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.
the morning of the 8th, before daybreak, Burgoyne left his position, now utterly
untenable, and defiled on to the meadows by the river where were his supply
trains, but was obliged to delay his retreat until the evening because his
hospital could not be sooner removed. He wished also to avail himself of the
darkness. The Americans immediately moved forward and took possession of the
abandoned camp. Burgoyne, having condensed his forces upon some heights which
were strong by nature, and covered by a ravine running parallel with the entrenchments
of his late camp, a random fire of artillery and small arms was kept up through
the day, particularly on the part of the German chasseurs and the Provincials.
These stationed in coverts of the ravine kept up an annoying fire upon-every
one crossing their line of vision, and it was by a shot from one of these
lurking parties, that General Lincoln received a severe wound in the leg while
riding near the line. It was
evident from the movements of the British that they were preparing to retreat; but the American troops, having, in the delirium of joy consequent upon their victory, neglected to draw and eat their rations, and being withal not a little fatigued with the two days' exertions, fell back to their camp which had been left standing in the morning. Retreat, was, indeed, the only alternative left to the British commander, since it was now quite certain that he could not cut his way through the American army, and his supplies were reduced to a short allowance for five days.
Meanwhile, in addition to the chagrin of defeat, a deep gloom pervaded the British camp. The gallant and beloved Fraser, the life and soul of the army, lay dying in the little farm-house on the river bank occupied by Mrs. General Riedesel. 1
General Fraser had been borne off the field supported by two soldiers, one on each side of his horse. " When he arrived in camp," says Lamb, "the officers all anxiously
1 The quarters which Mrs. Riedesel then occupied, and in which General Fraser died - known then as the Taylor house, and since as the Smith house, was situated three miles and a half south of Fish creek, and about one hundred rods north of Wilbur's basin or the old Ensign store. At the time of the battle, it stood by the side of the old road to Stillwater, on the west margin of the intervale at the foot of the hill on which General Fraser was buried. When, some years afterward, the present turnpike was constructed, running twenty rods from the old road, the latter was discontinued, and a Mr. Smith (who had purchased the old house) drew it to the west side of the turnpike and turned it into a tavern. It stood until within four years, when it was torn down. The foundations can yet be seen. In 1820, the late Theodore Dwight visited the spot, and made a drawing of it, which has been engraved and is here given above.
inquired as to his wound ; but the downcast look and melancholy that were visible to every one too plainly spoke his situation, and all the answer he could make to the many inquiries, was a shake of his head, expressive that all was over with him. So much was he beloved, that even the women flocked round, solicitous for his fate. When he reached his tent, and was recovered a little from the faintness occasioned by the loss of blood, he told those around him, that he saw the man who shot him ; he was a rifleman, and aimed from a tree. After the surgeon had dressed his wound he said to him very composedly, ' Tell me, to the best of your skill and judgment, if you think my wound is mortal ?' when he replied, 'I am sorry, sir, to inform you, that it is , and that you cannot possibly live more than twenty-four hours,' the general called for pen, ink, and paper, and after making his will, and distributing a few little tokens to the officers of his suite, desired that he might be removed to the general hospital."
Mrs. Riedesel, whose " charming blue eyes," General Wilklnson says, he has often seen bedewed with tears at the recital of her sufferings - has described the last scene in the life of this unfortunate officer with such unaffected pathos, that we give it in her own words, simply premising that on the previous day she had expected Burgoyne, Phillips and Fraser to dine with her after their return from the reconnaissance of the morning. Mrs. Reidesel says :
" About four o'clock in the afternoon, instead of the guests who were to have dined with us, they brought in to me, upon a litter, poor General Fraser mortally wounded. Our dining table, which was already spread, was taken away, and in its place, they fixed up a bed for the general. I sat in a corner of the room trembling and quaking. The noises grew continually louder. The thought that they might bring my husband in the same manner was to me dreadful, and tormented me incessantly. The general said to the surgeon, ' do not conceal anything from me, must I die ?' The ball had gone through his bowels precisely as in the case of Major Harnage. Unfortunately, however, the general had eaten a hearty breakfast, by reason of which the intestines were distended, and the ball had gone through them. I heard him often, amidst his groans exclaim, ' oh fatal ambition! Poor General Burgoyne ! My poor wife !' Prayers were read to him. He then sent a message to General Burgoyne begging that he would have him buried the following day at six o'clock in the evening, on the top of a hill, which was a sort of a redoubt.
" I knew no longer which way to turn. The whole entry was filled with the sick who were suffering with the camp-sickness, a kind of dysentery. I spent the night in this manner, at one time comforting Lady Ackland, whose husband was wounded, and a prisoner, and at another looking upon my children, whom I had put to bed. As for myself, I could not go to sleep, as I had General Fraser, and all the other gentlemen in my room, and was constantly afraid that my children would wake up and cry, and thus disturb the poor dying man, who often sent to beg my pardon for making me so much trouble. About three o'clock in the morning, they told me that he could not last much longer. I had desired to be apprised of the approach of this moment. I accordingly wrapped up the children in the coverings and went with them into the entry. Early in the morning, at eight o'clock, he died."
General Fraser belonged to the house of Lovatt, whose family name was Fraser. The Earl of Lovatt was one of the noblemen who were compromised by the rebellion of the last Stuart pretender, and whose fortunes were reversed at the battle of Culloden in 1795. General Fraser, a scion of the house, of a sanguine temperament, ardent and ambitious, entered the army, and became so distinguished for his military ability, as to be advanced to the rank of brigadier general, and was selected for a command in Burgoyne's expedition. He had received intimations that if the enterprise were successful, the government would revoke the act of attainder, and restore to him the family title and estates. With a knowledge of these facts, it is easy to understand the meaning of the wounded general's exclamations as he lay waiting for death in the little Taylor farm house, the first alluding to the sad extinction of his own cherished hopes of well earned position and renown ; the second betraying his anxiety for his commander, whose impending disgrace he clearly foresaw.1
1 In this connection, the reader will doubtless recall the last words of the Hessian colonel, Donop, who fell at the battle of Red Bank, N. J., Oct. 22, of the same year, aged 37. He was found by the French officer, Capt. Duplesse, lying helpless on the battle-field among the dead and wounded, and brought to the house of a Quaker, where he lay three days in agony this mountain, for the purpose of ascertaining, as near as possible, the number of the British troops, the situation of their camp, and to watch their movements, and made his reports accordingly , which, it was said, were of much benefit to the Americans, and from which circumstance it has ever since retained the appellation of ' Willard's mountain.' "
The precise spot where Fraser was buried, is now (1877) marked by two tall pines, which stand like two grim sentinels over the remains of the gallant general. The hills on the top of which the latter was buried, stands some forty rods west of the river-road from Schuylerville to Stillwater, and about two hundred rods north of Wilbur's basin. The Champlain canal passes close to its base. For an incident connected with the tradition of the removal of Eraser's remains see Appendix No. V.
that if he had known that it was a burial he would not have allowed any firing in that direction. Many cannon balls also flew not far from me, but I had my eyes fixed upon the hill, where I distinctly saw my husband in the midst of the enemy's fire, and therefore I could not think of my own danger." Certainly, says General Riedesel in his journal, "it was a real military funeral, one that was unique of its kind."
General Burgoyne has himself described this funeral with his usual eloquence and felicity of expression. "The incessant cannonading during the solemnity, the steady attitude and unaltered voice with which the chaplain officiated, though frequently covered with dust, which the shot threw up on all sides of him, the mute but expressive mixture of sensibility and indignation upon the mind of every man who was present, the growing duskiness added to the scenery, and the whole marked a character of that juncture that would make one of the finest subjects for the pencil of a master that the field ever exhibited. To the canvas, and to the faithful pen of a more important historian, gallant friend ! I consign thy memory. There may thy talents, thy manly virtues, their progress and their period find due distinction, and long may they survive, long after the frail record of my pen shall be forgotten! "
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