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THE BATTLE OF BENNINGTON.
AN ORATION AT THE CENTENNIAL CELEBRATION OF THE
BATTLE OF BENNINGTON, AUGUST 16, 1877.
FROM the top of Mount Anthony the eye looks
out on a panorama of singular extent and beauty. Westward the Adirondacks, dim with the distance of a hundred miles or more, the Helderbergs and the Catskills ; southward Greylock, Saddle and Bald; the long Green Mountain wall on the east; and the Killington Peak sixty miles away to the north, outline a vast amphitheater of hill and vale, of fertile fields and graceful forests, dotted with thrifty villages and happy homes. The steam puffs up in sight from half a dozen railway lines, and there are glimpses of the Hoosack and Walloomsac, bordered with manufactories. Nestled invisibly away are churches and schools and banks and printing presses, here a mine and there a college. As the day declines, silver streamlets come glinting forth with reflected sunbeams from the broad expanse of rich farming lands, a near fountain spreads its lofty spray upon the air, and at length there settles down over the whole landscape that mellow and dreamy hue which makes it seem of some other world. But this is no dreamland vision. These things all lie on the soil of three sovereign states, and they are the substantial tokens of industry, culture, peace, and prosperity, the ripest fruits of republican liberty.
On a bright morning, one hundred years ago to-day, a German officer, on an eminence five miles from here, looked forth admiringly on a part of this same landscape, then “rife," he said, “with pastoral beauty” – “a wide sweep of stately forests interrupted at remote intervals by green meadows and fertile cornfields, with here and there a cottage, a shed, or other primitive edifice,” and Bennington was “a cluster of poor cottages in a wild country.” Around him was a well-appointed military band glittering with arms, some of them in brass helmets, some in red coats, some in citizens' garb; and dusky forms in war paint hung upon the outskirts. Two miles this side of him, hidden from his sight, lay another band, ill-armed and miscellaneously clad, largely in cloth of tow or linen dyed with butternut or maple, and too deeply absorbed in their daybreak preparations to spend one thought upon the glory of the earth or sky. Between these two bodies of troops, and in good measure on that day's struggle, hung pending the question whether the pastoral beauty of that time should unfold into all the civic freedom and blessing of this.
The natural theme of our thoughts, therefore, is
THE PLACE OF THE BATTLE OF BENNINGTON IN THE
HISTORY OF OUR COUNTRY.
The early days of August, 1777, were a culminating time of gloom and alarm. For more than a twelvemonth the tide of our prospects had steadily ebbed until the shoals and reefs were plainly in sight. In the opening of our great conflict, the first dash of our arms had carried all before it. The British army and its favorite generals, Gage, Howe, · Clinton, and Burgoyne, were penned up in Boston with bitter memories of Lexington and Concord, then driven forth to find a shelter in Halifax. Lord Dunmore was expelled from Norfolk and took refuge on his fleet. Ticonderoga, Crown Point, St. Johns, and Montreal had been taken in rapid succession, and Quebec alone had escaped. From Canada to Virginia we had made a clean sweep.
But a change came. Just before our Independence was declared, the last of our troops were driven out of Canada, in the strong but true language of the day, “disgraced, defeated, discontented, dispirited, diseased, undisciplined.” The day before that Declaration was read to the army on Broadway, Howe landed on Staten Island the first detachment of twenty-six thousand troops. Then followed the disastrous battle of Long Island, the evacuation of New York, the reverse of White Plains, the surrender of forts Lee and Washington, the chase of our army through the Jerseys, and the capture of Charles Lee, the second in command and then the idol of the army, just as he was writing to Gates a profane attack upon his chief. And before our great general retreated grimly southward, conspired against by his leading officers, distrusted even by John Adams for his “ Fabian policy,” chafed by the internal jealousies of his army, and baffled of every plan by the incessant changes of his troops, there came, like some Job's message, tidings from the north, that our fleet of
fifteen sail on Lake Champlain was exterminated, Crown Point burned and abandoned, and our northern army cooped up in its last stronghold at Ticonderoga. Washington indeed kept merry Christmas with the Hessians at Trenton, and paid his New Year's compliments to the British at Princeton. These two flashes alone flickered over the somber scene.
The flush and ardor of transient conflicts had now given way to the tug and strain of protracted war. And what a war! Often destitute of tents, blankets, medicines, good clothing, and wholesome food; short of arms and ammunition ; without money or credit ; I might almost say, long without an army. For by short enlistments our troops continually melted away, sometimes in the presence of the foe. And short enlistments were growing difficult; for in these sparse, new, and poor settlements, how could the men be spared from their homes? The camp, too, was as fatal as the battlefield. It was invaded by camp fever and dysentery and steadily beleaguered by the smallpox. At one time in ’76, Schuyler in three months had lost half of his ten thousand men by death and desertion, and two fifths of the remainder were on the sick-list.
Each northern state carried special burdens. Vermont was engaged in the long and gallant strife for state rights and individual ownership of the soil. New York was overrun with royalists, of whom numbers had been sent to the New England states for safe-keeping
– two hundred at one time in the jails and houses of New Hampshire. The state of New Hampshire, so intensely patriotic that only seven hundred and seventythree out of her whole population had, whether from conscientious or political scruples, refused to sign the pledge to resist the foe “with arms, at the risque of our lives and fortunes,” was yet distracted with the magnitude and multitude of her efforts. I may not weary you with the long recital. Enough that when a state's militia enrolment extends from the age of fifteen up to fifty, and her “alarm list " to sixty-five ; and when at length orders are given to draft one half even of that alarm list, we may be sure that the strain has reached her vital forces.
The outlook, also, in these earlier months of the year was forbidding. A powerful fleet lay southward at the center of motion ready to strike at any part of our vast coast line. The way was well-nigh clear for an early invasion from the north. Canadian sympathies were lost. The Indian tribes, that six months before had refused to mingle in this “quarrel," as they phrased it, “ between two brothers of one blood,” were listening to the enemy. Franklin was waiting in vain at the French Court for a recognition of our country.
And now the plot was deepening. Burgoyne in London laid before King George, in February, a plan to close the war. Howe had sent across the ocean a still larger scheme, which “would strike terror through the country” and “break down all resistance to his majesty's troops.” Both agreed in this, that one army should move up the Hudson, another descend from the north and meet it at Albany. They would thus cut the