History From America's Most Famous Valleys
Campaign of Lieut. Gen. John Burgoyne
and The Expedition of Lieut. Col. Barry St. Leger.
by William L. Stone.
Albany, NY, Joel Munsell. 1877.
General Burgoyne, until his unfortunate campaign, stood very high in his profession. He had made a brilliant record on the banks of the Tagus for dash, as well as judgment, under the eye of a master in the art of war, the famous Count Schaumberg Lippe, who had been selected by Frederic the Great, or the second Frederic, Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick, to save the kingdom of Portugal, on the very verge of ruin. He also added to a prepossessing exterior the polished manners and keen sagacity of a courtier. He was likewise witty and brave. But personal courage alone does not constitute a commander; for of a commander other qualities are expected, especially experience and presence of mind. Burgoyne, in all his undertakings, was hasty and self-willed. Desiring to do everything himself, he rarely consulted with others; and yet he never knew how to keep a plan secret. While in a subordinate position, although continually carping at his military superiors and complaining of his inferior position, yet when given a separate command he was guilty of the same faults which he had reprehended in others.1 Being a great sybarite he often neglected the duties of a general, as well toward his king as his subordinates. He could easily make light of everything, provided he was eating a good meal, or was with his mistress, and while he was enjoying his champagne and choice food his army, suffered the keenest want. Thus, immediately after the capitulation, he could eat and drink with the enemy's generals, and talk with the greatest ease of the most important events.
Soon after the surrender, he returned to England and justly threw the failure of the expedition upon the administration. There can be no doubt, that had he been properly supported by Howe, as he had a right to expect, he would, despite his mistakes, have reached Albany, since, in that case. Gates would not have been at Stillwater with an army to oppose him. Mr. Fonblanque, in his life of Burgoyne, draws particular attention for the first time, to a fact that throws entirely new light on the apparent failure of Howe, and clears up all that has hitherto seemed mysterious and contradictory. Orders, fully as imperative as those to Burgoyne, were to have been sent to Howe, but, owing to the carelessness of Germaine - who preferred going to a good dinner in Kent to waiting a few moments to append his signature-they were
1 Had Burgoyne had the experience of his campaign, when he wrote to his friend Sir Gilbert Elliot from Boston, in 1775, he would doubtless have exercised more charity. In that letter he writes, " For God's sake urge the ministry to encourage the general [Gage] in the use of it [money] for the secret service. I am bold to say he has not proper intelligence of what passes within half a mile of us."- Fonblanque's Burgoyne, p. 204. See also pp. 142-155 in same connection.
pigeon-holed in London, where they were found, after the convention of Saratoga, carefully docketed, and only wanting the signature of the minister.1 Hence, Howe acted on the discretionary orders sent to him previously, and concluded to go to Philadelphia instead of to Albany-merely telling Clinton, that if other reinforcements came meanwhile from England, he might make a diversion in favor of Burgoyne. Primarily, then, the failure of the expedition was due to the gross negligence of the war minister, though the failure of Howe does not excuse the blunders through which Burgoyne lost his army in the retreat. It should, moreover, also be stated in justice to
1 Lord E. Fitzmaurice, in his Life of Lord Shelburne (Germaine), quotes a memorandum from the hand of that statesman on the subject of that disastrous blunder. He says, " The inconsistent orders given to Generals Howe and Burgoyne could not be accounted for except in a way which it must be difficult for any person who is not conversant with the negligence of office to comprehend. It might appear incredible, if his own secretary and the most respectable persona in office had not assured me of the fact, and what corroborates it, is that it can be accounted for in no other way. It requires as much experience in business to comprehend the very trifling causes which have produced the greatest events, as it does strength of reason to develope the very deepest designs. Among many singularities, Lord Shelburne had a particular aversion to being put out of his way on any occasion. He had fixed to go into Kent at a particular hour and to call on his way at his office to sign the despatches (all of which had been settled) to both these generals. By some mistake those to Gen. Howe were not fair copied, and upon his growing impatient at it, the office, which was a very idle one, promised to send it to the country after him, while they despatched the others to Gen. Burgoyne, expecting that Howe's could be expedited before the packet sailed with the first. By some mistake, however, the ship sailed without them, and they were not signed and were forgotten on his return to town."
Burgoyne that in arranging the campaign with the king he insisted most strenuously that his success depended upon Howe's cooperation.
On his first arrival in England he was received very coldly by the court and people, the king refusing to see him ; but upon a change of the ministry he regained somewhat of his popularity. In 1780, he appeared before the public in a vindication of himself in a work entitled the State of the Expedition. Subsequently, he wrote several popular comedies ; and was one of the managers of the impeachment of Lord Hastings. He did not live, however, to see the result of that trial. He died on the 4th of August, 1792, and was buried in Westminster Abbey.
In regard to General Gates, the same incapacity, which afterward became so apparent in his unfortunate southern campaign, was manifested from the time of his assuming the command of the northern army until the surrender. It was perhaps no fault of his that he had been placed in command at the north, just at the auspicious moment when the discomfiture of Burgoyne was no longer problematical. He was ordered by congress to the station, and performed his duty passably well. But it is no less true, that the laurels won by him ought to have been worn by Schuyler. Col. Wilkinson, who was a member of Gates's military family, has placed this question in its true aspect. He maintains that not only had the army of Burgoyne been essentially disabled by the defeat of the Germans at Bennington before the arrival of Gates, but that the repulse of St. Leger at Fort Stanwix had deranged his plans ; while safety had been restored to the western frontier, and the panic, thereby caused, had subsided. He likewise maintains that after the reverses at the north, nowise attributable to him, and before the arrival of Gates, the zeal, patriotism and sanitary arrangements of General Schuyler had vanquished the prejudices excited against him ; that by the defeat of Baum and St. Leger, Schuyler had been enabled to concentrate and oppose his whole Continental force against the main body of the enemy ; and that by him, also before the arrival of Gen. Gates, the friends of the Revolution had been reanimated and excited to manly resistance, while the adherents of the royal cause were intimidated, and had shrunk into silence and inactivity. From these premises, which are indisputable, it is no more than a fair deduction to say "that the same force which enabled Gates to subdue the British army, would have produced a similar effect under the orders of General Schuyler ; since the operations of the campaign did not involve a single instance of professional skill, and the triumph of the American arms was accomplished by the physical force, and valor of the troops UNDER THE PROTECTION AND DIRECTION OF THE GOD OF BATTLES." 1
1 "A Thanksgiving sermon," says Lamb, " was preached on the occasion of the surrender before the American army by the chaplain, from Joel II, 20th. 'But I will remove far from you the Northern army, and will drive him into a land barren and desolate, with his face toward the East sea, and his hinder part toward the utmost sea, and his ill savor shall come up because he hath done great things.' "
Gates was a man of great plausibility and address, and, withal, a handsome fellow and a great lion in society. It is therefore not surprising, that, flushed with his fortuitous success, or rather with the success attending his fortuitous position, he did not wear his honors with any remarkable meekness. On the contrary, his bearing toward the commander-in-chief was far from respectful, He did not even write to Washington on the occasion, until after a considerable time had elapsed. In the first instance, Wilkinson was sent as the bearer of despatches to congress, but did not reach that body until fifteen days-after the articles of capitulation had been signed, and three days more were occupied in arranging his papers before they were presented. 1 The first mention which Washington makes of the defeat of Burgoyne, is contained in a letter written to his brother on the 18th of October, the news having been communicated to him by Governor Clinton. He spoke of the event again on the 19th, in a letter addressed to General Putnam. On the 25th, in a letter addressed to that officer, he acknowledges the reception of a copy of the articles of capitulation from him-adding, that it was the first authentic intelligence he had received of the affair, and that he had begun to grow uneasy, and almost to suspect that the previous accounts were premature. And it was not until the 2d of November that Gates deigned to communicate to the commander-in-chief a word upon
1 "It was on this occasion that one of the members made a motion in congress, that they should compliment Colonel Wilkinson with the of a pair of spurs."-Sparks.
the subject, and then only incidentally, as though it were a matter of secondary importance.1
Transferred three years afterward to the chief command of the Southern department, his disastrous defeat and irresolute, not to say cowardly, conduct soon pricked the bubble of his reputation ; and after living in comparative obscurity for several years on his farm in Virginia, he died in the city of New York, April 10th, 1806. 2
1 In the unfortunate battle of Camden, De Kalb, at the sacrifice of his life, played the same role to Gates - though without the same result - that Arnold did in the battle of Saratoga. Colonel, Marquis of Armand, who led the right advance at Camden, accused Gates, openly, of treason and cowardice.
2 Congress, in the first flush of its gratitude, decreed that Gates should be presented with a medal of gold, to be struck expressly in commemoration of so glorious a victory. On one side of it was the bust of the general, with these words around it : Horatio Gates, Duci strenuo, and in the middle, Comitia Americana. On the reverse, Burgoyne was represented in the attitude of delivering his sword ; and in the back ground, on the one side and on the other, were seen the two armies of England and America. At the top were these words, Salus regionum Septentrional; and at the foot, Hoste ad Saratogam in deditione accepta. Die XVII Oct. M.D.CCLXXVII. Mr. Benson J. Lossing, who designed the seal of the Saratoga Monument Association, has incorporated in it the reverse of the medal.
In his domestic relation Gen. Gates was an affectionate husband and father. In a letter to his wife, written from Albany three days after the surrender, he says :
"The voice of fame, ere this reaches you, will tell how greatly fortunate we have been in this department. Burgoyne and his whole army have laid down their arms, and surrendered themselves to me and my Yankees. Thanks to the giver of all victory for this triumphant success. I got here night before last, and all now are camped upon the heights to the south of this city. Major General Phillips, who wrote me that saucy note last year from St. Johns, with Lord Petersham, Major Ackland, son of Sir Thomas, and his lady, daughter of Lord Ilchester, sister to the famous Lady Susan, and about a dozen members of parliament, Scotch lords, etc., are among the captured. I wrote to J. Boone, by Mr. Fluck, an engineer, whom I permitted to pass to Canada, and who goes immediately from thence to England. I could not help, in a modest manner, putting him in mind of the fete champetre that I three years ago told him Burgoyne would meet with if he came to America. If Old England is not by this lesson taught humility, then she is an obstinate old slut, bent upon her ruin. I long much to see you, and have, therefore, sent the bearers to Albany by the way of Reading, where you will be received and entertained by Mrs. Potts. Before you leave Reading, you must take advice whether to come by Nazareth or Bethlehem ; after that your road up the country by Van Camp's, through the Minisinks, to Hurley and Esopus, is plain and well known to the bearer.
" Don't let Bob's zeal to get to papa, hurry you faster than, considering the length of the journey, you ought to come. If you come by Bethlehem, there is a Mr. Oakley, who holds an office under Mifflin, who will provide you with everything you may have occasion for, and will introduce you to Madame Langton, and the Bishop and Mrs. Ilsley, etc. Perhaps you may get ruffles to your apron ; if they are finished I desire you will bespeak them.
" Tell my dear Bob not to be too elated at this great good fortune of his father. He and I have seen many days adverse as well as prosperous. Let us through life endeavor to bear both with an equal mind. General Burgoyne has promised me to deliver any letters I please to commit to his care in England. I think to send a few to some principal men there. Perhaps they may have a good effect for both countries. I would fain have the mother reconciled to her child, and consent, since she is big enough to be married, to let her rule and govern her own house. I hope Lady Harriet Ackland will be here when you arrive. She is the most amiable, delicate little piece of quality you ever beheld. Her husband is one of the prettiest fellows I have seen, learned, sensible, and an Englishman to all intents and purposes, has been a most confounded tory, but I hope to make him as good a whig as myself before we separate. You must expect bad and cold days upon the journey; therefore, prepare against it. I thank God I am pretty well; have had a bad cold, with loss of appetite from being continually harassed with so much business; but I hope to find some rest in winter and much comfort in Your's and Bob's company. I will try and get some good tea for you from some of the English officers. Accept my tenderest wishes for your health and safety, and assure my dear Bob how much I am interested in his welfare. Heaven grant us a happy meeting." - Gates's papers in the New York Historical Society.
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