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Monday, July 7, 2008

General John Stark by Bruce - Part 4 of 5

Part 1   Part 2   Part 3

In the last part, we saw John Stark get high praise for his aggressiveness in the war, yet he still got passed over for a brigadier general position. He decided to step down from the military at that point. But when Vermont needed some assistance, the New Hampshire militia was formed, and Stark agreed to command them.

News of Stark’s return spread across New Hampshire. Reverend Timothy Walker of Concord interrupted his church service to announce that Stark had returned by saying, “My brethren, those of you who are willing to go had better leave at once”. Ebenezer Webster, father of the famous statesman Daniel Webster, recruited a company of fifty-four men to join Stark. This was a little more than one out of every three males living in the little town of Salisbury, New Hampshire. Soon some 1400 militiamen had followed Stark’s orders to meet him at the site of the Fort at Number Four in Charlestown.

Stark marched his men across Vermont and met British and Hessian troops at Bennington on August 14, 1777. Feeling the strain of ever increasing supply lines, Burgoyne had sent soldiers to Bennington for horses and supplies. As rain fell the day before the battle Stark was given time to prepare. Knowing that the Tories fighting with the British would be wearing civilian clothing like Stark’s own men, Stark ordered his men to put cornhusks in their hats or shirt pockets to save confusion. That evening a regiment from Berkshire County, Massachusetts joined Stark’s forces. Reverend Thomas Allen, leader of the Berkshire soldiers met with Stark. Allen indicated to Stark how anxious his men were for battle saying that it would be impossible for the Berkshire men to muster troops in the future if they did not soon see battle. Stark replied, “ if the Lord gives us sunshine tomorrow and I do not give you fighting enough, I will never call on you to come again.”

With the dawn of August 15 the rain had stopped. Stark prepared his men for the coming battle with the words, “My men, yonder are the Hessians. They were bought for seven pounds and ten pence a man. Are you worth more? Prove it! Tonight the American flag floats from yonder hill, or Molly Stark sleeps a widow…” Under Stark’s leadership the British forces at Bennington were overwhelmed and Burgoyne’s quest for supplies ended. George Washington in a letter to General Israel Putnam after Bennington said, “As there is now not the least danger of Gen. Howe’s going to New England, I hope the whole force of that Country will turn out and by following the great stroke of Gen. Stark near Bennington entirely crush Gen. Burgoyne…” The events of Saratoga soon followed.

General Gates attempted to get Stark and his militia to come to Saratoga and join the army that was preparing to meet Burgoyne. Unknown to Gates was that Stark and many of his officers had come down with the measles and were in no condition travel. Also, feeling that they had defended New England and with their enlistments expiring, most of the men in Stark’s army returned home to New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Vermont. Once well, Stark returned to New Hampshire to recruit fresh troops. During his absence both battles of Saratoga took place. Knowing that the only way he could save his army was by retreating, Burgoyne attempted to head back to Canada. On the night of October 11 Stark crossed the Hudson River with fresh troops from New Hampshire. His forces captured Fort Edward and positioned artillery to block Burgoyne’s escape. The surrender of Burgoyne’s army was thus ensured. Soon after Burgoyne’s surrender the Continental Congress promoted Stark to Brigadier General. John Stark had finally received the recognition he deserved.

Continue on to Part 5.

Believe me yours faithfully,

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