Save 95 Crucial Acres at Two Revolutionary War Battlefields
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A message from Jim Lighthizer, American Battlefield Trust president
Jim Lighthizer, president of the American Battlefield Trust.
June 29, 2020
Dear Friend and Fellow Battlefield Preservation Hero,
Before I tell you about a great opportunity to preserve 95 acres at two “Summer of 1777” Revolutionary War battlefields at a fantastic $77-to-$1 match, I hope you will take a moment to answer at least one very important question for me:
How are you?
The first half of 2020 has been unlike anything any of us have ever seen before, hasn’t it?
I know it has been a challenging time for the American Battlefield Trust as an organization, and I imagine it has been just as much of a challenge for you personally.
Because dedicated and generous members like you are the lifeblood of this organization and this mission to save our nation’s history, I just wanted to check in with you, to make sure you and yours are doing okay.
Would you do me the honor of completing the short questionnaire I have included, to let me know how you are holding up during all of these difficult times?
It would be extremely helpful for me – looking forward into the rest of 2020 – to know how you and your fellow members are doing.
(And just in case you were wondering, the Board of Trustees and I agreed that bringing on a new CEO during a worldwide pandemic and major economic convulsion is like teaching someone how to sail in the middle of a hurricane. So, I have agreed to postpone my retirement and will stay on as president until the end of the year.)
So please, as a personal favor to me, take a moment to answer as many of the questions as you can on the enclosed member survey, then send your responses back to me. Thank you!
It has been a while since I last wrote to you about an opportunity to save important hallowed ground at a Revolutionary War battlefield, but as the saying goes, “Good things come to those who wait.”
Today, you and I have the opportunity to preserve forever 95 acres at two battles that were fought within just a few weeks of each other in the summer of 1777, Bennington in upstate New York, and Brandywine, outside of Philadelphia.
As we approach the 243rd anniversary of both important battles, I could not wait
another moment to tell you about the historic opportunity to save crucial land at a $77-to-$1 match of your generosity!
Let’s look at these important moments in American history in chronological order:
Please don’t feel badly if you are not an expert on the August 16, 1777 Battle of Bennington; neither am I, but to me, learning about new chapters in our nation’s history like this one is always exciting, making it all the more gratifying to help save crucial parts of it.
As part of the overall Saratoga Campaign, this battlefield is actually in New York, even though it is named for a nearby town over the state line in what is now Vermont. In the early summer of 1777 British Major General John Burgoyne’s army was suffering serious shortages of supplies. British raiding parties swept through the countryside, and Burgoyne threatened the local population of the northern Hudson River Valley, saying that he would allow his Indian allies to wreak havoc if they did not assist his army.
A large raiding party of 800 Hessians, British infantry, Indians, Tories, and Canadians was created under the command of German-speaking Colonel Friedrich Baum. As several historians have noted, it might not have been the wisest decision to appoint an officer who could not speak a word of English to attempt to rally support in an exclusively English-speaking region.
Launching his mission on August 9, Baum’s forces swept through several communities, killing some civilians and confiscating anything the army needed. He soon learned of a force of what he believed were 400 patriot militiamen encamped at Bennington, under the command of Brigadier General John Stark, and decided to move against them.
After a brief skirmish, heavy rain delayed any additional fighting, as the two forces kept a watchful eye on each other across the Walloomsac River. But General Stark was the more active of the two leaders, and he divided his closer-to-1,400 troops into three units to attempt a difficult double envelopment.
In a classic case of seeing what you want to see, Baum observed the Americans leaving their camps, but believed they were retreating. When he saw them again in his rear, he believed they were Tory reinforcements. Not until they fell upon his forces did he realize that Stark’s nearly impossible plan had been achieved perfectly. The Hessians put up a fight but were cut down in droves, and the Indians, Tories, and Canadians fled after a few shots.
Once Colonel Baum fell mortally wounded from a bullet to the stomach, about 700 survivors – now penned against the very river they believed would protect them – surrendered.
In their Guide to the Battles of the American Revolution, authors Ted Savas and J. David Dameron write that this “largely forgotten victory was a resounding American success that, with hindsight, echoes today as the beginning of the turning of the war in America’s favor. The loss was a humiliating and costly setback, and Burgoyne’s logistical situation only continued to deteriorate . . . Officials in France acknowledged that the American rebellion was beginning to look more bankable.”
Of course, Burgoyne’s army would struggle on for two more months until forced to surrender at Saratoga, at which point the French did decide to help the American cause. But even before Saratoga, there was another battle that, while technically an American defeat, is significant more for what it wasn’t rather than for what it was.
The Battle of Brandywine, fought on September 11, 1777, saw several of the Revolution’s key participants on the field. On the British side, Major General Sir William Howe and his subordinate Lord Charles Cornwallis squared off against General George Washington, Major General Nathanael Greene, and the Marquis de Lafayette on the American side.
As historian Michael Harris writes in his book Brandywine: A Military History of the Battle that Lost Philadelphia but Saved America, “more troops fought along the Brandywine (nearly 30,000) than during any other battle of the entire American Revolution, its 11 hours of fighting make it the longest single-day battle of the war, and it covered more square miles (10) than any other engagement.”
At every point on the battlefield during that hot, late-summer day, the Americans were outnumbered nearly two to one. The battle also featured a flanking movement, this time one led by Cornwallis that caught Washington by surprise, followed by bayonet charges, artillery duels and patriot countercharges.
But eventually, the force of numbers was too much for Washington’s army to bear, and he and a wounded Lafayette had to retire from the field.
But remember, Brandywine wasn’t a panic-stricken rout . . . it wasn’t a demoralizing loss for the Continentals . . . it wasn’t the end of Washington’s army. In fact, it was just the opposite.
Over the years, many historians have written about the tremendous significance of Brandywine. Christopher Ward writes, “Though they had been as badly beaten as any army could be without being entirely destroyed, there had been no panic; there was no suggestion of despair.”
Another historian, John Reed, wrote that “Though Brandywine was militarily an American defeat, it had stunned Howe by its fierceness and gave the Americans spirit . . . American troops had proved that they could stand against British regulars in open fight.”
After battle, Howe and Cornwallis soon occupied Philadelphia. (Then, as Howe dithered there, Benjamin Franklin wryly noted, “Instead of Howe taking Philadelphia, Philadelphia has taken Howe!”)
But as we all know, four years later, in October 1781, Washington and Lafayette would face Cornwallis on another battlefield, at Yorktown, and the outcome of that battle would determine the outcome of the war.
Let me quickly give you the specifics of these amazing opportunities.
First, the purchase value of these tracts combined is $3,877,085, which, I don’t need to tell you, is a lot of money! Unfortunately, the land is so expensive because the area around the Brandywine battlefield is now a high-priced suburb of Philadelphia, and under constant threat from development.
However, the good news is that we and the local partners we are working with to preserve these important tracts have access to matching grants from the American Battlefield Protection Program, local government sources, and private foundations that total $3,827,085! That means 98.7% of the total needed to preserve these crucial properties is already on the table – we just need to raise the final $50,000!
That works out to a $77-to-$1 multiplier of your donation dollar today! That’s some serious leverage, in my book.
And for those of us who care deeply about this country and its exceptional, remarkable history, this is some of the most important work we will ever do in our lives. I truly believe that.
I’m sure you will agree that the memory of the American Revolution – indeed, all of American history – has been fading for decades. The time devoted to teaching history is dwindling. The Revolution and the War of 1812 are often overlooked or discarded as irrelevant.
By acting today, you are helping to reverse that terrible trend. By saving the actual ground where those conflicts were fought, you and I are preserving the outdoor classrooms that will be accessible to all future generations.
We are saving the stories not only of great leaders like George Washington, we are also preserving
the stories of the American citizen soldier. They answered their country’s call, fought and won our freedom, then peacefully went back to their farms, their shops and their fields. They created the first government in the history of the world dedicated to the rights and freedom of ordinary people.
Shouldn’t we help preserve these 95 acres of open land in memory of those ordinary citizens who went into that battle with a handful of bullets, and who ultimately defeated the greatest military power of their age to win their liberty… and our freedom?
Isn’t it the highest and best use of these irreplaceable acres to preserve them so that future generations can learn of the momentous events that happened there, rather than to destroy forever the land’s ability to impart its heroic and inspirational stories?
I have asked much of you lately; I know that. Your dedication is awe-inspiring, and even though I am asking you for your help and support once more, I hope you will stand with me. Those hungry, rag-wrapped citizen soldiers who sacrificed all to give us the nation we have today deserve no less.
To thank you for being one of the first 1,777 people to send a gift of $77 or more, I am pleased to offer you a unique gift. Through special arrangement with the publisher, we have commissioned a special Preservation Edition of award-winning author and historian Craig Symonds’ A Battlefield Atlas of the American Revolution.
This compact yet comprehensive work is one you will want to have at hand as you read about any account of a Revolutionary War battle. You will want to add this book to your collection, I can assure you, but please act quickly; once the first 1,777 are gone, I may not be able to get any more.
Please be as generous as you can today and help save even more of America’s precious and irreplaceable history right now. Thank you.
With deep gratitude and appreciation,
P.S. Please visit our website at www.battlefields.org/summerof77 for even more information about these battles and this effort to save 95 crucial acres at a $77-to-$1 match. Thank you for helping to save even more of our nation’s history and heritage for future generations. That makes you a hero, as far as I am concerned.
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