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The Bennington Battle Monument

Sign for the Bennington Battlefield in New York State.While distractedly wandering around Southern Vermont in search of covered bridges in the Bennington area, I took a wrong turn on one of Vermont's famous dirt roads (easy to do as there are about 600 miles of 'em!) and somehow ended up crossing over the border into New York State. Oops.

That slightly wrong turn landed me in front of New York's Bennington Battlefield State Park, the site of an American Revolutionary War battle on August 16th, 1777 where it is believed that the first American flag was carried into the fray. The battle occurred as a result of an attempt by the British forces of General John Burgoyne and Colonel Friedrich Baum's Hessian troops to restock their dwindling provisions by capturing the American storehouses in Bennington, Vermont (about ten miles away).

A rebel force of 2,000 men primarily composed of New Hampshire and Massachusetts militiamen led by Major General John Stark which was reinforced by men led by Colonel Seth Warner and members of the Green Mountain Boys, put an end to those plans when the mostly untrained Yankees overwhelmingly defeated some of Europe’s best trained, disciplined and equipped troops. A large percentage of Burgoyne’s army was killed, wounded or captured, including Colonel Baum who suffered a mortal stomach wound, and much of their already short supply of needed military stores was also captured by the American forces. Obviously there's a lot more to the battle than that so if you'd like to read more about what went on during the Battle of Bennington, here's a link where you may do so.

Bennington Battlefield Gate Marker - LeftBennington Battlefield Gate Marker - left.As much as I would have liked to have learned more about the battle myself by exploring the State Park, I was there on a Thursday morning after Labor Day and the park is only open on weekends through Veterans Day until it closes for the season and reopens again on May 1st.

As I didn't really have much time and had lots of other things I wanted to see before it was time to head out of the Bennington area, that was probably just as well as I imagine I could have spent a good deal of time learning about the battle. Instead I snapped a couple of pictures of the markers at the entrance gate and then got myself turned around and headed back over to Vermont.

Retracing my steps and then adding in a detour or two due to lingering road damage from Tropical Storm Irene which had hit Bennington pretty hard, I finally managed to make my way to the Bennington Battle Monument on Monument Avenue in Old Bennington, which is nowhere near the Bennington Battlefield in Walloomsac, New York. It is, however, the former site of the storehouses that General Burgoyne and his troops were attempting to reach so it's not like it was an insignificant hill that someone just picked out of a hat to build the monument on!

Battle Monument area description plaque

A group wishing to commemorate the Battle of Bennington decided a monument should be erected at the storage site of the military supplies which had been the objective of the battle so in 1876, the Vermont General Assembly passed an act establishing the Bennington Battle Monument Association as an outgrowth of the Bennington Historical Society. The original plan was to construct a 100-foot tall monument at the site where, for almost a century, the battle was celebrated annually in the Old State Arms Inn but there was a lot of debate as to whether the monument should be sculptural or architectural.

During the battle's centennial celebration, which was attended by President Rutherford B. Hayes, the committee showcased one of the submitted designs for the monument which was a slender, 100-foot column. The committee eventually accepted the "Big Tower" design of J. Phillip Rinn, a Boston architect, with some changes. The original design was modified to include curved edges and the cornerstone was finally laid in 1887.

The monument is constructed from blue-grey magnesian limestone (known as Sandy Hill Dolomite from present-day Hudson Falls, New York), which is roughfaced with the exception of two horizontal bands near the observatory level. Upon completion of the monument in November 1889 the total cost to build the monument was $112,000 which included the cost of the site. The State of Vermont appropriated $15,000; New Hampshire $5,000; Massachusetts $10,000; the Congress of the United States $40,000; and with approximately $32,000 raised through private contributions, the amount of $102,000 was obtained to construct the memorial. In 1886, the Vermont Legislature authorized an additional $10,000 to purchase the property where the monument was to be erected.

The dedication was delayed for two years until 1891 at which time President Benjamin Harrison attended the ceremonies and held a reception at the nearby Walloomsac Inn. The former inn, built in 1764, was the oldest in the state and boasted a guest list which included many great dignitaries such as Thomas Jefferson and James Madison however, these days it's no longer an inn but a private residence that boasts a "no trespassing" sign or two.

At 306-feet, 4-1/2-inches tall - triple the size of the design that was showcased during the centennial celebration - the monument is the tallest man-made structure in Vermont featuring a 360-degree view from the observatory level at 200 feet which can be reached by elevator but not the stairs as they are closed. From the windows of the monument on a clear day, visitors can see Vermont, Massachusetts, and to the west, New York where the Battle of Bennington was fought - though you can't see the actual battlefield. Inside the base of the monument, a kettle captured from General Burgoyne's camp at Saratoga is on display along with a diorama depicting the Second Engagement of the Battle of Bennington by Paul V. Winters, a Vermont artist, as well as information on how the monument was built.

On the northern side of the monument is a statue of Major General John Stark of New Hampshire who is known as the "Hero of Bennington" due to his exemplary conduct on the battlefield resulting in victory for the American troops. On the base of Stark's statue is the inscription of the words that he spoke before engaging the enemy troops: "There are your enemies, the Red Coats and the Tories. They are ours, or this night Molly Stark sleeps a widow!" Molly, Stark's wife and mother of his eleven children, probably slept pretty good that night!

John Stark Statue Plaque

After serving with distinction throughout the rest of the war, Stark retired to his farm in Derryfield where he lived to the ripe old age of 93. In 1809, a group of Bennington veterans gathered to commemorate the battle but General Stark, then aged 81, was not well enough to travel. Instead, he sent a letter to his comrades, which closed with the words, "Live free or die: Death is not the worst of evils." In 1945 "Live Free or Die" became the New Hampshire state motto so the next time you see it on a license plate, you'll know why!

Statue of Col, Seth WarnerOn the southern side of the monument facing Monument Avenue stands a statue to Colonel Seth Warner who was born in Roxbury, Connecticut in 1743 and moved with his father to Bennington in what was then known as the New Hampshire Grants in 1763. Elected Captain of the Green Mountain Boys, the local militia that was formed to resist New York authority over Vermont, Warner was outlawed along with his cousin and the militia’s founder, Ethan Allen, but never captured.

At the outbreak of the War of Independence, Warner led his detachment of the Green Mountain Boys in capturing the British fort of Crown Point in New York on May 11th, 1775, and later took part in an unsuccessful expedition against Quebec that same year. At that time the Green Mountain Boys were considered to be a foreign unit belonging to the Vermont Republic as Congress did not recognize their declared independence from the jurisdictions and land claims of the British colonies in New Hampshire and New York. However that changed in July of 1776 when Warner was given the rank of colonel and served throughout the remainder of the war on the side of the Continental Army. Colonel Warner and his Green Mountain Boys were instrumental in helping Major General Stark's troops defeat the British in the second engagement of the Battle of Bennington.

In front of the gift shop is a stone that marks the spot where the original storehouses that General Burgoyne and his troops were hoping to take once stood. Nearby are several plaques describing the Bennington Battle Monument and the battle.

Continental Storehouse Marker
Monument PlaquePlaque for New Hampshire at the Battle of BenningtonCloser view of the Bennington Battle Monument Plaque

In 1952, the Bennington Monument Association transferred the ownership and operation of the Monument to the Vermont Board of Historic Sites, which later became the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation.

The Monument Gift Shop offers a very nice selection of quality merchandise relating to the Battle and the Monument as well as serving as the Ticket Office for visitors who wish to take the elevator to the observation level for a nominal fee. I should mention here that as much as I wanted to take the elevator up and check out the view, I wasn't able to as I needed to get over to Bennington College (from where the monument is quite visible) to pick up Amanda and there just wasn't time. Not on that trip anyway!

Finally, on a personal note, may I just say that I love the people of the State of Vermont for no other reason than for this marker on the rock base of the statue of Major General John Stark (who I thought looked just a bit like Mel Gibson in "The Patriot"):


*Author's Note: The pictures in this post were taken on two different occasions as I found myself back at the Bennington Battle Monument a month later when weather conditions were much nicer hence the reason some have blue sky and others gray. All of these photos and more can be found in the Bennington Gallery on my SmugMug page.

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