Read the Revolution
The Compleat VictorySeptember 14, 2022
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In The Compleat Victory: Saratoga and the American Revolution, military strategist and United States Army War College professor Kevin J. Weddle offers an in-depth analysis of the turn of fall in 1777 as a time when the outcome of the Revolutionary War hung in the balance. Weddle analyzes the strategic implications of the Saratoga Campaign while stressing the importance of geography, the role of military intelligence, and Native American participation to the Battles at Saratoga.
The Saratoga Campaign was a decisive military and diplomatic victory. Major General Horatio Gates led Continental regiments from New England and soldiers from Virginia and Pennsylvania serving in Colonel Daniel Morgan’s Rifle Battalion. The 2nd New Hampshire Regiment was the only Continental Army regiment to fight in three battles of the Saratoga Campaign: Hubbardton on July 7, Freeman’s Farm on Sept. 19, and Bemis Heights on Oct. 7. When his two senior officers were captured at Hubbardton, Lieutenant Micah Hoit stepped up to command the 2nd New Hampshire at Freeman’s Farm and Bemis Heights.
New Hampshire militia fought alongside their neighbors enlisted in the Continental Army. Brigadier General John Stark had accepted his appointment by the New Hampshire Court with, as Weddle writes, “the understanding that he be independent of the Continental Army and any of its officers,” which allowed Stark “to use his own judgment to raise, organize, and fight his militia units.” After just six days, he had grown his ranks to 1,500 men, “due largely to the reputation of their leader.” Stark’s brigade at the Battle of Freeman’s Farm and his celebrated victory at the earlier Battle of Bennington contributed to the surrender of British General John Burgoyne after the Battles of Saratoga. In a postwar letter, Stark wrote what would become New Hampshire’s state motto: “Live free, or die!”
Read an excerpt about New Hampshire’s General John Stark and his leadership strategy.
In late July and August, the Americans in Vermont, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire were not sitting idle. The states’ leaders took steps to pull together a force to defend their homes from the enemy invasion. Colonel Warner and the survivors from the Battle of Hubbardton had retreated to Manchester, Vermont, located about 26 miles north of Bennington, and had engaged in harassing operations against Burgoyne. On July 15, with Burgoyne’s army threatening, the Vermont Council of Safety had desperately asked New Hampshire and Massachusetts for assistance: “so as to put it immediately in our power to make a sufficient stand against such strength as they [the enemy] may send. The New Hampshire General Court promised to raise three battalions under the command of Brigadier General John Stark. Although the newly promoted Stark had accepted his new appointment under the condition that he and his command would be independent of the Continental Army, he was keen to defend Vermont and New Hampshire from a British invasion. Almost immediately after Stark was promoted, the New Hampshire militia began to come out. Hundreds of men responded, and in less than a week, more than 10 percent of the state’s military-age men came forward. The men who flocked to Stark’s side knew that leadership was the key to success. They did not respond well to Schuyler’s or St. Clair’s many pleas for assistance but felt no hesitation in answering the call when they knew they would be under Stark’s command.
John Stark was a remarkable man. A lifelong resident of New Hampshire, Stark was born to Irish and Scottish parents. He served with Robert’s Rangers during the French and Indian War, and at the outbreak of the American Revolution, was appointed colonel of the New Hampshire militia. After fighting at Bunker Hill, he accepted an appointment as a colonel in the Continental Army. He participated in the invasion of Canada and the battles of Trenton and Princeton, before resigning his commission over a promotion dispute. Stark was a combat leader who could quickly forge unbreakable bonds with his men, and his wide-ranging experience had given him tactical and operational expertise.
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The greatest motivating event for militia turnout was Stark’s stunning victory [at the Battle of Bennington in August 1777]. As one American soldier reported, the Battle of Bennington produced “the happiest effects on the spirits of our military, by increasing their confidence in their own prowess. Stark himself thought revenge was the impetus for the militia’s positive response. As he wrote to the Council of New Hampshire, “I think in this action we have returned the enemy a proper compliment for their Hubbardston engagement.”
Over the next few days, [Horatio] Gates sent a flurry of letters from Van Schaick’s Island to all parts of the Northern Department and the surrounding states. One of his first notes went to John Stark. “The whole Country resounds with the Fame of your victory,” Gates wrote, and “in a few days, perhaps hours, I think I may be able to transmit you the News of the like happy termination of Our Affairs at Fort Stanwix.” Once that happened, he told Stark, he looked forward to the moment when he, with Stark’s and Arnold’s assistance, would go after Burgoyne’s main army. Gates was aware of Stark’s previous refusal to place himself and his men under federal control and clearly wanted him to do just that, or at least to effectively cooperate with it. He assured Stark that he and Warner and their men would certainly “meet with all the Honour & Reward Congress can bestow.” Gates understood all too well that militia commanders had to be carefully cultivated and could not simply be ordered about by Continental officers.
Stark, maintaining his steadfast refusal to place his men under the command of a Continental officer, replied from Bennington and suggested instead that he and his men cooperate with Lincoln and harass Burgoyne’s left flank from the Hudson’s east bank. Lincoln had agreed with Stark’s suggestion, so Gates concurred, although he would have much preferred to have Stark’s battle-hardened New Hampshire and Vermont men with the main army.
Kevin J. Weddle, The Compleat Victory: Saratoga and the American Revolution (Oxford University Press, 2021), 153, 241, 251-259.
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Read the Revolution is published biweekly by the Museum of the American Revolution to inspire learning about the history of the American Revolution and its ongoing relevance.