be selected over time by public usage, while the others fade away.
For example, New York’s famous battle now known as Saratoga has been called Bemis Heights, Freeman’s Farm, and Stillwater. Like Bennington, it came to be called by the name of a little settlement not located where the battle took place.
About the placement of battle monuments, the rule that the principal monument can only be placed at the battle site is Locke’s idea, customary but not always observed by history. In our case, the enemy did not come to Bennington looking for battle, but hoped to avoid one while seizing the supplies stored there and guarded by a few locals (or so they thought). They would rush the supplies back to the enemy camp so the army could feed and press on to capture Albany. Locke insisted from the start that the battle never had anything to do with Bennington, but when he was advised by New Yorkers that the original written orders were superceded by oral orders to raid Bennington, Locke stubbornly refused to hear.
Locke’s assumption, underlying his third question, that there were many New York units and individual militiamen is without much foundation. The records show no New York units, and not many individuals from New York, can be shown to have taken part in the battle on the Revolutionary side. The reason for that is basically that the New York militia regiments were where they should have been, holding a position in front of Burgoyne’s half-English, half‑German army, to block its advance further towards Albany.
Parts of New York regiments were in Burgoyne’s front, but his left flank was open, so that the English commander could strike toward the east without hindrance. New York’s General Schuyler knew he could not stop a raid in that direction. Burgoyne, needing food and hearing there were supplies at Bennington, gambled on a quick raid. By the time Schuyler knew of the enemy raid, he had assembled only one-fourth of the personnel of those regiments, being the men thought to be most free of Loyalist sentiments. When he heard that the enemy had reached Cambridge, it was too late for him to send New York troops, yet he found comfort in knowing what Burgoyne did not know, that three regiments of New Hampshire militia were at Bennington and that their commander was calling on Massachusetts and Vermont militias for help.
We know that residents of eastern New York near Burgoyne’s army at that time were engaged in a bitter civil war between Loyalists and Revolutionaries. Burgoyne was offering to extend the King’s protection to those who would show allegiance, and many took his offer, signing an oath. It was thought risky to call up some of the militia regiments because the majority of the members might take the regiment to join Burgoyne, so two or three of approximately fifteen regiments were not called.
Small groups of Revolutionary militiamen moving north to join Schuyler would clash with armed Loyalist groups being formed in the area to join Burgoyne, such as the one recruited by “Colonel” Francis Pfister of Hoosick. There were ambushes and attacks upon homes. No person in that area was safe.
Many resident families had obeyed orders from Schuyler to evacuate the area, and had become refugees. Schuyler’s orders were to take along or destroy any portable objects the enemy might use, such as cattle, horses, wagons, and foodstuffs. These orders were obeyed, probably better by Revolutionary families than by Loyalists. As it was, the land of New York west of Bennington witnessed refugees moving away, vacant and burned houses, cattle roaming the woods, larcenous individuals and groups helping themselves to whatever they could take, and groups of armed men of differing loyalties, sometimes ambushing and attacking one another.
Also present was the very remarkable Col. John Williams, an English-born revolutionary and physician of Salem, whose regiment was not called up because of its heavy Loyalist personnel. Loyal himself, Williams went about trying to enforce Schuyler’s order to quit the area. Claims have been made that Williams and his regiment participated in the battle on the American side, but there’s conflicting evidence of that.
The raiding troops who left Burgoyne’s camp on the Hudson, headed for Bennington, reached Cambridge without their enemies’ knowledge. From there, word was carried to the small army from New Hampshire located in Bennington, the existence of which Burgoyne did not know. By the next day, however, the raiding party, almost entirely “Hessians,” knew the supplies were guarded by a substantial force. The German commander, Lt. Col. Friedrich Baum, sent a call for reinforcements, which were soon on the road following him, trying to catch up, but not fast enough.
The residents of the N.Y. towns in this region have long believed that many units and large numbers of individual soldiers and non-soldier volunteers participated. The reason for that begins with a series of newpaper articles called The Annals of Hoosick. They were written by a resident of Hoosick named Levi Chandler Ball. Sometime in the mid‑1800s, Ball began to collect bits and pieces of legend and history about the Town of Hoosick. He meant well, but from a historical point of view, he was not skeptical enough of oral recollections handed down verbally through several generations. Believing as he did, L.C. Ball took family legends at face value, and wrote that large numbers of ancestors left their oxen and plows in the field, rushed towards the sound of cannons with their hunting pieces, to help turn back the enemy. He called on descendants to relate to him their family stories for his book before they would be lost forever.
One need not disparage the place of family legends in genealogical history. L.C. Ball, however, started his collections a generation after the last survivors of the battle died in the 1830s, so his legends were about three generations old before he got them. Legends don’t improve with age and retelling. People gave him what he asked for, good, bad or indifferent. After the publication of his work in the newspapers in the 1870s, the area’s old families have tended to believe that large numbers of their ancestors took part in the battle. However, comparing his writings to such official written records as exist, one finds little support for what he reported, especially his claims that so many civilians joined in the battle on short notice. Civilians rarely do that.
After Ball’s death, there were “vanity” histories of Rensselaer and Washington Counties published, picking up Ball’s legends as fact, spreading bad history with good. In 1904, an honest merchant of Hoosick Falls, Nelson Gillespie, who believed Levi Ball’s claims, called on the area’s citizens to research what Ball and the vanity histories had written, to find corroboration. He never doubted their truth, but it seems he had already tried to find proof himself, and failing, tried to turn the task over to the public. To encourage them, he proposed a list of 44 indviduals and ten militia regiments whom he considered prime research topics to support the facts which he considered unquestionable ‑‑ that the battle in White Creek was fought by large numbers of New York units and individuals. But no proof was brought forward. I myself searched Gillespie’s 44 names plus 20 more furnished by the White Creek historian in 1928, and many more from the Williams regiment of Salem and vicinity, and found little proof of participation.
The rosters of the many New York militia regiments are available, but they will not tell who was in the battle of August 16th or even the two great battles of September and October, 1777, now called Saratoga, which resulted in the defeat of Burgoyne’s army and the resultant entry of France into the war on the American side. As the years went by after 1800, and the veterans of 1775‑1781 aged, the United States passed legislation to aid survivors. Sworn statements are attached to their petitions. Among those I found only five New York men who swore they were in the battle. Might there have been more? Yes, and I suppose there were.
One historian working in this area has searched more widely. He is Lion G. Miles, who says he has found more New Yorkers in the battle than I have. We can accept that pending publication of his book.
Sylvanus Locke of Hoosick Falls had a valid criticism when he implied that New York was slighted by not being approached concerning the monument to be built in Bennington. I think it was poor treatment of a sister State. To be practical, however, intervention by New York would not have been likely to influence Vermont, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and the federal government (who had regiments in the battle) to pay for an ambitious monument at the battlefield. Bennington had proposed the monument to be located at the site of the storehouse back in 1875, of which the New York government surely was aware, but New York as a whole was more interested in the great victory at Saratoga than in the preliminary victories at Fort Stanwix, Oriskany and Bennington. In fact, the New York government was preoccupied with building its big monument at Saratoga, with Federal help, when the Bennington monument was being built.
The reason for limited sympathy with Sylvanus Locke is the fact that there was in Bennington a good man, former Gov. Hiland Hall, who had great practical power over the location of the monument. Hall was eighty years old in 1875, former head of the Vermont Historical Society and at the time of the decision about location, head of the Bennington Historical Society, which proposed the monument. Hiland Hall could get things done in Montpelier, and the legislative charter of the historical society provided that the monument would be built in Bennington by the society on the site of the Continental storehouse.
Hall was a good man, but he had one failing ‑ a lifetime bias against New York. He saw the New York government of late colonial times as aristocratic, pro‑British and congenial to the patroon system of monopolistic land ownership, and favorable to New York land speculators allied with high officials, qualities which the puritan settlers of New England with their small farm ownership ideals were sure to find offensive. Hall had acquired that viewpoint as a boy, when the struggle between New Hampshire and New York over the validity of N.H. Gov. Benning Wentworth’s grants of land in what became Vermont was still fresh in the minds of adults in Vermont. Nearly everyone in early Vermont was pro‑Wentworth and anti-New York. Hall became a strong advocate of the New Hampshire position, his eyes closed tight shut against the fact that New York was right concerning title to the lands in question, and Benning Wentworth was just an opportunistic renegade governor lining his pockets.
Hiland Hall viewed the monument not solely as dedicated to the victory but to the sterling qualities of the flinty‑tough men of Vermont, Massachusetts and New Hampshire who fought the battle. To Hall, there were no New Yorkers in the battle. Calling the battle by any other name, placing the monument outside Vermont, or consulting New York, would have found Hall in opposition. One can see his power at work past age ninety, when he personally vetoed the plans of designers for a low, wide monument with statuary like Saratoga’s, in favor of the 306-foot granite obelisk we see today, which he insisted was the only design for conveying the true qualities of New England pioneers. Governor Hall didn’t live to attend the 1891 dedication ceremonies which upset Sylvanus Locke, but the monument he envisioned remains today.
Loyalists at the Battle of Bennington
By Lion G. Miles
The American Revolution was a civil war, every bit as bitter a fight between friends and neighbors as the conflict of 1861-65. Perhaps the Battle of Bennington reflects that tragedy better than any military engagement of the war, coming as it did at a time of political turmoil in an area of divided loyalties among new settlers. Rivalries between New York and New Hampshire grantees in the territory of Vermont, disputes over local jurisdiction in the border towns of New York and Massachusetts, the presence of many French and Indian War veterans loyal to Great Britain, and recent uncommitted settlers from Ireland and Scotland all contributed to the volatile mix of population that General John Burgoyne encountered on his march toward Albany.
In June 1777 the British commander in Canada, Sir Guy Carleton, issued verbal orders for John Peters to accompany Burgoyne on the expedition and raise a battalion of Loyalists (Tories) from the local inhabitants. Ebenezer Jessup of Albany had raised another Loyalist corps the year before, joined the Burgoyne expedition, but was not involved in the Battle of Bennington. That left Lt. Col. Peters as the most important Tory commander before the battle, soon to be joined by a third corps under Francis Pfister of Hoosick, N.Y.
John Peters of Connecticut was a Yale graduate and lawyer who had moved to the New Hampshire Grants (Vermont) in 1770. He began recruiting Tories at Skenesborough (Whitehall), N.Y., in late July 1777 for his proposed battalion of 600 men, known as the Queens Loyal Rangers. Shortly before the Bennington expedition he had collected about 150 recruits from towns in eastern Vermont, New Hampshire, and the area around Skenesborough, assisted in that business by the wealthy Philip Skene, Lieutenant Governor of Ticonderoga and commissioner for administering oaths of allegiance to Great Britain.
As Burgoyne’s army rapidly advanced southward, a number of men with Loyalist sympathies joined the ranks of Peters’ corps. One man from Albany County had observed that “every district … is crowded with disaffected persons, the woods are full of them, and notwithstanding every effort that has been made by our militia and the rangers to apprehend them, they still have eluded our search.” Jeremiah French of Dutchess County, N.Y., brought in men from Manchester, Vt. Justus Sherwood of New Haven, Vt., did the same. Breed Batcheller brought men from New Hampshire and Andrew Palmatier of Livingston Manor, N.Y., enlisted 40 of his neighbors and took them to the British.
When General Burgoyne dispatched his Germans under Col. Baum toward Bennington in August, his orders included the stipulation that one of the objects of the expedition was “to compleat Peters’s corps.” With that in mind, Peters enlisted an entire company on August 13 as he reached Cambridge, N.Y. That company numbered 56 men, former members of the Cambridge militia and commanded by Simeon Covell, the district supervisor and a man who had been jailed twice for his Loyalist sympathies.
Col. Baum reached Sancoick (North Hoosick) on August 14 and reported back to Burgoyne that “people are flocking in hourly, but want to be armed.” Most of those men were local inhabitants of Pownal, Hoosick, Mapleton, and Pittstown, recruited by Francis Pfister and John Macomb of Hoosick.
Francis Pfister had come from Germany in 1759 and served as an engineer in the Royal American Regiment during the French and Indian War. He became wealthy by acquiring the carrying rights at Niagara, settled in Hoosick about 1770, and married the daughter of Judge John Macomb. Together Pfister and Macomb had recruited nearly 100 men to join Burgoyne’s army at Fort Edward. As Baum’s detachment approached, they collected others and joined the British expedition, many of their men without arms.
Among those coming to Pfister shortly before the battle were 64 men enlisted by Capt. Samuel Anderson, who had escaped from jail in Connecticut on July 28 and made his way through the woods to Pownal. Henry Ruiter of Pittstown, N.Y., had been hiding in the woods for three months before the battle, while the rebels “abused his wife greatly,” and finally joined Pfister’s corps on August 1 with 40 men. His brother, John Ruiter of Hoosick, joined Baum’s force at Walloomsac with about 60 more.
Precise numbers are difficult to ascertain but it appears that Baum had approximately 500 Tories with him in the entrenchments on the evening of August 15, most of them probably unarmed. Of those, about 320 belonged to Peters’ corps and 180 to Pfister’s, both units very much “in embryo” and poorly organized.
The Battle of Bennington on August 16 was disastrous for the Loyalists. Several hundred in the “Tory Redoubt” on Baum’s right flank became engaged in bitter hand-to-hand fighting and Peters himself later described how he had killed his wife’s cousin after being pinned by the man’s bayonet. The Tory colonel reported 200 men from his corps were “Lost, Killed, Taken, & missing.” Peters managed to escape but Pfister was mortally wounded and died on August 18. His corps lost 120 “Killed, Taken, and missing.”
Hancock, Massachusetts, produced one of the more tragic events of the battle. Capt. David Vaughn of the town’s militia had been removed from his command for supporting the British cause and, when the Hancock men were ordered to march, 20 of them deserted to Burgoyne’s army. The rest of the company found their townsmen in the entrenchments at Walloomsac, killed 14 and captured the others — to the applause of the American press: “Heaven grant this may be the fate of every other traitor to the glorious cause of American freedom.”
By every account, the Americans captured 150 Tories in the battle. As a general rule, the victors turned them over to the states from which they came and each jurisdiction disposed of them according to its own rules. Those who were found bearing arms at the battle usually were treated more severely than the others. New York State sent them to prison ships in the Hudson River but, in the confusion of the times, neglected to procure sufficient evidence against them and released many. The Albany County commissioner in Cambridge complained “that they have been sent home to the great dissatisfaction of the friends of liberty. Some of whom are the worst of villains, others not quite so bad; others again, as soon as the battle went against them, ran off to their homes.”
Vermont was generally more lenient with her Tories. Those captured at the battle were confined at first, the hardest cases sent to the Hudson River prison ships. Those who took the oath of allegiance to the United States were fined and sent home on their good behavior. Others were permitted to visit their families on parole for short periods of time.
Massachusetts dealt the harshest punishments to her Loyalists. Solomon Bunnel of Lanesborough had killed his neighbor, Lt. Isaac Nash, at the battle. He was sent in irons to the Northampton jail and indicted for high treason. Ignored in prison for two years, “which has brought me so low I do not expect my constitution will bear confinement much longer,” he finally escaped in 1780 and made his way to the British lines at New York. The Hancock men captured at Bennington also went to the Northampton jail as “close prisoners.” In 1778 they petitioned for their release on the grounds that they had not used arms at the battle. Finally acquitted, they returned home to find their property confiscated. When they protested, they were mobbed and had to call on the sheriff for protection.
After the Battle of Bennington, General Burgoyne divided his Loyalists into four different corps and allowed each man to join the unit of his choice. He gave command of the late Pfister’s corps to Capt. Samuel Mackay, a retired British officer who had escaped from the battlefield. Disputes soon arose between the various commanders who, in attempts to obtain compensation for their losses, claimed to have enlisted particular companies. For example, both Peters and Mackay claimed Andrew Palmatier’s company. It is due largely to these disagreements and conflicting muster rolls that the exact number of Loyalists at Bennington may never be known.
Those Tories who escaped capture suffered the consequences of their loyalties to Britain for the rest of their lives. Most made their way through the woods to Canada before Burgoyne’s surrender at Saratoga and served out the war in various provincial regiments. Their property was destroyed or confiscated and their families constantly harassed. Francis Pfister’s wife and children were permitted to go to Canada; other families were banished from their homes.
Article 5 of the 1783 peace treaty recommended that the states “provide for the restitution of all estates, rights and properties which have been confiscated” and allowed the Loyalists “free liberty” to go anywhere in the United States to seek such restitution. However, very little property was ever returned and many Tories spent years seeking compensation from the British government. In 1788 some of the property of Pfister and Macomb was restored to their families but in such damaged condition that it was useless. In 1785 one Tory who had returned to Vermont summed up the situation: “the people in the State of Vermont appear very civil to me as well as the other Loyalists but make no provision for the restitution of their estates, neither do they think themselves holden by the 5th article of the treaty; but say if the Tories can get their own livelihood among them, they are welcome.”
As in any civil war, the victors claimed the spoils. Those Loyalists who fought on the wrong side at Bennington lost everything, their country, their homes, and their estates, a heavy price to pay for their allegiance to the King of England.
Loyalism in Rensselaer County
By Tom Barker
During the War for Independence, Gilead Evangelical Lutheran Church in Brunswick Center, New York, was a hotbed of Loyalist or Tory sentiment. There were different reasons for this. Two stand out. Many, probably a majority of the parishioners, were tenant farmers of the upper portion of the Van Rensselaers’ East Manor and subject to rental payments and various other onerous, material exactions. The congregation was then predominantly Palatine, that is, eighteenth century German-American, with a certain representation of Lowland Dutchmen and recent New England Yankee immigrants. The second factor was that the European-born pastor, Johann Wilhelm Samuel Schwerdtfeger (1734-1803), who also ministered to the large German population in Albany (First Lutheran Church), was a strong advocate of fidelity to the Crown, as represented by the German-descended monarch, the Hannoverian George III. This was regular trouble with the Patriot or Whig authorities in Albany. Moreover, one of his own sons joined the Tory militia under Franz Joseph Pfister (c.1740-1777), a parishioner, at the Battle of Bennington, where Pfister, Hoosick’s political boss, was killed. It should be stressed that the Albany rebel junta was the instrument of the Mid-Hudson’s landed, ruling class, among which the Van Renssselaers, Schuylers and Livingstons were especially prominent.
Historians now believe that persons of this ilk had seized control of the regional uprising because they feared the influence of republican, political radicals among the lower and “middling” strata of pre-Revolutionary society, then probably 90% of New York’s population. The “better-sort” were particularly successful in their efforts to monopolize the officer slots in the Whig militia.
After the war (1787) Schwerdtfeger sought to emigrate with the apparent bulk of Gilead’s congregation to Quebec, but a specific request for land was ignored by the royal governor, Lord Dorchester (Sir Guy Carleton). However, Schwerdtfeger did leave on an individual basis in 1791 and served as pastor of the ex-New York Palatines – i.e., Loyalist refugees – whom the British government had granted undeveloped tracts of territory around Williamsburgh, Upper Canada (later Ontario), just downriver from Kingston. Many of these settlers had belonged previously to Gilead.
Schwerdtfeger never forgot the harsh treatment to which he and his family had been subjected by the victorious insurgent faction. Study of Gilead’s history during the War for Independence tends to support the current viewpoint of historians that, in New York especially, the fighting was more in the nature of a domestic conflict – not in fact a genuine revolution – than was previously thought. The old “aristocracy,” demonstrably, remained in charge of political affairs until the election of 1800. Thus, some scholars would even argue that “The First Civil War” is a more appropriate term for the events of 1775-1783.
The Civil War and Hoosick Effort
Many men from the Town of Hoosick participated in the Civil War. On April 15, 1861, President Lincoln called for 75,000 men to put down the rebellion. Hoosick promptly responded by enlisting a company which was enrolled as Company H, 30th Regiment, New York State Volunteers. Seventy-one men signed the enlistment papers, the first was L. Burke Ball, the son of Levi Chandler Ball. He became Lieutenant of the company. Before leaving for the War, each man was furnished with a pair of merino shirts, a linen Havelock, a paper of needles, a dozen skeins of thread, a supply of buttons, and an ivory comb.
The company was quartered temporarily at Eagle Bridge. They moved to Troy where a regiment was organized, then shipped out to Washington, DC on June 28, 1861. The principal battles in which the 30th took part were Groveton, Second Bull Run, South Mountain and Antietam. It suffered its greatest casualties at Bull Run.
A second group entered Federal service on August 30, 1862. The 125th New York Volunteer Infantry was recruited from Rensselaer County with Company A from Hoosick. The 125th was sent to Harpers Ferry, Virginia, the site of a Federal arsenal and of John Brown’s uprising. They camped in a flat field that was virtually indefensible, dominated on all sides by higher ground. Confederate General Robert E. Lee sent three columns of troops to capture the arsenal. Union Col. Dixon Miles sent 1,600 men to the heights and kept the remainder of over 12,000 men on the low fields close to the town. Once the Confederate soldiers overran the outpost on the heights, the Union army was hopelessly trapped. The next morning the Confederate army shelled the garrison from all directions and Col. Miles surrendered 12,419 men before succumbing to wounds he suffered in the battle. The captured men signed paroles which stated they could not fight until they were exchanged for an equal number of parolees from the other side. On November 22, the men of the 125th were exchanged for an equal number of Confederate soldiers. One of the soldiers was Levi Chandler Ball, who was then in his 50s. He was transferred to the payroll corps and spent the remainder of the war paying Union solders.
After the War, a strong veterans group formed under the Grand Army of the Republic.
Skirmish at St. Croix
It was the third year of the American Revolution, and the British army was well into a campaign designed to divide the colonies in half with a massive three-pronged attack. The plan was for General Burgoyne with the main force of over 8,000 men to drive south through the Champlain Valley and into the upper Hudson Valley. General Howe was to advance from New York City through the lower Hudson Valley. Colonel Leger was to advance from Lake Ontario eastward through the Mohawk Valley. The three forces were to meet in Albany before the winter of 1777 ended the campaign season. By early August, Burgoyne’s army was slowed and weakened due to lack of provisions. Burgoyne assigned Lieut. Col. Friedrich Baum to lead an expeditionary force of about 500 men to capture military supplies held at Bennington and to collect cattle and horses along the road from Saratoga to Bennington for shipment back to the main army.
Baum halted his march at sundown on August 13th west of the Hamlet of San Coick, now known as North Hoosick.
General John Stark was assembling a force of American Militia in Bennington to oppose Burgoyne’s advance. Stark assigned Col. William Gregg to lead a scouting party of 216 men westward from Bennington along the road to Saratoga to make discoveries about the British forces.
Gregg halted his march at sundown on August 13th and posted his troops at the Mill in San Coick.
Very early on the morning of the 14th, Baum moved forward to San Coick, where he encountered Gregg and a brief skirmish ensued. This accidental meeting was the first skirmish of the battle that would follow.
Following the skirmish at the Mill, Col. Gregg retreated toward Bennington to meet General John Stark and the whole brigade along the road east of San Coick. Stark set his position in the hills that flanked the road above the flood plain of the Walloomsac River and waited for engagement. British Col. Baum left a small guard at the Mill and continued on the road to Bennington where he met resistance from Stark’s troops. Baum’s scouts perceived a large American force posted on a ridge 1,000 yards before them. Baum set his position on some high ground and sent for reinforcements from Burgoyne’s main force. A tactical standoff on the 14th and rainy weather on the 15th held the forces at bay. On August 16th, 1777, a 48-hour battle began with the outcome a defeat for the British which was a considerable factor leading to the defeat of General Burgoyne’s army a few weeks later in Stillwater, near Saratoga. The Battle of Walloomsac became known as The Battle of Bennington and is believed to have been the turning point for the American Revolution.