Thursday, August 16, 2007

"Live Free or Die"

You've seen it plenty of times on the license plate of a car from New Hampshire. Have you ever wondered where it came from? It's part of a longer sentiment.
"Live free or die. Death is not the worst of evils."

Those are the words of General John Stark, (August 28, 1728 - May 8, 1822) the hero of the Battle of Bennington. He led an amazing life. He was captured and ransomed from the Abenaki Indians, fought in the French and Indian war, and the American Revolution. During the Revolution he fought at Lexington, Bunker Hill, Trenton and Princeton. In the summer of 1777 British General John Burgoyne was attempting to push through the northern Hudson River Valley in hopes of cutting off new England from the rest of the colonies.

On the afternoon of August 16, 1777, the weather cleared, and Stark ordered his men ready to attack. Stark is reputed to have rallied his troops by saying, "There are your enemies, the Red Coats and the Tories. They are ours, or this night Molly Stark sleeps a widow." Upon hearing that the militia had melted away into the woods, Baum assumed that the Americans were retreating or redeploying. However, Stark had recognized that Baum's forces were spread thin and decided immediately to envelop them from two sides while simultaneously charging Baum's central redoubt head-on. Stark's plan , the Loyalists and Native Americans fled. This left Baum and his Hessian dragoons trapped on the high ground without any horses. The Germans fought valiantly even after running low on powder. The dragoons led a sabre charge and tried to break through the enveloping forces. However, after this final charge failed and Baum was mortally wounded, the Germans surrendered.
Shortly after this battle ended, while the New Hampshire Militia was disarming the German troops, Baum's reinforcements arrived. The German reinforcements, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Heinrich von Breymann, saw the Americans in disarray and pressed their attack immediately. After hastily regrouping, Stark's forces tried to hold their ground against the German onslaught. Before their lines collapsed, a group of several hundred Vermont militiamen arrived to reinforce Stark's troops. The Green Mountain Boys, commanded by Seth Warner, had just been defeated at the Battle of Hubbardton by British reinforcements and were eager to exact their revenge on the enemy. Together, the New Hampshire and Vermont militias repulsed and finally routed von Breymann's force.
Today the residents of Bennington celebrate the battle, calling the day Bennington Battle Day. That day the town fires Americas oldest firing cannon, called the Molly Stark Cannon

"Live free or die. Death is not the worst of evils."