The Struggle With Burgoyne
British plans for 1777.—Howe's plan for the campaign of 1777 called for fifteen thousand more troops. With this addition he believed that he could crush Washington and conquer Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York. The subjugation of the southern colonies would then be attempted, followed by operations in New England. But Lord Germaine thought otherwise. Ignoring the general in the field, he planned to send a force under St. Leger down the Mohawk Valley, a second army under Burgoyne to penetrate New York by the Lake Champlain route, while Howe was to proceed up the Hudson Valley. The three armies were to meet at Albany. The plan looked good on paper, but it failed to take into account the long distances to be traversed and the difficulties of transportation on the frontier. When Germaine planned the campaign, he should have sent precise orders to Howe, but this he failed to do, and on May 18 he even wrote acquiescing in the proposed expedition against Philadelphia and expressing the hope that the business might be concluded in season so that Howe could coöperate with Burgoyne.
Ticonderoga and Ft. Independence.—On June 15, 1777, General Schuyler learned that Burgoyne's army was in motion and that St. Leger was concentrating forces on the upper Mohawk. The American army was in a sorry plight for smallpox and dysentery were still the bane of the northern department. Congress had done much to destroy efficiency by temporarily removing Schuyler. At a time when all should have been working in harmony, Gates was intriguing with members of Congress to overthrow his superior. The advance part of the army was at Ticonderoga. Across the narrow bay Fort Independence had been erected and a bridge connected the fortifications, which were commanded by General St. Clair who had only twenty-five hundred men to man works which demanded ten thousand defenders.
The Region of Burgoyne's Invasion (The large map is based on E.G. Foster's Historical Chart; the inset is from Trevelyan, The American Revolution, Part II, Vol. I).
Burgoyne captures the forts.—Late in June Burgoyne's flotilla carrying about eight thousand soldiers reached Crown Point. His engineers soon discovered the fundamental weaknesses of the American position. Mt. Hope dominated the passage to Lake George and Sugar Hill towered above the forts. On July 2 the former position was occupied by the British and on July 5 St. Clair saw Sugar Hill bristling with cannon. He realized that the forts were untenable and on the night of July 6 he loaded his stores and light artillery on barges and sent them under convoy to Skenesborough. The main body of troops under St. Clair attempted to reach the same place by a circuitous route which led through Hubbardtown.
The disastrous retreat.—Burgoyne's vessels broke through the impediments and pursued the American flotilla. They encountered it at anchor in South Bay and short work they made of it. The Americans destroyed the stores and buildings on the shore before they retreated. General Fraser had been sent in pursuit of St. Clair's forces and at Hubbardtown he fell in with the American rear guard and defeated it. St. Clair succeeded in getting his troops to Ft. Edward where he joined Schuyler. Only three thousand men barred the way to Albany.
The withdrawal to Stillwater.—Schuyler sent out calls for help to New England, to New York, and to Washington. While waiting for reinforcements he destroyed the standing crops, drove off the stock, and broke up the roads. Having despoiled the country, he abandoned Fort Edward and withdrew to Stillwater on the west bank of the Hudson. It was not long before reinforcements began pouring in. Although his army was inferior to that of Howe, Washington sent on Morgan's riflemen and he ordered Putnam to send two brigades. General Lincoln was sent to organize the New England militia and Benedict Arnold was called from Connecticut to help Schuyler.
Bennington.—Burgoyne reached the head of Lake Champlain on July 10, but from that point his progress was exceedingly slow, the twenty miles to Ft. Edwards being traversed in as many days. Schuyler's work of devastation had been complete and the British commissariat suffered accordingly. To replenish his depleted stores, Burgoyne embarked upon a rash enterprise. At Bermington large quantities of stores had been collected and a Tory named Philip Skene suggested that they would be an easy prize. Burgoyne followed Skene's advice and sent Colonel Baum with five or six hundred troops to make the capture. Near Bennington John Stark was in command of two brigades of New England troops and at Manchester were the remnants of regiments which had retreated from Hubbardtown. On August 15 Baum came in touch with Stark's forces, but he hesitated to attack and proceeded to intrench. The New England troops gradually encircled the position, and when they attacked on the afternooon of the sixteenth, they killed, wounded, or captured nearly the entire force. While the Americans were engaged in plundering the camp, they were suddenly attacked by another force of six hundred under Breymann, sent by Burgoyne at Baum's request. Things were going badly for Stark's men when Seth Warner with forces from Manchester arrived. After a sharp contest Breymann's troops were driven from the field with a loss of a third of the rank and file. The day's fighting had deprived the invaders of a considerable force which they could not afford to lose in the face of an army which was increasing daily.
Oriskany.—While Burgoyne was advancing, St. Leger was invading the Mohawk Valley. On August 3 his army of British regulars, Hessians, Canadians, Tories, and Indians invested Ft. Stanwix. Colonel Herkimer gathered the Tryon County militia and went to the relief of the fort, but at Oriskany, which was only six miles from the fort, he was surprised. In the desperate battle the losses were higher in proportion to men engaged than in any other battle of the war. Herkimer was killed and so badly cut up were the militia that the expedition was unable to proceed.
Ft. Stanwix relieved.—Schuyler realized the danger of a flank attack from the Mohawk Valley. St. Leger must be checked. Schuyler called for a volunteer to lead a relief expedition. Arnold offered his services and at the head of eight hundred men advanced up the valley. As he proceeded his force was continually increased by recruits. As he approached Ft. Stanwix, Arnold succeeded in creating the impression that his army was of overwhelming numbers. The Senecas were the first to desert St. Leger and the Tories soon made off to the woods. Abandoned by his allies, St. Leger retreated, leaving behind stores, tents, and artillery. The battle of Bennington and the retirement from the Mohawk Valley sealed the fate of Burgoyne.
Gates supersedes Schuyler.—By the middle of August Schuyler had the satisfaction of being in command of a force which outnumbered Burgoyne's army. But on August 19 Horatio Gates arrived at Albany with a commission to take command. Gates was a man of little ability, but of an unscrupulous, intriguing, and ambitious nature. He had spent many months at the seat of government influencing members of Congress, a task made easy by the fact that the New England delegates disliked Schuyler. With victory already assured, Gates came forward to reap the honors. Burgoyne was in a sorry plight. His line of communication was in danger of being cut and his force had been reduced to about six thousand effectives. In vain he looked for despatches from Howe, but though he had sent ten messengers, an ominous silence was his only answer. Two courses were open to him; an ignominious retreat or an advance that at best was but a forlorn hope. Fortunately for the American cause he chose the latter.
First battle of Bemis's Heights, September 19.—On September 13 the British army crossed the Hudson on a bridge of boats and encamped at Saratoga. Six miles to the south was a table land called Bemis's Heights which the Americans had fortified. Between the heights and the river stretched a pasture five hundred yards in width. It was a position easily defended provided Gates extended his left wing. This he failed to do and Burgoyne, quick to see the opportunity for a turning movement, disposed his forces in such a manner that while Philips in command of the British left and Burgoyne in the center engaged the American army, General Fraser on the right could encircle the heights. Arnold saw the danger and besought Gates to let him attack the British right. Gates finally consented and Arnold immediately flung his men against Fraser's position. A confused fight occurred in the tangled underbrush, and though Morgan's riflemen got out of hand, the effect of the attack was to stop Fraser's advance. Having been reinforced, Arnold threw his troops against the British center at Freeman's Farm. A very hot engagement ensued and victory would probably have resulted had Gates engaged Philips, but the American commander failed to attack and the British left came to the assistance of the hard-pressed center. At nightfall Arnold fell back a short distance, but he had saved the American army and had inflicted such great injury that Burgoyne was unable to continue the battle the next day.
Clinton fails to coöperate.—The British commander fortified his position and there his army remained inactive for more than a fortnight. The situation was daily becoming more critical, for Lincoln had succeeded in cutting the line of communication with Canada. A belated despatch had reached Burgoyne informing him of Howe's expedition against Philadelphia. He also received information which led him to believe that Clinton expected to clear the Hudson and come to his relief. Early in October Clinton captured three forts on the lower Hudson, but instead of following up his success, he returned to New York and left the northern army to its fate.
Second battle of Bemis's Heights.—The situation in the American camp was far from harmonious. Gates had not mentioned Arnold's division in his official report of the recent battle. This slight was followed by studied insults and cowardly persecution. The protests of the regimental officers caused Arnold to postpone his resignation, but Gates deprived him of his command and elevated Lincoln. On October 7 Burgoyne again prepared to attack the American lines. His initial assault was repulsed and Fraser was mortally wounded. Soon after the fighting began Arnold put himself at the head of his old troops and broke the British center. The British right wing was also forced back, but Gates did nothing to follow up the advantage. Arnold seized the opportunity and assaulted Freeman's Farm. There he was repulsed but he turned his troops against a redoubt on the right and carried it by assault. The redoubtable general, however, was severely wounded, his thigh bone being shattered, but his generalship had won the battle which broke the British army.
Burgoyne's surrender.—The day after the battle Gates pushed forward his left wing, a movement which threatened to pen Burgoyne between the Hudson and a hostile army. The British commander should have sunk his heavy guns in the river and beaten a hasty retreat, but instead he attempted to save his stores and artillery. He fell back eight miles and took a position on the north bank of Fishkill Creek near Saratoga. Gates threw a force across the Hudson which prevented a crossing, troops were posted on the flank of the British Camp and the main army was drawn up on the south bank of Fishkill Creek. The British were trapped and Burgoyne at last realized that the game was up. On October 13 he called a council of war at which it was decided to negotiate terms. Gates demanded an unconditional surrender, but Burgoyne refused and the next day Gates, who appears neither to have been able to win a battle or to make the most of a fortunate situation created by the bravery and skill of another, agreed that Burgoyne should surrender with the honors of war and that his army should be given free passage to Great Britain upon the condition that they would not serve in North America during the war. Congress, to its shame, did not carry out the agreement and the troops were kept as prisoners in America.
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