Learning About New York Part XI


The surrender of Burgoyne at Saratoga, Oct. 17, 1777, was one of the most important events in the revolutionary war. The place of surrender was at Schuylerville, on the Hudson, some ten or twelve miles distant from Saratoga Springs. The following account is from Holmes' Annals:

"A principal object of the British in the campaign of this year was to open a free communication between New York and Canada. The British ministry were sanguine in their hopes that, by effecting this object, New England, which they considered as the soul of the confederacy, might be severed from the neighboring states and compelled to submission. In prosecution of this design, an army of British and German troops, amounting to seven thousand one hundred and seventy-three men, exclusive of a corps of artillery, was put under the command of Lieutenant-General Burgoyne, a very ambitious, enterprising and able officer. The plan of operations consisted of two parts. General Burgoyne with the main body was to advance by the way of Lake Champlain and force his way to Albany, or at least so far as to effect a junction with the royal army from New York, and Lieutenant-Colonel St. Leger, with about two hundred British soldiers, a regiment of New York loyalists, raised and commanded by Sir John Johnson, and a large body of Indians, was to ascend the St. Lawrence to Lake Ontario, and from that quarter to penetrate toward Albany by the way of the Mohawk River.

Map of the Route of Burgoyne.

General Burgoyne arrived at Quebec in May. On the twentieth of June he proceeded up Lake Champlain, and landed near Crown Point, where he met the Indians, gave them a war feast, and made a speech to them, calculated to secure their friendly co-operation. On the thirtieth he advanced with his army to Crown Point, whence he proceeded to invest Ticonderoga. In a few days his works were so far advanced as to threaten a complete enclosure of the continental army; and General St. Clair, the commanding officer of the Americans, with the unanimous approbation of a council of general officers, abandoned the place. The evacuation was effected with such secrecy and expedition that a considerable part of the public stores, embarked in two hundred bateaux, and dispatched up the river to Skenesborough under convoy of five armed galleys, was saved. A brigade of gun boats, however, gave chase to the galleys, and coming up with them near Skenesborough Falls engaged and captured some of the largest of them, and obliged the Americans to set the others on fire, together with a considerable number of their bateaux. The rear guard of the American army, commanded by Colonel Warner, amounting to more than one thousand men, taking the Castleton road to Skenesborough, was overtaken and attacked at Hubberton by General Frazer with eight hundred and fifty fighting men. The Americans made a gallant resistance, but on the arrival of Gen. Reidesel with his division of Germans, they were compelled to give way in all directions. Colonel Francis, a very valuable officer, fell in the action; several other American officers, and above two hundred men, were killed, and about the same number taken prisoners. Nearly six hundred are supposed to have been wounded, many of whom must have died in the woods. The enemy stated their own loss it thirty-five killed and one hundred and forty-four wounded. General St. Clair, after a distressing march of seven days, joined General Schuyler at Fort Edward, General Burgoyne, having with incredible. labor and fatigue conducted his army through the wilderness from Skenesborough, reached Fort Edward, on Hudson's River, on the 30th of July. As he approached that place, General Schuyler, whose forces, even since the junction of St. Clair, did not exceed four thousand four hundred men, retired over the Hudson to Saratoga."

While Burgoyne was moving downward by the Hudson, St. Leger with Sir John Johnson, with a body of nearly 2,000 men, consisting of royalists and Indians, invested Fort Stanwix or Schuyler, on the Mohawk. Afterward he had a most bloody contest with Gen. Herkimer at Oriskany. Instead, however, of forming a junction with Burgoyne at Albany, as was intended, St. Leger was obliged to retreat back to Montreal. Burgoyne saw the importance of a rapid movement to co-operate with St. Leger, but could not effect it without teams, carriages and provisions, and having understood that these could be obtained at Bennington, Vermont, he detached Col. Baum with five hundred men to accomplish this purpose. He and Col. Breyman, who was sent to his assistance, were defeated by Gen. Stark.

Western view of the Battle-Field of Stillwater.

"General Burgoyne having collected about thirty days provisions, and thrown a a bridge of boats over the Hudson, crossed that river on the 13th and 14th of September, and encamped on the heights and plains of Saratoga. General Gates, who had recently taken the chief command of the northern department of the American army, advanced toward the enemy and encamped three miles above Stillwater. On the night of the 17th, Burgoyne encamped within four miles of the American army, and about noon on the 19th advanced in full force against it. The right wing was commanded by General Burgoyne and covered by General Frazer and Colonel Breyman with the grenadiers and light infantry, who were posted along some high grounds on the right. The front and flanks were covered by covered by Indians, Provincials and Canadians. The left wing and artillery were commanded by the Major-Generals Phillips and Reidesel, who proceeded along the great road. Colonel Morgan, who was detached to observe their motions, and to harass them as they advanced, soon fell in with their pickets in the front of their right wing, attacked them sharply and drove them in. A strong corps was brought up to support them, and after a severe encounter Morgan was compelled to give way. A regiment was ordered to assist him, and the action became more general. The commanders on both sides supported and re-enforced their respective parties, and about four o'clock Arnold, with nine continental regiments and Morgan's corps, was completely engaged with the whole right wing of the British army. 'For four hours they maintained a contest hand to hand.' The Americans at length left the field, 'not because they were conquered, but because the approach of night made a retreat to their camp necessary. Few actions have been more remarkable than this for both vigor of attack and obstinacy of resistance.' The loss on the part of the Americans in killed and wounded was between three and four hundred; among the former were Colonels Coburne and Adams, and several other valuable officers. The loss of the British was about six hundred.

Both armies lay some time in sight of each other, each fortifying its camp in the strongest manner possible. Meanwhile the difficulties of the British general were daily becoming increased. His auxiliary Indians deserted him soon after the battle of Stillwater. His army, reduced to little more than five thousand men, was limited to half the usual allowance of provisions. The stock of forage was entirely exhausted, and his horses were perishing in great numbers. The American army had become so augmented as to render him diffident of making good his retreat. To aggravate his distress, no intelligence had yet been received of the approach of General Clinton, or of any diversion in his favor from New York.

In this exigency, General Burgoyne resolved to examine the possibility of dislodging the Americans from their posts on the left, by which means he would be enabled to retreat to the lakes. For this purpose he drew out fifteen hundred men, which he headed himself, attended by Generals Phillips, Reidesel and Frazer. This detachment had scarcely formed within less than half a mile of the American entrenchments when a furious attack was made on its left, but Major Ackland, at the head of the British grenadiers, sustained it with great firmness. The Americans soon extended their attack along the whole front of the German troops, which were posted on the right of the grenadiers, and marched a body round their flank to prevent their retreat. On this movement, the British light infantry, with a part of the 24th regiment, instantly formed, to cover the retreat of the troops into the camp. Their left wing, in the mean time, overpowered with numbers, was obliged to retreat, and would inevitably have been cut to pieces but for the intervention of the same troops, which had just been covering the retreat on the right. The whole detachment was now under the necessity of retiring, but scarcely had the British troops entered the lines when the Americans, led by General Arnold, pressed forward, and under a tremendous fire of grapeshot and musketry assaulted the works throughout their whole extent from right to left Toward the close of the day, a part of the left of the Americans forced the entrenchments, and Arnold with a few men actually entered the works, but his horse being killed and he himself badly wounded in the leg, they were forced out of them, and it being now nearly dark they desisted from the attack. On the left of Arnold's detachment, Jackson's regiment of Massachusetts, then led by Lieutenant-Colonel Brooks, was still more successful. It turned the right of the encampment, and carried by storm the works occupied by the German reserve. Lieutenant-Colonel Breyman was killed, and Brooks maintained the ground he had gained. Darkness put an end to the action. The advantage of the Americans was decisive. They killed a great number of the enemy; made upward of two hundred prisoners, among whom were several officers of distinction; took nine pieces of brass artillery, and the encampment of a German brigade, with all their equipage. Among the slain of the enemy was General Frazer, an officer of distinguished merit, whose loss was particularly regretted. The loss of the Americans was inconsiderable.

Gates posted 1,400 men on the heights opposite the ford of Saratoga, 2,000 in the rear, to prevent a retreat to Fort Edward, and 1,500 at a ford higher up. Burgoyne, apprehensive of being hemmed in, retired immediately to Saratoga.

An attempt was now made to retreat to Fort George. Artificers were accordingly dispatched, under a strong escort, to repair the bridges and open the road to Fort Edward, but they were compelled to make a precipitate retreat. The situation of General Burgoyne becoming every hour more hazardous, he resolved to attempt a retreat by night to Fort Edward, but even this retrograde movement was rendered impracticable. While the army was preparing to march, intelligence was received that the Americans had already possessed themselves of Fort Edward, and that they were well provided with artillery. No avenue to escape now appeared. Incessant toil had worn down the whole British army, which did not now contain more than 3,500 fighting men. Provisions were almost exhausted, and there were no possible means of procuring a supply. The American army, which was daily increasing, was already much greater than the British in point of numbers, and almost encircled them. In this extremity, the British general called a council of war, and it was unanimously resolved to enter into a convention with General Gates. Preliminaries were soon settled, and the royal army surrendered prisoners of war.

The capture of an entire army was justly viewed as an event that must essentially affect the contest between Great Britain and America; and while it excited the highest joy among the people it could not but have a most auspicious influence in the cabinet and in the field. The thanks of congress were voted to General Gates and his army, and a medal of gold, in commemoration of this splendid achievement, was ordered to be struck, to be presented to him by the president, in the name of the United States."

Whitehall is a flourishing town about 75 miles northward of Albany, at the southern extremity of Lake Champlain, and at the termination of the Champlain Canal. Population about 4,000. This place was the ancient Skenesboro, so named from Maj. Skene, a royalist who resided here previous to the revolution. It was occupied by Burgoyne as his headquarters for considerable time while his troops were clearing a road to Fort Edward.

Website: The History Box.com
Article Name: Learning About New York State Part XI
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Our whole country; or, The past and present of the United States, historical and descriptive. In two volumes By John Warner Barber ... and Henry Howe ...Cincinnati, H. Howe, 1861.
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