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.
At ten o'clock on the morning of October 7th, liquor and rations having been previously issued to the army, Burgoyne, with fifteen hundred men, eight cannons and two howitzers, started on his reconnaissance, accompanied by Generals Riedesel, Phillips and Fraser. The Canadians, Indians, and three hundred of Breymann's Brunswickers, were sent ahead under Captain Fraser (not the general) to make a diversion in the rear of the Continentals. They succeeded in reaching a point a little in the rear of a log barn which formed the extreme left of the American breastworks ; but they were speedily discovered, and after a brisk skirmish of half an hour, were driven back, hotly pursued by the Americans, to within a short distance of the British line of battle which was then forming.1
1 A great many balls have since been picked up on both sides of where this breastwork stood, some of them flattened and others misshaped, showing that they had come in contact with opposing obstacles. " And here," says Neilson, "is one circumstance strongly confirming the often repeated assertion, * that the Americans, in addition to one musket ball, added two buck shot, by which they did so much execution,* viz ; the buck shot are frequently found on the side of the breastwork toward which the Americans fired, and not on the other."
The British advanced in three columns toward the left wing of the American position, entered a wheat field two hundred rods southwest of the site of the action of the 19th, deployed into line, and began cutting up wheat for forage. The grenadiers under Major Ackland, and the artillery under Major Williams, were stationed on a gentle eminence.' The light infantry, skirted by a low ridge of land and under the Earl of Balcarras, were placed in the extreme right. The centre was composed of British and German troops under Phillips and Riedesel. In advance of the right wing. General Fraser had command of a detachment of five hundred picked men. "The movement having been seasonably discovered, the centre advanced guard of the Americans beat to arms. Col. Wilkinson, Gates's adjutant general, being at headquarters at the moment, was dispatched to ascertain the cause of the alarm. He proceeded to within sixty rods of the enemy, and returning, informed General Gates that they were foraging, attempting also to reconnoitre the American left, and likewise in his opinion, offering
1 This eminence is now (1877), covered by an orchard, about two rods east of the road leading from Quaker springs to Stillwater, and twenty rods southeast of the house now (1877) occupied by Joseph Rogers. Fraser was shot midway between the orchard and Rogers's house. A bass-wood tree now marks the spot. This tree is a shoot out of the stump of the tree that stood at the time when Fraser fell.
battle. In this view. Generals Lincoln and Arnold, who had also reconnoitred the British lines, coincided. " What is the nature of the ground, and what is your opinion ?" asked Gates. " Their front is open," Wilkinson replied, " and their flank rests on woods, under cover of which they may be attacked ; their right is skirted by a height ; I would indulge them." " Well then," rejoined Gates, " order on Morgan to begin the game." At his own suggestion, however, Morgan was allowed to gain the ridge on the enemy's right by a circuitous course, while Poor's and Learned's brigades should attack his left.
The movement was admirably executed. At half past two o'clock in the afternoon, the New York and New Hampshire troops marched steadily up the slope of the knoll on which the British grenadiers and the artillery under Ackland and Williams were stationed. Poor had given them orders not to fire until after the first discharge of the enemy, and for a moment there was an awful stillness, each party seeming to bid defiance to the other. At length the artillerymen and grenadiers began the action by a shower of grape and musket balls, which had no other effect than to break the branches of the trees over the heads of the Americans, who, having thus received the signal, rushed forward firing and opening to the right and left. Then again forming on the Hanks of the grenadiers they mowed them down at every shot, until the top of the hill was gained. Here a bloody and h and to hand struggle ensued which lasted about thirty minutes, when Ackland being badly hurt, the grenadiers gave way, leaving the ground thickly strewn with their dead and wounded. In this dreadful conflict one field-piece that had been taken and retaken five times, finally fell into the hands of the Americans ; whereupon Col. Cilley of New Hampshire leaped upon the captured cannon, waved his sword, and dedicated it "to the American cause," jumped down and turning its muzzle, fired it on the British with the ammunition they had left behind. 1
Soon after Poor began the attack on the grenadiers, a flanking party of British was discerned advancing through the woods, upon which Col. Cilley was ordered to intercept them. As he approached near to a brush fence, the enemy rose behind and fired, but so hurriedly that only a few balls took effect. The officer in command then ordered his men to " fix bayonets and charge the damned rebels." Cilley who heard this order, replied, " it takes two to play that game, charge and we'll try it." His regiment charged at the word, and firing a volley in the faces of the British, caused them to flee, leaving many of their number dead, upon the field.
1" The ground which had been occupied by the British grenadiers presented a scene of complicated horror and exultation. In the square space of twelve or fifteen yards lay eighteen grenadiers in the agonies of death , and three officers were propped up against stumps of trees, two of them mortally wounded, bleeding, and almost speechless. A surgeon, a man of great worth, who was dressing one of the officers, raising his blood-besmeared hands in a frenzy of patriotism, exclaimed, * Wilkinson, I have dipt my hands in British blood ! ' He received a sharp rebuke for his brutality, and, with the troops, I pursued the hard pressed flying enemy."- Wilkinson.
While pursuing the flying grenadiers, Wilkinson heard a feeble voice exclaim, " Protect me, sir, against that boy." Turning his eyes he saw a lad taking deliberate aim at a wounded British officer, whom heat once knew to be Major Ackland. Wilkinson dismounted, and taking him by the hand expressed the hope that he was not badly wounded. "Not badly," replied the gallant officer, " but very inconveniently, as I am shot through both legs. Will you, sir, have the goodness to have me conveyed to your. camp?" Wilkinson at once directed his servant to alight, and lifting the wounded man into the vacant seat, had him conveyed to head-quarters. 1
As soon as the action began on the British left, Morgan, true to his purpose, poured down like a torrent from the ridge that skirted the flanking party of Fraser, and attacked them so vigorously as to force them back to their lines; then by a rapid movement to the left, he fell upon the flank of the British right with such impetuosity that they wavered, and seemed on the point of giving way. At this critical moment Major Dearborn arrived on the field with two regiments of New
1 Lamb gives a different account of this. Both statements, however, may be substantially correct. He says : " Major Ackland when wounded, observed the British troops were retreating. He requested Capt. Simpson of the 31st regiment, who was an intimate friend, to help him into camp. Upon which, being a stout man, he conveyed the major on his back a considerable way; when the enemy pursuing so rapidly, he was obliged to leave him behind to save himself. As the major lay on the ground, he cried out to the men who were running-by him, that he would give fifty guineas to any soldier who would convey him into camp. A stout grenadier instantly took him on his back, and was hastening into camp, when they were overtaken and both made prisoners."
England troops, and delivered so galling a fire into their front that they broke and fled in wild confusion. They were, however, quickly rallied by Balcarras behind a fence in rear of their first position, and led again into action. The Continentals next threw their entire force upon the centre commanded by Lt. Col. Specht with three hundred men. Specht, whose left flank had been exposed by the retreating of the grenadiers, ordered the two regiments of Rhetz and Hesse-Hanau to form a curve, and supported by the artillery thus covered his flank which was in imminent danger. He maintained himself long and bravely in this precarious situation, and would have stood his ground still longer, had he not been separated from Balcarras, in consequence of the latter, through a misunderstanding of Burgoyne's orders, taking up another position with his light infantry. Thus Specht's right flank was as much exposed as his left. The brunt of the action now fell upon the Germans, who alone had to sustain the impetuous onset of the Americans.
Brigadier-General Fraser, who, up to this time, had been stationed on the right, noticed the critical situation of the centre, and hurried to its succor with the 24th regiment. Conspicuously mounted on an iron grey horse, he was all activity and vigilance, riding from one part of the division to another, and animating the troops by his example. Perceiving that the fate of the day rested upon that officer, Morgan, who, with his rifle-men, was immediately opposed to Fraser's corps, took a few of his sharpshooters aside, among whom was the celebrated marksman Tim. Murphy, men on whose precision of aim he could rely, and said to them, "That gallant officer yonder is General Fraser; I admire and respect him, but it is necessary for our good that he should die. Take your station in that cluster of bushes and do your duty."
Within a few moments, a ride ball cut the crouper of Fraser's horse, and another passed through his horse's mane. Calling his attention to this, Eraser's aid said : " It is evident that you are marked out for particular aim would it not be prudent for you to retire from this place ?" Fraser replied, " my duty forbids me to fly from danger." The next moment he fell mortally wounded by a ball from the rifle of Murphy, and was carried off the field by two grenadiers. 1
Upon the fall of Fraser, dismay seized the British, while a corresponding elation took possession of the Americans, who, being reinforced at this juncture by General Ten Broeck with three thousand New York militia, pressed forward with still greater vehemence. Up to this time Burgoyne had been in the thickest of the fight, and now finding himself in danger of being surrounded, he abandoned his artillery, and ordered a retreat to the Great redoubt. The retreat took place exactly fifty-two minutes after the first shot was fired, the
1 The distance between Fraser and Murphy, when the latter fired, is about one-quarter of a mile. In those days this was considered a great shot. General Mattoon, however, denies that Fraser was shot by Morgan's men, and claims the credit for another. In this connection consult Mattoon's letter in Appendix No. XIII. Mattoon was a lieutenant in the battle.
enemy leaving all the cannon on the field, except the two howitzers, with a loss of more than four hundred men and among them the flower of his officers, viz : Fraser, Ackland, Williams, Captain Money, deputy quarter master general. Sir Francis Clerke,1 and many others.
The retreating British troops had scarcely entered their lines when Arnold, notwithstanding he had been refused a command by Gates, placed himself at the head of the Continentals, and under a terrific fire of grape and musket balls assaulted their works from right to left. Mounted on a dark brown horse he moved incessantly at a full gallop over the field, giving orders in every direction, sometimes in direct opposition to those of the commander, at others leading a platoon in person, and exposing himself to the hottest fire of the enemy. " He behaved," says Samuel Woodruff, a sergeant in the battle, in a letter to the late Col. William L. Stone, 2 "more like a madman than a cool and discreet officer." But if it were madness, there was " method in it." With a part of Patterson's and Glover's brigades he attacked? with the ferocity of a tiger, the Great redoubt, and encountering the light infantry of Balcarras, drove them
1 Clerke was wounded while in the act of riding on to give an order -an order which Burgoyne (see State of the Expedition) claimed would have changed the fortunes of the day had it been delivered. Wilkinson and others spell the name Clark - a mistake which probably arose from the fact that the English pronounce the name Clerke as if written Clark.
2 For this letter see Appendix No. V.
at the point of the bayonet from a strong abattis within the redoubt itself. 1 Then, spurring boldly on, exposed to the cross fire of the two armies, he darted to the extreme right of the British camp.
This right flank defence of the enemy was occupied by the Brunswick troops,2 under Breymann, and consisted of a breast work of rails piled horizontally between perpendicular pickets, and extended two hundred yards across an open field to some high ground on the right, 3 where it was covered by a battery of two guns. The interval from the left of this defence to the Great redoubt was intrusted to the care of the Canadian Provincials. In front of the east breastwork, the ground declined in a gentle slope for one hundred and twenty yards when it sunk abruptly. The Americans had formed a line under this declivity, and covered breast high were warmly engaged with the Germans, when about sunset Learned came up with his brigade in open column, with Col. Jackson's Massachusetts regiment, then in command of Lieut. Gov. Brooks, in front. On his approach, he inquired where he could " put in with most advantage." A slack fire was then observed in
1 "So severe, was the fighting at this point, that an old soldier who was in the battle once told me that in the low ground in front of the redoubt, the blood and water was knee-deep."- E. R. Freeman to the author.
2 The statement of Mr. Irving that the Hessians bore the brunt of the battles of Freeman's Farm and Saratoga is erroneous. Only one Hessian regiment was in these battles, the rest being in Long Island and the Southern department.
3 This high ground is now called Burgoyne's (Breymann's) hill.
that part of the enemy's line between the Germans and light infantry where were stationed the Provincials, and Learned was accordingly requested to incline to the right and attack that point.
This slack fire was owing to the fact that the larger part of the Canadian companies belonging to the skirmishing expedition of the morning were absent from their posts, part of them being in the Great redoubt and the others not having returned to their position. Had they been in their places, it would have been impossible, Riedesel thinks, for the left flank of Breymann to have been surrounded. Be this as it may, on the approach of Learned, the Canadians fled, leaving the German flank uncovered, and at the same moment Arnold, arriving from his attack on the Great redoubt, took the lead of Learned's brigade, and passing through the opening left by the Canadians, attacked the Brunswickers on their left flank and rear with such success that the chivalric Breymann was killed, and they themselves forced to retreat, leaving the key of the British position in the hands of the Americans. Lieut. Col. Specht, in the Great redoubt, hearing of this disaster, hastily rallied four officers and fifty men and started in the growing dusk to retake the intrenchment. Unacquainted with the road, he met a pretended royalist in the woods, who promised to lead him to Breymann's corps, but his guide treacherously delivered him into the hands of the Americans, by whom he and the four officers were captured. The advantage thus gained was retained by the Americans , and darkness put an end to and action, equally brilliant and important to the Continental arms. Great numbers of the enemy were killed, and two hundred prisoners taken. Burgoyne himself narrowly escaped, one ball having passed through his hat, and another having torn his waistcoat. The loss of the Americans was inconnsiderable. 1
1 The British and German troops who were killed in this battle were slightly covered with earth and brush where they fell, apparently unlamented by friend or foe. "It was not an uncommon thing," says Neilson, "after the land was cleared and began to be cultivated, to see five, then, and even twenty human skills piled up on different stumps about the field." I have myself, when a boy, seen human bones thickly strewn about on the ground, which had been turned out with the plow. "New the place where Fraser fell, a hole was dug into which the bodies of forty soldiers were thrown, after being stripped of their clothing by the women of the American camp."
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