You were given the choice between war and dishonor. You chose dishonor and you will have war. — Winston Churchill

Story of the Thirteen Colonies - Helene Guerber

The Fight at Bennington

While Washington was spending the rest of the winter at Morristown, the news of his triumphs reached France. Franklin had been sent there, in 1776, to secure help, if possible. His reputation as a man of science, his great talents, and his affable manners made him a great favorite in Paris, where the fashionable ladies and gentlemen carried fans and snuffboxes decorated with his portrait. But although both king and queen received Franklin very graciously, they would not at first promise him any aid.

A young French nobleman named Lafayette, longing to help the Americans, now decided to leave his young wife and home. But as the king forbade him to leave court, he secretly embarked upon a vessel he fitted out himself, and crossed the Atlantic. Then, as soon as he landed, he went straight to Congress and offered to serve the United States without pay. A few days later he met Washington, whose helper he became, and who soon learned to love him as dearly as if he had been his own son.

Washington and Lafayette

Several other illustrious foreigners came in the same way to fight for America and freedom. The bravest among them were the Germans De Kalb and Steuben, and the Poles Pulaski and Kosciusko. It is said that when Kosciusko first presented himself, and was asked what he could do, he briefly answered: "Try me." This reply so pleased Washington that he made the young man his aid-de-camp.

Washington's victories at Trenton and Princeton, and his return toward New York, could not divert Howe from his purpose to secure Philadelphia. When summer came on, therefore, he set out with his fleet to take that city. Washington began retracing his steps, and, knowing that Howe could not sail up the Delaware,—which was defended by forts,—went to meet him at Chadds Ford on the Brandywine (1777). Here a battle was fought, and not only were the Americans defeated, but Lafayette was sorely wounded.

Although beaten, Washington's army retreated in good order to Philadelphia, which was soon taken by Howe and the British forces. Hoping to drive them away, Washington surprised them, one morning, at Germantown. Here he would have won a brilliant victory, had not a dense fog made two divisions of his men shoot each other before they discovered their mistake, thus creating a panic.

As there was nothing to be gained by fighting with exhausted troops, Washington now withdrew, and before long went to Valley Forge for the winter. Meanwhile, Howe attacked the forts on either side of the Delaware River. One of these held out bravely for six days, refusing to surrender until it had been battered to pieces. Then, as one fort alone could not check the British fleet, the second surrendered also.

Hoping to damage some of the British vessels at Philadelphia, the patriots made rude torpedoes, which were placed inside of small kegs and sent floating down the river. One of these engines struck a cake of ice and exploded, and the British, thus warned of danger, shot at every floating object they saw, thus waging what has been called in fun the "Battle of the Kegs."

The British, having nothing else to do, now settled down comfortably in Philadelphia, where they lived on the very best of everything. They spent most of their time giving balls and parties, and grew so fat and lazy that, as Franklin wittily said, "Howe has not taken Philadelphia so much as Philadelphia has taken Howe." This remark proved true, for although the plan had been that Howe should march northward, he was delayed by Washington until it was almost too late. Besides, we are told that the British general never received positive orders to go north, for the paper, being badly written, was laid aside to be copied, and forgotten until too late.

Meanwhile the British again tried to carry out their plan of invading New York from Canada. This time, while one army started from Lake Ontario for the Mohawk valley, Burgoyne came southward up Lake Champlain, with British and Indian troops, and took Forts Ticonderoga and Edward. This was considered a great victory in England, and when King George heard that Ticonderoga was taken, he clapped his hands and shouted: "I have beat them! I have beat all the Americans!"

This was not true, however. But General Schuyler, sent to oppose Burgoyne, had so small a force that all he could do was to hinder the enemy's advance by cutting down trees and destroying bridges.

The king's advisers had told Burgoyne to hire Indians to help him, and in spite of all he could do to prevent it, these savage allies fought with their usual cruelty. They even killed and scalped Jane McCrea, a beautiful young lady, who, it is said, was on her way to meet a British officer to whom she was engaged. When this man saw her long golden locks among the scalps the Indians brought back, he left the army, and spent the rest of his life alone, mourning for his betrothed.

After taking the two forts, Burgoyne, hearing that there were cannon and stores at Bennington, Vermont, sent part of his German troops thither to secure them. But when his men drew near this place, they found it ably defended by General Stark.

Even as a boy, this American patriot had always shown great courage and presence of mind. Once, when a prisoner of the Indians, and forced to run the gantlet, Stark snatched a club from one of his captors, and struck right and left with such vigor that he dealt more blows than he received. Later on, he also did many brave deeds during the French and Indian wars.

When the Germans drew near Bennington, Stark led his men against the foe, crying: "There they are, boys! We beat them to-day or Molly Stark's a widow." The men, fired by his example, fought so bravely that they soon won a signal victory. As Washington said, this was a "grand stroke," for the Germans were almost all captured or killed, while only a few of the Americans were lost.

We are told that one old man had five sons in this battle. On the morrow, a neighbor, wishing to break the news of one son's death, gently said: "One of your sons has been unfortunate." "Did he run away or neglect his duty?" the father asked quickly. "No; worse than that! He has fallen, but while fighting bravely." "Ah!" said the father, "then I am satisfied!" For the old man was such a good patriot that he was quite willing his sons should die for their country, and considered that only traitors and cowards needed pity.


Front Matter

Our Country Long Ago
The Barbarous Indians
The Mounds
Where the Northmen Went
The Northmen in America
Queer Ideas
Prince Henry the Navigator
Youth of Columbus
Columbus and the Queen
"Land! Land!"
Columbus and the Savages
Home Again
Columbus Ill-treated
Death of Columbus
How America Got its Name
The Fountain of Youth
"The Father of Waters"
The French in Canada
French and Spanish Quarrels
The Sky City
Around the World
Nothing but Smoke
Smith's Adventures
The Jamestown Men
Smith Wounded
Pocahontas Visits England
Hudson and the Indians
The Mayflower
Plymouth Rock
The First Thanksgiving
Snake Skin and Bullets
The Beginning of Boston
Stories of Two Ministers
Williams and the Indians
The Quakers
The King-Killers
King Phillip's War
The Beginning of New York
Penn and the Indians
The Catholics in Maryland
The Old Dominion
Bacon's Rebellion
A Journey Inland
The Carolina Pirates
Charter Oak
Salem Witches
Down the Mississippi
La Salle's Adventures
Indians on the Warpath
Two Wars with the French
Washington's Boyhood
Washington's Journey
Washington's First Battle
Stories of Franklin
Braddock's Defeat
Wolfe at Quebec
England and her Colonies
The Stamp Tax
The Anger of the Colonies
The Boston Tea Party
The Minutemen
The Battle of Lexington
Bunker Hill
The Boston Boys
The British leave Boston
Declaration of Independence
A Lady's Way of Helping
Christmas Eve
The Fight at Bennington
Burgoyne's Surrender
Winter at Valley Forge
The Quaker Woman
Putnam's Adventures
Indian Cruelty
Boone in Kentucky
Famous Sea Fights
The "Swamp Fox"
The Poor Soldiers
The Spy
A Traitor's Death
Two Unselfish Women
Surrender of Cornwallis
British Flag hauled down
Washington's Farewell