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.
In the retreat from Fort Ticonderoga, Colonel Francis succeeded in bringing off the rear guard in a regular manner. When the troops arrived at Hubbardton, in Vermont, they were halted for nearly two hours, and the rear guard was increased by many who did not at first belong to it, but were picked up on the road, having been unable to keep up with their regiments. The rear guard was here put under the command of Col. Seth Warner, with strict orders to follow the army, as soon as the whole came up, and to halt a mile and a half short of the main body. The army under St. Clair, then proceeded to Castleton, about six miles further - Col. Warner, with the rear guard and the stragglers, against the express orders of his commanding general, remaining at Hubbardton.1
retreat of the Americans from Ticonderoga and Mount Independence, was no sooner
perceived by the British, than Gen. Fraser began an eager pursuit with his
brigade, Major-General Riedesel being ordered to follow with the greater part
of his Brunswickers. Fraser continued the pursuit through the day, and having
received intelligence that the rear-guard of the American army was at no great
distance, ordered his men to lie that night upon their arms. On the 7th July,
at five o'clock in the morning, he came up with Colonel Warner, who had about
one thousand men. The British advanced boldly to the attack, and the two bodies
formed within sixty yards of each other. The conflict was fierce and bloody.
Colonel Francis fell at the head of his regiment while fighting with great
gallantry, and after the action, was buried by the Brunswick troops.2 Colonel
1" Col. Warner was a hardy, valiant soldier, but uneducated and a stranger to military discipline; his insubordination at Hubbardton, exemplifies the danger and misfortunes which attend the disobedience of military commands , for, if he had obeyed the orders he received, our corps would have been united, and as the discipline of the enemy could have availed them little in a mountainous country covered with wood, we should infallibly have dismembered, and probably captured, the flower of the British army."- Wilkinson's Memoirs.
2 Speaking of the death of Col. Francis, Lamb says : "The nature of hostilities on the American continent acquired a sort of implacable ardor and revenge, which happily are a good deal unknown in the prosecution of war in general. This remark is justified by the fate of Capt. Shrimpton, of the 62d, after the battle [Hubbardton] just mentioned. Some of our officers stood examining papers taken from the pocket of Col. Francis on the field. As the captain held the papers he leaped and exclaimed that he was badly wounded. The officers heard the whizzing of the ball, and saw the smoke of the fire, but failed to find the man who aimed with such effect, and who escaped without seizure or even being seen."
was so well supported by his officers and men, that the assailants broke and gave way. They soon, however, recovered from their disorder, reformed, and charged the Americans with the bayonet, who, in turn, began to waver. The latter, however, again rallied, and returning to the charge, the issue of the battle hung in the balance, when at this critical juncture General Riedesel appeared, with his Brunswickers. He saw at a glance that the Americans were moving more and more to the right with the evident intention of surrounding Fraser's left wing. He therefore resolved to out maneuver them, if possible, and gain their rear. Accordingly, he ordered a company of yagers to advance to the attack, while the rest of the troops were to endeavor to fall upon the rear of the Americans. In order, moreover, to make them believe that their assailants were stronger than they really were, he ordered a band of music to precede the yagers. At this moment, an aid arrived with a message from Fraser to the effect that he feared his left wing would be surrounded. Riedesel sent word back to him to keep up courage for that he was, at that very instant, about to attack the enemy's right wing. Accordingly, at the word, Riedesel's yagers, chaunting their national hymns, advanced courageously upon the Americans, and were met by a brisk fire from four hundred men. Far, however, from shrinking, the Brunswickers pressed on so vigorously that the Americans seeing themselves almost surrounded, stopped fighting and retreated, leaving behind them twelve pieces of artillery. The victory, however, had not been easily won. General Fraser acknowledged that he would have been in great danger had it not been for Riedesel's timely aid ; since if reinforcements had not arrived at the very moment they did, his whole corps would have been surrounded and cut off to a man.
The loss in this action was severe on both sides. Colonel Hale, who, on account of illness, had not brought his regiment into action, fell in with a small party of the British, and, with a number of his men, all raw militia, was captured.1 In killed, wounded and prisoners, the Americans lost in this action three hundred and twenty-four men, and the British, one hundred and
1 Col. Nathan Hale (the grandfather of Hon. Robert S. Hale, M.C. of Elizabethtown, Essex Co., N. Y.), who was in this battle was charged, at the time, by personal enemies, not only with cowardice, but also with treasonable communication with Burgoyne while a prisoner. The matter was thoroughly investigated, and both charges found without a shadow in evidence to sustain it. Indeed, I have now before me a certificate in Burgoyne's own handwriting (who, although he may not have been a great general, yet certainly was a man of honor), in which he certifies " on his honor as a gentleman and a soldier," that Col. Hale has never communicated to him any improper information, and further, that no conversation, even, has passed between them, "except the ordinary dinner table courtesies between gentlemen." Poor Hale died a prisoner at the age of thirty-seven, and never had the opportunity, which he earnestly sought, to vindicate himself by court martial.
eighty-three-among whom was Maj. Grant, of the grenadiers, a most excellent and brave officer.
While these events were taking place upon the land, General Burgoyne was pursuing the enemy upon the water. In a few hours he destroyed the boom and bridge which had been constructed in front of Ticonderoga, and which had been the work of months to complete, and by a few well directed cannon shots, he broke in two the colossal chain upon which so many hopes had hung. The passage being cleared, the fleet of Burgoyne immediately entered Wood creek, and favored by a brisk wind, came up with the American flotilla at Skenesborough, in the afternoon. Meanwhile, three regiments, which had landed at South bay, crossed a mountain with great celerity, with the object of turning the Americans above Wood creek, and destroying their works at Skenesborough, thus cutting off their retreat to Fort Anne. The Americans, however, eluded this stroke by the rapidity of their flight, but in the meantime the British frigates having now come up, the galleys, already hard pushed by the gun boats, were completely overpowered. Two of them surrendered, and three were blown up. The Americans now despaired, and having set fire to their works, mills and bateaux, and otherwise destroyed what they were unable to burn, the detachment, under Colonel Long, hastily retreated by way of Wood creek to Fort Anne.
Meanwhile, General St. Clair, who had arrived with the van-guard at Castleton, in Vermont, upon learning of the discomfiture at Hubbardton and the disaster at Skenesborough, and apprehensive that he would be interrupted if he proceeded toward Fort Anne, struck into the woods, uncertain whether he should repair to New England or Fort Edward. Being joined, however, two days afterward at Manchester, by the remains of the corps of Colonel Warner, he proceeded to Fort Edward and united with the force of General Schuyler.
As soon as Burgoyne had taken possession of Skenesborough, he detached Lieutenant Colonel Hill, with the 9th regiment, to Fort Anne, with the view both of intercepting such of the enemy as should attempt to retreat to that fort, and of increasing the panic produced by the fall of Ticonderoga. This detachment had not proceeded many miles through the woods, before it overtook some boats laden with baggage, women and invalids belonging to the enemy, moving up Wood creek in order to escape to Fort Anne. These were at once secured. Arriving within a quarter of a mile of the fort. Col. Hill learned through an American deserter (in reality a spy) that it was strongly garrisoned , and although he had with him five hundred and forty-three veterans, he at once halted in a strong position, and sending back a messenger to Burgoyne for reinforcements, lay that night upon his arms.
Meanwhile, Colonels Long and Van Rensselaer, who, by the direction of Schuyler, with five hundred men - many of them convalescents - had taken post at Fort Anne, were not persons to await an attack.1 Learning
1 When Ticonderoga was abandoned by the Americans, Gen. Schuyler requested Gen. Washington to send Col. Henry Van Rensselaer to the Northern army. The First New York regiment, with a park of brass artillery, was at Fort George. To save it was all-important to the American cause. Col. Van Rensselaer was directed to pick out of the militia then at Fort George four hundred volunteers, and stop the British advance at a defile near Fort Anne at all hazards, until he could remove the stores, etc., from Fort George. Hew far he executed this order, and the good effect it had in rallying a new army, will be found in Burgoyne's Trial, Wilkinson's Memoirs, etc. In this affair he was so grievously wounded, as to disqualify him from taking rank in the line, and he became a cripple for life. The ball, which entered the upper part of the thigh bone, was extracted after his death, quite flattened.
Whatever prejudice afterward existed against the manor influence, in the counties of Albany and Rensselaer, it was fortunate for the American cause that it existed, and was exerted with all its energy at the dawn of the Revolution, to give impulse to its progress. Whilst some other manors held back until after the surrender of Burgoyne, the upper and lower manors of the Van Rensselaers struck at once for American freedom, and by so doing enlisted in its "cause all its numerous connections of blood, marriage and dependence ; and this produced a counterpoise to the numerous and powerful tory families residing in those frontier counties. The Van Rensselaers, in 1776, consisted of eighteen males. During the struggle every adult except two old men, and all minors except four boys, bore arms at one or more battles, during its progress.
from the spy before mentioned, who had returned, the strength of the British, they determined to force an engagement before Burgoyne should be able to assist Col. Hill. Accordingly, early the following morning (July 8th), Long suddenly issued from the fort and attacked the English in front , while, at the same time, a strong column under Van Rensselaer crossed the creek, and, taking advantage of a thick wood, passed nearly round the left Hank of the British, and, in the language of a participator in the action, "poured down upon them like a mighty torrent." This, accompanied by a tremendous and well directed fire of small arms,' compelled Col. Hill, in order to avoid being completely surrounded, to take post on the top of a hill. No sooner, however, had he taken up this position, than the Americans reformed and attacked it so vigorously, in an engagement which lasted for more than two hours, that he must soon have surrendered, had not the ammunition of the Americans given out-a misfortune, moreover, which was increased by the arrival, at this critical time most opportunely for the British, of a party of Indians, under Colonel Money, who with the war-whoop, dashed in, and forced the Americans, in their turn, to give way. Colonel Long, there-upon, not being able to withstand the force of Major General Phillips, who with the 20th regiment consisting of five hundred and twenty men and two pieces of artillery, was pressing forward to the assistance of Hill, fired the fort, and with the remnants of his Spartan band fell back on Fort Edward.
General Phillips, learning upon his arrival, that the enemy had retired, immediately marched back to Skenesborough, leaving behind a sergeant and a small guard to take care of the wounded." On the 13th the Americans reoccupied the site of the fort.
1 Deputy Quartermaster-General Money said that the Americans' fire was heavier at Fort Anne than on any other occasion during the campaign, except in the action of the 19th September. "
2 journal of Occurrences during the late American war, to the year 1783, by R. Lamb, sergeant in the Royal Welsh fusileers, Dublin, 1809. Mr. Lamb, who is the one referred to in the text as a " participator in the action," and who was the sergeant left in charge of the wounded, was evidently a man of education and intelligence. He gives a graphic account of the action at Fort Anne, and says ;
" It was a distressing sight to see the wounded men bleeding on the ground, and what made it more so, the rain came pouring down like a deluge upon us ; and still to add to the distress of the sufferers, there was nothing to dress their wounds, as the small medicine box which was filled with salve, was left behind with Sergeant Shelly and Captain Montgomery at the time of our movement up the hill. The poor fellows earnestly entreated me to tie up their wounds. Immediately I took off my shirt, tore it up, and with the help of a soldier's wife (the only woman that was with us, and who also kept close by her husband's side during the engagement), made some bandages, stopped the bleeding of their wounds, and conveyed them in blankets to a small hut about two miles in our rear. . . . Our regiment now marched back to Skenesborough, leaving me behind to attend to the wounded with a small guard for our protection. I was directed that, in case I was either surrounded or overpowered by the Americans, to deliver a letter, which General Burgoyne gave me, to their commanding officer. There I remained seven days with the wounded, men, expecting every moment to be taken prisoners, but although we heard the enemy cutting trees every night during our stay, in order to block up the passages of the road and the river, we were never molested."
General Burgoyne, in accordance with his usual policy, claimed a victory in this affair, a claim which was not justified by the facts. He certainly did not retain possession of the battlefield ; and not only does General Riedesel state, in his journal, " that the English, after a long fight at Fort Anne were forced to retreat," but the British abandoned Captain Montgomery-a brother-in-law of Lord Townshend and a wounded officer-of great merit-a surgeon and other prisoners, when-in the language of Burgoyne in describing this action to Lord Germaine - they " changed ground." This scarcely reads like a victory.1
1 To enable the reader of the present day to have a clear idea of the scene of this action, the following is given from Neilson : " On leaving the street of Fort Anne village, there is a bridge over Wood creek, leading to its left bank. Immediately beyond the bridge there is a narrow pass, only wide enough for a carriage, and cut in a great measure, out of a rocky ledge, which terminates here exactly at the creek. This ledge is the southern end of a high rocky hill, which converges towards Wood creek, and between the two is a narrow tract of level ground, which terminates at the pass already mentioned. On this ground the battle took place, and the wood on the right bank of the creek, from which the Americans fired upon the left flank of the British, is still there, and it was up this rocky hill that they recreated and took their stand."
Up to the time of Burgoyne's occupying Skenesborough, all had gone well. From that point, however, his fortunes began to wane. His true course would have been to return to Ticonderoga, and thence up Lake George to the fort of that name, whence there was a direct road to Fort Edward instead of which he determined to push on to Fort Anne and Fort Edward, a course which gave Schuyler ample time to gather the yeomanry together, and effectually oppose his progress.
1 The excuse which Burgoyne gives for not going round by Lake George, "that the fort there (Fort George) would have detained him, is not adequate, for it would have offered no opposition whatever ; Fort George, as Schuyler very truly replied to Washington as a reason for abandoning it at this time, " was part of an unfinished bastion of an intended fortification. In it was a barrack capable of containing between thirty and fifty men without ditch, without wall, without cistern, and without any picket to prevent an enemy from running over the wall. So small, as not to contain above one hundred and fifty men, and commanded by ground greatly overlooking it, and within point blank shot, and so situated that five hundred men may lie between the bastion and the lake, without being seen from this extremely defensible fortress." Neither, however, do we give credence to the report current at the time that Burgoyne chose the route to Fort Anne in order to oblige his friend Major Skene-a large land-holder in that region - by giving him the use of his troops to open for him a road to the river. Burgoyne, whatever else his faults, was an honorable man. He probably simply erred in judgment.
The country between Fort Anne and Fort Edward, a distance of about sixteen miles, was extremely rough and savage ; the ground unequal and broken up by numerous roads and creeks interspersed by wide and deep swamps. General Schuyler neglected no means of adding by art to the difficulties with which nature seemed to have purposely interdicted this passage. Trenches were opened ; the roads and paths obstructed ; large rocks thrown into Wood creek, the bridges broken up ; and, in the only practicable denies, immense trees were cut in such a manner on both sides of the road, as to fall across and lengthwise, which with their branches interlocked presented an insurmountable barrier. In fact, this wilderness, in itself so horrible, was rendered almost impenetrable. Burgoyne, consequently, was compelled not only to remove all these obstructions, but to build more than forty bridges - one particularly, over a morass of more than two miles in length. Nor was this all. On his arrival at Fort Anne 1 instead of advancing at once upon Fort Edward and thence to Albany before Schuyler had time to concentrate his forces in his front, he sent a detachment of Brunswickers, under Colonel Baum, to Bennington to surprise and capture some stores which he had heard were at that place, and of which he stood sorely in need. He was also influenced to this step by the advice of his friend Major Skene, who assured him that large numbers of the yoemanry of the
1 It was while Burgoyne was at Fort Anne that the accidental shooting of Jane McCrea by the garrison of Fort Edward occurred. For a true history of this affair see Appendix No. IV.
country would flock to his standard-an expectation which the event proved to be entirely fallacious.
General Riedesel, who commanded the German allies, was totally opposed to this diversion, but being overruled, he proposed that Baum should march in the rear of the enemy, by way of Castleton, toward the Connecticut river. Had this plan been adopted, the probability is, o that the Americans would not have had time to prevent Baum from falling unawares upon their rear. Burgoyne however, against the advice of Riedesel and Phillips, insisted obstinately on his plan, which was that Baum should cross the Batten kil opposite Saratoga, move down the Connecticut river in a direct line to Bennington, destroy the magazine at that place, and mount the Brunswick dragoons, who were destined to form part of the expedition.1 In this latter order a fatal blunder was committed by employing troops, the most awkward and heavy in an enterprise where everything depended on the greatest celerity of movement, while the rangers who were lightly equipped, were left behind !
Let us look for a moment at a fully equipped Brunswick dragoon as he appeared at that time. Me wore high and heavy jack boots, with large long spurs, stout and stiff leather breeches, gauntlets, reaching high up upon his arms, and a hat with a huge tuft of ornamental feathers. On his side he trailed a tremendous broad sword , a short but clumsy carbine was slung over his shoulder ; and down his back like a Chinese mandarin, dangled a long
1 And yet General Riedesel states that 1500 horses had, been purchased in Canada as early as the middle of June, for the army. What became of them ?
queue. Such were the troops sent out by the British general, on a service requiring the lightest of light skirmishers. The latter however, did not err from ignorance. From the beginning of the campaign the English officers had ridiculed these unwieldy troopers, who strolled about the camp with their heavy sabres dragging on the ground, saying (what was a fact) that the hat and sword of one of them were as heavy as the whole of an English private's equipment. But, as if this was not sufficient, these light dragoons were still further cumbered by being obliged to carry flour, and drive a herd of cattle before them for their maintenance on the way.
The result may be easily foreseen. By a rapid movement of the Americans under Stark, at three o'clock of the afternoon of the 16th of August, Baum was cut off from his English allies, who fled and left him to fight alone, with his awkwardly equipped squad, an enemy far superior in numbers. In this maneuver Stark was greatly aided by a ruse practiced on the German colonel. " Toward 9 o'clock on the morning of the 16th," writes General Riedesel, in giving an account of this action, " small bodies of armed men made their appearance from different directions. These men were mostly in their shirt sleeves. They did not act as if they intended to make an attack, and Baum, being told by a provincial who had joined his army on the line of march, that they were all loyalists and would make common cause with him, suffered them to encamp on his sides and rear. 1
1 This confidence, perhaps, was the first and chief false step which caused the defeat of Bennington, and consequently the failure of Burgoyne. This is an entirely new revelation.
Shortly after another force of the rebels arrived and attacked his rear ; but with the aid of artillery, they were repulsed. After a little while a stronger body made their appearance and attacked more vigorously. This was the signal for the seeming loyalists, who had encamped on the sides and rear of the army, to attack the Germans ; and the result was that Baum suddenly found himself cut off from all his detached posts." For over two hours he withstood the sallies and fire of the Americans--his dragoons to a man, fighting like heroes - but at last, his ammunition giving out, and the reinforcements which he had sent for not arriving, he was obliged to give way before superior numbers and retreat. " The enemy," says Riedesel, " seemed to spring out of the ground." Twice the dragoons succeeded in breaking a road through the forces of Stark, for, upon their ammunition being used up, Baum ordered that they should sling their carbines over their shoulders, and trust to their swords. But bravery was now in vain ; and the heroic leader, himself mortally wounded in the abdomen by a bullet, and having lost three hundred and sixty out of four hundred, was forced to surrender. Meanwhile, the Indians and Provincials had taken flight and sought safety in the forest.
While these events were taking place, Lieutenant Colonel Breymann, who had been sent by Riedesel to the aid of Baum, reached the bridge of St. Luke at three o'clock in the afternoon. Here he was met by Major Skene, who assured him that he was only two miles distant from Lieutenant Colonel Baum. Skene, however, not informing him of the latter's defeat, he continued his march as quickly as possible, although his troops - the day being unusually hot and sultry - were greatly fatigued. Scarcely had he advanced fifteen hundred paces on the bridge, when he descried a strongly armed force on an eminence toward the west. Skene assured him this force were not the enemy , but Breymann, not satisfied with this assurance, sent ahead some scouts who were immediately received with a volley of musketry.1 Perceiving how the case stood, he at once ordered Major Earner to advance upon the hill, sent his grenadiers to the right, put the guns of both regiments into position, and directed the fire upon a log-house occupied by the Americans. The Germans drove the enemy across three ridges of land, but their ammunition giving out, they were obliged to desist from the pursuit. Thereupon, the Americans, guessing the cause of the halt, in their turn once more advanced , upon which Breymann, relying solely upon the fast gathering darkness to save himself, halted his men opposite the enemy, and remained there until it was perfectly dark. Then under cover of the night, he retreated across the bridge but was forced to leave his cannon. At twelve o'clock that same night, he arrived with his tired troops at Cambridge, and reached the main army at Fort Miller on the 17th. In this
1 Stedman, in his History of the American War, part I, p. 417, states that Baum captured on the first day, an American corps, which was released the following day by Major Skene, under the impression that this act of magnanimity would influence the released Americans to take no farther part against their king. He adds that these very ones fought the hardest against the English at Bennington. No mention, however, of this circumstance is made either in Riedesel's journals or in the report of Baum.
<-House in which Col. Baum died.
action, the Americans captured four brass cannons, besides some hundred stands of arms and brass barrelled drums, several Brunswick swords, and about seven hundred prisoners.2 "It is true," says Riedesel, in commenting upon this action, " that justice was done to the bravery of Colonel Baum, but the English also said, that he did not possess the least knowledge of the country, its people, or its language. But who selected him for this expedition ?"
With the failure of this expedition against Bennington, the first lightning flashed from Burgoyne's hitherto serene sky. The soldiers, as well as their officers, had set out on this campaign with cheerful hearts, for the campaign successfully brought to a close, all must end in the triumph of the royal arms. " Britons never go back,"
1 These beautiful brass pieces of artillery were destined to undergo several of the vicissitudes of war. They are French cast, and were brought from Quebec with the army of Burgoyne. They were afterward inscribed " taken at Bennington, August t6, 1777," and constituted a part of the artillery of General Hull's army, and fell into the enemy's hands at Detroit. When the British officer of the day ordered the evening salutes to be fired from the American cannon, he chanced to read the inscription, " Taken at Bennington, August 16th, 1777," whereupon he observed that he would cause to be added as an additional line to the verse, " Retaken at Detroit, August 16th, 1812." The guns were carried by the British down to Fort George, at the mouth of the Niagara river, where they again fell into the hands of the American army, which captured that fortress. General Dearborn had them transported to Sackett's-Harbor, and with them were fired the salutes in honor of Harrison's victory over Proctor at the river Thames, in Upper Canada. The guns are now in Washington.
2 For Stark's account of the battle of Bennington in a letter to General Schuyler, and]also a narrative of one of the participants in the action, see Appendix, No. III.
Bugoyne exultantly had said, as the flotilla passed down Lake Champlain. Now, however, the Indians deserted by scores, and an almost general consternation and languor took the place of the former confidence and buoyancy.
On his arrival at Fort Edward, which had been evacuated by the Americans on the approach of the British army, the English general was joined by the Mohawk Nation, or, as they were called, Sir William Johnson's Indians. They agreed to fight provided their women and children were sent to Canada and supported, a condition which was faithfully carried out. Beyond this post, the country was peopled with German, Dutch, and English settlers. The latter, pretending to be good royalists, were allowed by Burgoyne, against the strong representations of his officers, not only to carry their arms, but to stroll about the camp at their leisure, and without any restraint. " These men, however," says Riedesel's journal, " were all but royalists. .They consequently improved the opportunity to gain intelligence of all the occurrences in the army by appearances, and they forthwith communicated to the commanders of the enemy's forces that which they had seen and heard." Having finally reached the Hudson at the mouth of the Batten kil, those of the German dragoons that were left were horsed. Their number had now diminished to twenty, and this number constituted the entire cavalry force of the invading army.
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