Hubbardton battle re-enacted on 235th anniversary
By Gordon Dritschilo
Staff Writer | July 08,2012
HUBBARDTON — Approaching an onlooker, an English sentry patrolling the perimeter of the camp unshouldered his musket, holding it across his chest.
“You dress strangely,” the re-enactor said to the visitor at the Hubbardton battlefield. “You’re not French, are you? There are no Frenchmen in this camp.”
The visitor identified himself as Russian, and after they exchanged quips about King George III’s ancestry and Empress Catherine’s private life, the sentry allowed the visitor to pass.
It was day one of the observance of the 235th anniversary of the Battle of Hubbardton Saturday, with some 300 re-enactors gathering at the historic site to live life as Revolutionary War-era soldiers and camp followers.
The re-enactment of the actual battle takes place at 8 a.m. today, with demonstrations, tours and other activities continuing until the camps close at 2 p.m. The site’s museum remains open to 5:30 p.m.
“There’s groups here from all the major umbrella organizations,” said re-enactor David Bernier, who portrays American General Arthur St. Clair. “This is one of the few events we get representation from major organizations that don’t normally work together.”
St. Clair was not at Hubbardton, but Bernier uses the persona to serve as narrator during the battle.
Hubbardton was an early battle in the Northern Campaign of 1777. British forces under Gen. John Burgoyne, who left England for the new world after wagering the rebellion would be put down in a year, swept down from Canada intending to cut the Northeast off from the rest of the colonies.
The American garrison at Fort Ticonderoga evacuated after finding itself in an untenable position — poor defensive planning allowed the British to move into high ground outside the fort — and soon the Redcoats were pursuing the Continental Army into Vermont.
At Hubbardton, a small force of rebels fought a rearguard action, giving the British a bloody nose and buying the rest of the Americans time to escape and regroup.
“They didn’t expect the Americans to fight,” Bernier said of the invaders. “They were told all they had to do was show the King’s colors.”
Bernier said the Americans might have actually defeated the British that day had it not been for the timely arrival of German mercenaries reinforcing the British side.
“Technically, the British won the day,” he said. “They had their eyes opened.”
While the Americans claimed the day as a moral victory, many in the British camp will tell you that they set the rebels running, and everything else is spin after the fact. The re-enactors in British uniform often also say they see the Redcoats as the good guys in conflict.
“We are the side of law and order,” said Paul Shipley of Balston Lake, N.Y. “Like our officers today, you go overseas and you do what you are ordered regardless of your personal feelings.”
Shipley said when he first became interested in re-enacting at age 14 he was told he was too young to join an American light infantry unit but was accepted into a British one and stayed under the King’s banner ever since, working his way up through the ranks to where he now portrays an officer.
“We do it because we love to honor what these folks did,” he said. “Being the history buffs that we are, we are progressive enough we want to immerse ourselves for a weekend in their lifestyles. That means eating bad food. That means sleeping in tents.”
It also means running around with guns — at least for the men. Female re-enactors sometimes portray men during such events, but many take on the roles of wives and servants to the soldiers and officers. While that may not sound as exciting, Meghan Greene of Burlington said it is still an education.
“I’m actually (Shipley’s) servant for the weekend,” she said. “I’m helping with pouring his wine and his domestic needs. ... I like it. It teaches a lot of skills that aren’t taught today. You learn a lot of tricks about fixing anything, cooking, staying healthy without modern conveniences.”
The escaping force regrouped in Manchester, Bernier said, and served as a basis around which the Americans built the army that defeated Burgoyne at Saratoga. That victory brought the French into the war on America’s side, and the French navy allowed George Washington to pin down the British for the ultimate victory at Yorktown.
“This is the beginning,” Bernier said. “This is kind of a Holy Grail site for us.”
In addition to its significance, Hubbardton is one of the few Revolutionary War battlefields where such re-enactments are allowed, Bernier said, and one of the few that still so closely resembles its condition during the war.
“It’s so pristine here,” he said. “You get the feeling you may be standing in the footprints of someone who was actually here. There’s something magic to it.”