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The Battle of Hubbardton by Bruce M. Venter

Book:
Bruce M. Venter

Reviewed by:
Rating:
3
On May 3, 2015
Last modified:May 3, 2015

Summary:

When Burgoyne sent his ambitious subordinate, Brigadier General Simon Fraser after the fleeing American Army. American Major General Arthur St. Clair assigned Seth Warner to guard his retreat, and follow within a day or so behind the main force.

This book traces the ebbs and flows in the Battle of Hubbardton and looks critically at previous scholarship of the battle.

The Battle of Hubbardton

First a little background.  Battle of Hubbardton took place in the midst of Lieutenant General John Burgoyne’s 1777 campaign to capture Albany.  Burgoyne’s army was to be the top half of an envisioned pincer movement to capture Albany, with General Clinton coming up from the south.    After taking Fort Ticonderoga, basically without firing a shot, Burgoyne sent his ambitious subordinate, Brigadier General Simon Fraser after the fleeing American Army. American Major General Arthur St. Clair assigned Seth Warner to guard his retreat, and follow within a day or so behind the main force.

This book recounts how Colonel Seth Warner fulfilled those orders and explores the rear-guard action that was fought among the hills of Hubbardton, Vermont … and it does so while packing an academic punch. The Battle of Hubbardton, author Bruce Venter, boldly proclaims on the rear cover as “perhaps the loss that saved the war.”   The subtitle on the front cover doesn’t even hedge with a “perhaps,” pronouncing: “The Rear Guard Action That Saved America.”  This is the thesis of Venter’s book and he does a good job defending it. But that isn’t where the “punch” comes into play.  Venter goes after sloppy historians who are too content to blindly accept a contemporary account – merely because it is contemporary.  In particular, the account of Thomas Anburey has had far reaching (and deleterious) effects on subsequent scholarship on the Battle of Hubbardton.

For instance many scholars have carelessly accepted the notion that the British troops spent time scaling a mountain clearly out of the way, and nowhere near the battle, merely because it was mentioned in Anburey’s account.  Venter surveyed the area in person and points out that there would have been no reason for British troops to go so far out of the way to climb a mountain nowhere near the battle site!

Venter relies heavily on the scholarly work presented in the article Thomas Anburey at the Battle of Hubbardton: How a Fraudulent Source Misled Historians.  (A very interesting article!)  Venter takes a hard look at some of the scholarship of those who have based conclusions on Anburey’s writings without critically analyzing some of Anburey’s contentions.  As it turns out, Anburey’s “recollections” are suspect and his account is filled with plagiarism!    The paper linked to above shows how this one source has crept into numerous books and accounts and has tainted their accuracy.

But, Venter also points out that there is no substitute for critical thinking and looking at the site of the battle – first hand.  Unlike many historic battlefields, the Hubbardton site has not been developed and the ground is much as it would have been then.  There is really no excuse for not checking it out.

Students of the Battle of Hubbardton, or for any battle for that matter, should realize that there is no substitute for a personal investigation of the ground to test the logic of sources like Anburey.  In modern military parlance, this would mean a “staff ride,” where the written word is tested against existing geographic features like Mount Zion.

Academic pugilism aside, Venter provides a great overview of some of the characters involved in the battle, including:

On the British Side

  • Brigadier General Simon Fraser
  • Major General Baron Friedrich Adolphus von Riedesel
  • Major Robert Grant
  • Major Alexander Lindsay

On the American Side

  • Major General Arthur St. Clair
  • Colonel Seth Warner
  • Colonel Ebenezer Francis
  • Colonel Nathan Hale

On the American side, Venter defends and explains the reasons why Colonel Seth Warner chose to rest his men overnight at Hubbardton, rather to to strictly comply with his commander’s orders and follow on more rapidly.  Warner comes in for some light criticism, but over all, he fares well in Venter’s estimation.

Warner’s British counterpart, General Simon Fraser, gets a more mixed treatment by Venter.  On the one hand, Fraser was an enterprising and ambitious officer, just the sort favored by Burgoyne.  Fraser was determined to make a name for himself and wipe out the rebel rear guard – all by himself – if necessary. His vanity and ego made him suspicious and petty with respect to the man that saved his bacon, and made Hubbardton a tactical victory for British, Baron Von Riedesel.

In reading the account, one thing that struck this author was the symmetry between the actors on both sides and the quickly shifting balance favoring first one side and then the other. The importance of leadership and character is shown very clearly.  Seth Warner’s loss delayed Burgoyne’s forces, weakened their strength, and ensured that there would be an army to fight at Saratoga.

 

2 comments

1 Corky St Bravio { 07.01.18 at 8:25 am }

Could Mr. Venter help reconcile his accounting of the Battle of Hubberton with an account of Col. Kosciuszko’s participation in the rear guard actions during the retreat from the “siege” of Fort Ticonderoga as reported in Wikipedia “Taduesz Kosciouszko”: “Major General Philipe Schuyler,…, ordered Kosciuszko to delay the enemy. Kosciouszko designed an engineer’s solution: his men felled trees, dammed streams, and destroyed bridges and causeways.” Also, in The Peasant Prince by Alex Storozynski, there is no mention of Seth Warner, but instead we are given: “Schyler reassigned hundreds of soldiers and put them under Kosciouszko’s command. Lt. Col. Henry B. Livingston issed the order: ‘The fatigue party, till further orders … is to proceed …and receive orders from Colo. Kosciuszko, Engineer.'[Orderly Book of Henry B. Livingston, July 19, 1777, End note #45Chpt 2] / “The Pole rallied the troops to delay the enemy’s pursuit.” [End note #46, Ch2, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson]. So my question is who led the rear guard action? (post@theschedule.us, Rensselaer City Historian)

[Reply]

2 Victor Batorsky { 07.01.18 at 10:13 am }

Who Led the Rearguard During Retreat From Fort Ticonderoga
Perhaps Mr. Venter (Bruce M.) could reconcile his account of the leadership of the rearguard action during the retreat from the seige of Fort Ticondigroga with other accounts. In his Battle of Hubberton, Wikipedia explains “After taking Fort Ticonderoga, basically without firing a shot, Burgoyne sent his ambitious subordinate, Brigadier General Simon Fraser after the fleeing American Army. American Major General Arthur St. Clair assigned Seth Warner to guard his retreat, and follow within a day or so behind the main force.” (http://www.whatwouldthefoundersthink.com/the-battle-of-hubbardton-by-bruce-m-venter).
Yet, also, from Wikipedia, we are told that Tadeusz Kościuszko was given this same responsibility, “The British advance force nipped hard on the heels of the outnumbered and exhausted Continentals as they fled south. Major General Philip Schuyler, desperate to put distance between his men and their pursuers, ordered Kościuszko to delay the enemy.[34] Kościuszko designed an engineer’s solution: his men felled trees, dammed streams, and destroyed bridges and causeways.[34] Encumbered by their huge supply train, the British began to bog down, giving the Americans the time needed to safely withdraw across the Hudson River.”
Again, we read in The Peasant Prince by Alex Storozynski, “Schuyler reassinged hundreds of soldiers and put them under Kosciuszko’s command. Lt. Col. Henry B. Livingston issued the order: ‘The fatigue party, till further orders … is to proceed … and receive orders from Colo. Kosciuszko, Engineer.’ / The pole rallied the troops to delay the enemy’s pursuit.”
The questions are 1) Who lead the rearguard action that delayed Burgoyne? 2) How do the two accounts reconcile – that is, who did what and when? Why is there no mention of Seth Warner in other accounts of the retreat if he played so important a role? 3) What was the relationship between fighting the British advance and covering the American retreat?

City of Rensselaer Historian
518 859 3685

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