Lauren R. Stevens: One historic battle, two interesting sites
WILLIAMSTOWN — Listen up. It's time to get this straight. The Bennington Battle Monument, the most visited historic site in Vermont according to its website, is located in Old Bennington. The Bennington Battlefield, a lovely, quiet spot, is 10 miles away on Route 67, in, oh, call it Walloomsac, North Hoosick, St. Coick, whatever.
Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Congress and private funds built the monument in 1891 at the site where the colonials had stored provisions that British Gen. John Burgoyne longed for in 1777. The magnesium limestone monument is 306-feet high, topped by a star that serves as a lightning rod, the whole being the tallest structure in Vermont.
Col. Seth Warner of the Green Mountain Boys stands before the monument, which is open mid-April-Halloween. You can look at Burgoyne's kettle in the lobby and take an elevator to a lookout deck for $5 ($1 for children). On August 19, in celebration of its 125th year, the 419 step staircase will be open. On Bennington Battle Day, August 16, admission is free.
Although you can see three states from the viewing platform, you cannot see the battlefield, due to tree growth. Capt. Frank L. Stevens (no known relation) who occupied the 1840 Barnett house on Caretaker Road and owned much of the battlefield land, donated it to New York State in 1924 for a park in commemoration of the battle.
The engagement pitted Hessian and Brunswick mercenary soldiers fighting for the British against the homegrown crop. New Hampshire's Gen. John Stark was in charge of the New Hampshire and Massachusetts irregulars, apparently defeating Gen. Friedrich Baum. Then a relief force under Col. Heinrich Breymann could have reversed the decision, except that Warner's Vermonters (to-be) arrived to save the day.
Note that the Green Mountain Boys had voted Ethan Allen out and Warner in to be their leader and that Allen was in prison in Canada at this time.
With subsequent New York acquisitions, the battlefield now includes more than 200 acres, most of the site of the battle, although the hilltop to which visitors drive contained only a fraction of the action. Here the three states have placed plaques in honor of their contingents, though, and here also is a bronze relief map on which you can trace the battle.
A small visitors center, bathrooms, and a picnic grove with tables and gazebo grace the side of the hill. A 1.5 mile long Valley View (hiking) Trail takes in the more recently acquired eastern portion of the property. A mile-long Battle Loop Trail retraces some of the ground that was fought over. The park is open, 8 a.m. to sunset, May 1 through Veterans Day.
In recent years the site has been managed from Grafton State Park but now the battlefield has resident staff, Site Historian David Pitlyk, and a friends group has been formed. With a grant from the American Battlefield Protection Program, an archeological study was completed last fall and planning to improve visitors services is ongoing.
One battle, two interesting sites. At least, that's how it looks from the White Oaks.
Lauren R. Stevens is a writer and environmentalist.