The Survey Update
Survey of Bennington Battlefield Nearing Completion
By David Pitlyk
In 2015, consultants retained by an American Battlefield Protection Program Grant undertook a cultural resource survey of Bennington Battlefield. The goals of this survey were to more accurately define the bounds of the battlefield and to refine our understanding of the positions and events that took place within it. As a result of these efforts, we now have a detailed idea of the location of the dragoon breastwork, traces of which would have been destroyed in the 1920’s. Not only can we say with some certainty where the 1777 tree line was (behind which American militia would have been afforded cover), we can even position the 3-pounder cannon within the breastwork!
At the center of the battlefield, long an enigma for lack of documentation and compromised by road and rail construction, we have traced the possible path of retreat and determined the location of a possible river ford. Disturbances in the ground would seem to indicate the presence of burials, long a subject of speculation.
At the Tory breastwork, we now believe that we can position and orient the fortification there and trace one path of loyalist retreat across the river. We have also concluded that the Tory redoubt fell before the bridge position did.
A cache of primary sources has been collected and interpreted, including some documents not previously available or well-known from all perspectives of the battle (those of the crown forces, loyal provincials, rebels & civilians).
In addition to all this, a paper has been published demonstrating the utility of luminol blood testing on fired musket balls through work done at Bennington. It is difficult to imagine, but traces of human blood were still present and reacting with this specialized chemical 239 years later! This data was instrumental in determining locations of fighting (as opposed to avenues of retreat, commonly evidences by dropped balls). Not only do we expect to have a report documenting these findings in hand, we also have a trove of 221 battle related artifacts (including 147 projectiles) that we look forward to curating.
What does this all mean for the site? In the short term, parks will make the primary sources available to the public as soon as possible. Some sensitive portions of the report that could be exploited by relic hunters will have to be edited out before the larger document can be shared. The Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 precludes us from sharing personal identification information of private persons involved in the survey and all specific archaeological locations.
In the 2017 updated report the metal detector survey recovered battle-related artifacts from many areas, at least 221 battle-related pieces, including dropped and impacted lead balls, buckshot, coins, and period buttons. The archeological results indicate that much of the battlefield remains relatively intact, despite limited development and past relic hunting. The public involvement component of the project was highly successful. The general public, school groups, and avocational detectorists have been engaged in public meetings and park events with the Commonwealth team. The historical and archeological research has significantly supplemented and refined the results of earlier studies of the battlefield. The research has generated a significant sample of battle-related artifacts, and has energized the public regarding the important Battle of Bennington.
Looking forward, at the public meeting it was clear that the public is interested in walking clearly identified areas of the battlefield with the guidance of new signage, pamphlets and trails. An emphasis on the experience of individuals and the connection with Vermont will also clearly need to be incorporated.