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A new battlefield

The second Battle of Hubbardton is under way.

As students of Vermont history know, the Revolutionary War battle that took place in Hubbardton on a sweltering July day was the only battle of the war to take place on Vermont soil. The Battle of Bennington, which came later, occurred over the line in New York.

The new Battle of Hubbardton has been brought on by a proposal from Reunion Power to construct 20 wind turbines on the Grandpa’s Knob ridgeline, affecting four towns – Hubbardton, Castleton, Pittsford and West Rutland. Though authority to approve or reject power projects resides with the state Public Service Board, the select boards of Hubbardton, Castleton and Pittsford have all voted to oppose the project.

In Hubbardton residents have cited, among other reasons, the proposed project’s proximity to the Hubbardton Battlefield, which is a state historic site. Grandpa’s Knob and Pittsford Ridge are visible just to the east of the battlefield, which is a well-maintained, significant, quiet and remote piece of Vermont’s heritage.

The battle itself, which took place on July 7, 1777, was not a glorious moment in the history of the Revolutionary War. The colonial troops that had occupied Fort Ticonderoga in New York and the fort at Mount Independence in Orwell were forced to retreat in the dead of night because of the advance of British troops under Gen. John Burgoyne. Four colonial soldiers were stationed on the Vermont side of the lake and ordered to train their artillery on the bridge leading across the lake as British troops tried to cross in the morning. When the British found the four, they were dead drunk.

The colonial force was retreating through thick woods in heavy woolen uniforms in oppressive heat as fast as they could, with British and German troops trying to catch them. The main body of American troops under Gen. Arthur St. Clair was heading for Castle Town, as it was called, with a body of Continental Army soldiers and a rabble of militia who were ordered to carry out a rear guard action to slow the advance of the British.

The colonial soldiers numbered about 1,200, including those who were wounded or drunk, and they were under the command of Seth Warner, a leader of the Green Mountain Boys. As they fled into the mountains of Hubbardton, they established positions behind a fence on top of a hill where they could fire down at the advancing British. In the end the Americans lost 324 men, killed, wounded or captured, and the British lost 183. Abby Hemenway’s Vermont Historical Gazetteer says the battle was lost owing to “the indiscretion” of General St. Clair, who left the rear guard too far behind.

And yet the main body of the force was preserved, bloodying the British later at Bennington and defeating them at Saratoga in a battle that has been called one of the most significant in history.

Thus, Hubbardton was a significant moment in Vermont’s history. But what is the relation of this story to the prospect of wind turbines on Grandpa’s Knob? Opponents of the project say that giant towers looming above the battlefield would be a desecration. But it’s hard to picture the degree to which wind towers would impinge on an appreciation of the battlefield. They would not sit atop the battlefield. They would be rotating in the mid-distance, and advocates of the project say they would be emblematic of energy independence, which is not inconsistent with the meaning of the War of Independence. And yet they would be an industrial presence in a beautiful and remote rural setting.

In any event, the people of Hubbardton want no part it. Nor, it appears, do their neighbors in Pittsford and Castleton. Opinion is not unanimous, but if local opinion is to mean anything, it would seem that Reunion Power is facing opposition stiffer than that encountered by Brigadier General Simon Fraser and his Scottish soldiers as they approached Seth Warner’s troops at that fence in Hubbardton. Hubbardton back in 1777 consisted of about nine homesteads. It is not a populous town now. But the residents of the region do not appear ready to give way.