Hubbardton Battlefield State Historic Site, 5695 Monument Road, Hubbardton, Vt. Phone: (802) 273-2282. Open Wednesday through Sunday, late May through mid-October.
For all that Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys have become legends for their fighting in the American Revolution, only one Revolutionary War battle took place on Vermont soil.
Bennington, you say? No, most of that shooting occurred just over the New York border.
Oh, it must be Mount Independence, across from Fort Ticonderoga. No, again. That winter encampment saw plenty of death from disease but nary a shot fired out on those grounds.
The lone skirmish in Vermont came at Hubbardton, on a scenic hillside just north of Castleton. Preserved as Hubbardton Battlefield State Historic Site, this one-time battleground now couldn't be more peaceful.
A well-planned visitor center gives the basic outline of the fighting at Hubbardton, placing it in the context of the war.
British leadership pinned its hopes on a three-pronged approach. Gen. John Burgoyne would travel down Lake Champlain from the north. Gen. William Howe's troops would march up along the Hudson River from New York City. And Gen. Barry St. Leger would come from the west, through the Mohawk Valley. In this way, the rebellious New England colonies would be split apart from the equally contentious states of the mid-Atlantic and upper South.
The strategy didn't account for the tenacity of the young American patriots. Benedict Arnold, with the first American Navy, may not have defeated the British soldiers and sailors at Valcour Island in 1776, but he delayed them long enough to force a retreat back to Canada for the winter. St. Leger's brigades were held off by furious fighting at Oriskany and Fort Stanwix.
As for Howe, he somehow decided not to head north at all.
So now it was 1777. Burgoyne's army was again moving south. In the face of the oncoming British under Gen. Simon Fraser, Gen. Arthur St. Clair led American forces out from Fort Ticonderoga and Mount Independence and headed further into Vermont.
A thousand colonials were designated to form a rear guard near Hubbardton. Their purpose was to stall the British as long as possible.
Sparks began to fly on the morning of July 7, 1777. American scouts saw early British arrivals and began shooting. Farther ahead, patriots manned a bluff atop Monument Hill, working to keep their opponents from climbing up.
The Americans didn't count on Britain's German allies, who approached Hubbardton from the east. Singing and playing their musical instruments, they marched straight up Monument Hill and scattered the American army. The entire battle raged a mere four hours.
At the visitor center, detailed timelines and a brief video outline this story, while the longer film "Guns Over the Champlain Valley" overviews the ultimately unsuccessful British campaign from the north.
The episode really comes alive through a detailed diorama of the battle site, showing how American troops grouped behind a high log and stone wall in anticipation of the British attack up Monument Hill. A narrated map describes the action vividly, showing how colonial forces tried to outflank their enemies only to have the Hessians drive up the hill and force a retreat.
Artifacts on exhibit include the inevitable musket balls but also a shoe buckle and a pewter cloak clasp. There's a replica Brown Bess, the standard rifle for British and Americans alike; it had a shooting range of about 80 yards. It was poignant seeing selected remains from a farmhouse of the time — sheep shears, clay pipes, Spanish coins.
After studying the displays, it was time to walk the grounds. A half-mile stroll at the crest of the hill brought us past most of the important sites.
A gap in the nearby hills marked the spot where American soldiers fired on British scouts around 5 a.m. on the fateful day. In the distance stands Mount Zion, notable for its prominent rocky ledge.
Below us flowed Sucker Brook, where Col. Nathan Hale supervised an encampment of New Hampshire Regiment troops, many of them sick and wounded. To the left, Seth Warner had quartered his Green Mountain Boys. A Massachusetts regiment under Col. Ebenezer Francis occupied the hilltop.
At about 7 a.m., British soldiers under Maj. Robert Grant attacked. Hale tried to outflank his opponents, a maneuver that might have worked had German forces not joined the fray.
The latter charged up the hill and forced the Americans to flee. By 10 o'clock, the fighting had ended. Both sides suffered heavily with casualties, but both claimed victory. The British gained control of the fields on which we now were walking.
However, the strong American resistance allowed the escape of many soldiers. These moved on to reinforce Gen. John Stark at Bennington and Gen. Philip Schuyler at Saratoga. Burgoyne eventually surrendered after the Battle of Saratoga in October 1777.
We crossed a small plank bridge, then came to a split-rail enclosure marking the location of Selleck Cabin. One of nine families living here at the time, the Sellecks had come from Connecticut to "farm and raise their family away from the crowding and turmoil in the coastal colonies." That crowding and turmoil likely began to look better as they fled in the face of Tory raiding at Hubbardton.
The Americans initially occupied the abandoned house, but after successfully ousting their rivals, British and German soldiers used it as a headquarters and a hospital.
The Selleck family returned after the Revolutionary War and farmed until 1820.
Now, all that's left is a cellar hole and stone foundation.
A tall marble monument, commissioned by the citizens of Hubbardton, stands nearby. Dedicated July 7, 1859, its inscription commemorates "The Only Battle Fought in Vermont during the Revolution."
Park Ranger Carl Fuller shows tremendous enthusiasm for the site. Our questions were answered in detail. He urged us to return in early July for the annual Revolutionary War encampment.
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