Revolutionary War Historical Article
The Battle of Hubbardton
by Donald N. Moran
Editor's Note: This article was reprinted from the November 1985 Edition of the Valley Compatriot Newsletter
The fall of Fort Ticonderoga, was not the opening up of the Hudson Valley as
Gentlemen Johnny Burgoyne, commanding the British Army of invasion thought.
It was, in fact, the beginning of the end of British dominated North America. The reduction of the "Gilbratar of the North" as Ticonderoga was often called
with barely a shot being fired, had, as Alexander Hamilton said it would, created a
false sense of being invincible. Burgoyne was not successful in capturing the garrison
at Fort Ticonderoga, who, under the leadership of Major General Arthur St. Clair had
crossed the floating bridge to Mount Independence the night of July 5th. Burgoyne,
discovering their escape, dispatched Brigadier General Simon Fraser (1729-1777) and Hessian General, the Baron Friedrich Adolphus Riedesel to pursue, capture or destroy the fleeing American force.
The pursuit was not going to he easy. St. Clair had moved southeast toward
Castleton, Vermont, a route which took him through densely forested lands, along a
road which was little more than a wagon track. The weather was extremely hot and
to add to the pursuer's problems were their cumbersome uniforms. Fraser and Riedesel were as determined to capture St. Clair as he was to escape, so they pushed their men forward without mercy.
St. Clair led his men over twenty-two miles to Hubbardton (now named East Hubbardton) and although under the conditions of the march was an astonishing achievement, he did not stop there, but continued another six miles and finally stopped at Castleton. In spite of direct orders to the contrary, a large group of Americans bivouacked at Hubbardton. Colonel Seth Warner (1743-1784) was responsible for the failure to obey the order. Warner was undisciplined, a rough Vermonter, but of undying patriotism. Nicherson described him as a giant in stature, and his men were totally loyal to him. Along with Warner was Colonel Ebenezer Francis, who commanded a Regiment of Massachusetts Troops, and Colonel Nathan Hale (not to be confused with the Connecticut hero who had but one life to give for his country) who commanded a New Hampshire Regiment.
These three units, plus the stragglers
from the main army made camp. Apparently,
Warner felt they had greatly out-distanced
the British, for he unwisely failed to have
outposts established. Fraser and Riedesel called a halt to the pursuit about 1:00 P.M. and made camp at the crossroads of the hamlet of Hubbardton, some three miles west of-the American position. Fraser, being the closer, had his men "sleep on their Arms", and sent his handful of Indian scouts forward to find the exact location of the American rear guard. The indians captured an American sentry and brought him to Fraser. Based on the information obtained from the captured Soldier, Fraser ordered his men up at 3 :00 A.M. and start their advance. At 4:40 A. M. they observed the Americans cooking breakfast. Fraser put his seven hundred and fifty men in line of battle, and ordered the "charge" just as the sun rose over the famed Green Mountains of Vermont. The reaction to the surprise attack is not difficult to reconstruct, although the surviving accounts help little. It appears that Colonel Hale's New Hampshire men took the brunt of the initial attack. They ran from their cooking fires into the surrounding woods. Warner and Francis were more fortunate, they had a few seconds to form their men in some sort of line of battle. The British troops rushed forward, pressing their advantage, when, Warner yelled "Fire". His Vermonters aimed true; twenty-one British soldiers fell dead. Among them Major Grant of the 24th Regiment of Foot and the Commander of the Light Infantry, Major the Earl of Balcarres, fell wounded. The effects of the volley stopped the British attack- for a moment.
The land favored the Americans, as it was almost completely woods, which they were
quite accustomed to and able to operate independently whereas, the British were trained
to fight in close formations, by unit, and that training was useless in the woodlands
around Hubbardton. But, like good professional soldiers, they pressed home their attack.
The fighting was fierce, and the battle settled down into a slugging match, with the dead and wounded numbers rising with every passing minute. Captain Enos Stone kept a
diary, and on that day recorded the following:
"....then appeared the enemy in sight, we formed as soon as possible. The fire began with a shout and held for one hour ten minutes with no sesation. About one hour more not so hot. Great numbers fell on both sides, for hail never fell so thick."
Fraser decided to outmaneuver Warner by outflanking him. He started shifting men from the Right of the battlefield to the left side. Led by the British Grenadiers,
his flanking forces started the hard climb up Zion Hill. So steep were its slopes that
British soldiers had to sling their muskets and use both hands to claw their way up to
the top. Once there, they formed and started the flank attack. Warner's Vermonters
fell back a short distance but kept up a deadly fire that held the new threat in check.
At the same time, Col. Francis's troops discovered the weakness of the British left and started to press the attack. Fighting under cover of trees and rocks and behind logs, the slower firing rifles, which are more accurate, were making a telling difference. The inaccurate musket was not suited for this type of war. One after another, British soldiers fell, while their shots hit few Americans.
Fraser was now getting desperate. Three more of his field officers fell, including Major John Acland of the 20th Foot. He was to be nursed back to health by his wife, and again to be seriously wounded at Saratoga.
Fraser decided that he had to take drastic action to save his left flank. He ordered the word passed to launch a bayonet attack!
Fraser's gamble, which would have cost him dearly, was never put to the test, for Major General Riedesel's advance column arrived on the scene. Without hesitation Riedesel threw his force into the fight, attacking to support the failing British left flank. He dispatched another eighty of his Chasseours to outflank the Americans who were trying to turn Fraser's position. He also ordered his men to sing and his band to play! This is the first time in modern military history that men attacked in such a manner. Often to the sound of drums arid fifes, but not singing! The psychological effect was predictable. The Americans thought they were vastly out numbered, even though they were not. Colonel Francis's men held their ground, but the oncoming Brunswickers were too much for the exhausted men. Then a German ball struck and killed the gallant Francis, in the thick of the fight, leading his men, and facing his enemy.
With their leader dead, the Massachusetts Regiment gave ground, slowly at first,
taking a toll of their attackers, then they dispersed into the woods, every man for
himself, many taking the time for that "one last shot".
Colonel Warner, seeing the retreat of the Massachusetts troops, realized that he
was in a hopeless situation. The British Grenadiers, although being held in check on
Zion Hill were pressing his left frank, Fraser steadily pressing his center, and now
the Germans on his right flank. He ordered a general retreat in the most unorthodox way: "Scatter and meet me at Manchester!" At that moment Fraser's men launched their bayonet attack with little effect.
Warner's Vermonters retreated into the woods, and many continued sniping at the
British. A British officer was seriously wounded while examining papers found on the
body of Colonel Francis. The battle was over, but the cost would be dear. The American losses were put at 40 dead and another 40 wounded, and 234 prisoners of war (mostly Hale's men). The British suffered 35 killed and 148 wounded. Fraser's losses were substantial in proportion to the numbers engaged, and more than enough to prevent him from pursuing St. Clair any further. His victory, like the victory at Bunker's Hill, won a battle but lost a war! Unable to continue his advance, there was nothing to force General Burgoyne to expedite his movement Southward, and his slowness gave the Americans time to regroup and build a substantial army to face him at Saratoga.