Saratoga – Historic Landmarks

BURGOYNE reached the left bank of the Hudson on the 36th of July. Hitherto he had overcome every difficulty which the enemy and the nature of the country had placed in his way. His army was in excellent order, and in the highest spirits, and the peril of the expedition seemed over when once on the bank of the river which was to be the channel of communication between them and the British army in the south.

The astonishment and alarm which these events produced among the Americans were naturally great; but in the midst of their disasters, none of the colonists showed any disposition to submit. The local governments of the New England States, as well as the Congress, acted with vigour and firmness in their efforts to repel the enemy. General Gates was sent to take the command of the army at Saratoga; and Arnold was despatched by Washington to act under him, with reinforcements of troops and guns from the main American army. Burgoyne’s employment of the Indians now produced the worst possible effects. Though he laboured hard to check the atrocities which they were accustomed to commit, he could not prevent the occurrence of many barbarous outrages, repugnant both to the feelings of humanity and to the laws of civilized warfare. The American commanders took care that the reports of these excesses should be circulated far and wide, well knowing that they would make the stern New Englanders not droop, but rage. Such was their effect. Every man saw the necessity of becoming a temporary soldier, not only for his own safety, but for the protection and defence of those connections which are dearer than life itself. Thus an army was poured forth by the woods, mountains, and marshes, which in this part were thickly sown with plantations and villages.

While resolute recruits were thus flocking to the standard of Gates and Arnold at Saratoga, and while Burgoyne was engaged at Fort Edward in providing the means for the further advance of his army, two events occurred, in each of which the British sustained loss and the Americans obtained advantage, the moral effects of which were even more important than the immediate result of the encounters.

Notwithstanding these reverses, which added greatly to the spirit and numbers of the American forces, Burgoyne determined to advance. Having, by unremitting exertions, collected provisions for thirty days, he crossed the Hudson by means of a bridge of rafts, and, marching a short distance along its western bank, he encamped on the 14th of September on the heights of Saratoga. The Americans had fallen back from Saratoga, and were now strongly posted near Stillwater, about half-way between Saratoga and Albany, and showed a determination to recede no further.

The country between Burgoyne’s position at Saratoga and that of the Americans at Stillwater was rugged, and seamed with creeks and water-courses; but, after great labour in making bridges and temporary causeways, the British army moved forward. About four miles from Saratoga, on the afternoon of the 19th of September, a sharp encounter took place between part of the English right wing, under Burgoyne himself, and a strong body of the enemy, under Gates and Arnold. The conflict lasted till sunset. The British remained masters of the field; but the loss on each side was nearly equal (from five hundred to six hundred men) ; and the spirits of the Americans were greatly raised by having withstood the best regular troops of the English army. Burgoyne now halted again, and strengthened his position by field-works and redoubts; and the Americans also improved their defences. The two armies remained nearly within cannon-shot of each other for a considerable time, during which Burgoyne was anxiously looking for intelligence of the promised expedition from New York. At last a messenger brought the in-formation that Clinton was on his way up the Hudson to attack the American forts which barred the passage to Albany. Burgoyne, in reply, stated that unless he received assistance before the l0th of October, he would be obliged to retreat to the lakes through want of provisions.

The Indians and the Canadians now began to desert Burgoyne, while, on the other hand, Gates’s army was continually reinforced by fresh bodies of the militia. And finding the number and spirit of the enemy to increase daily, and his own stores of provisions to diminish, Burgoyne determined on attacking the Americans in front of him, and, by dislodging them from their position, to gain the means of moving upon Albany, or, at least, of relieving his troops from the straitened position in which they were cooped up.

Burgoyne’s force was now reduced to less than 6000 men. The right of his camp was on some high ground a little to the west of the river: thence his intrenchments extended along the lower ground to the bank of the Hudson, their line being nearly at a right angle to the course of the stream. The lines were fortified in the centre and the left with redoubts and field-works. The numerical force of the Americans was now greater than the British, even in regular troops, and the numbers of the militia and volunteers which had joined ‘Gates and Arnold were greater still. The right of the American position, that is to say, the part of it nearest to the river, was too strong to be assailed with any prospect of success, and Burgoyne therefore determined to endeavour to force their left. For this purpose he formed a column of 1500 regular troops with two twelve-pounders, two howitzers, and six six-pounders. The enemy’s force immediately in front of his lines was so strong that he dared not weaken the troops who guarded them by detaching any more to strengthen his column of attack.

Burgoyne pushed forward some bodies of irregular troops to distract the enemy’s attention, and led his column to within three-quarters of a mile from the left of Gates’s camp, and then deployed his men into line. The Grenadiers, under Major Ackland, were drawn up on the left, a corps of Germans to the centre, and the English Light Infantry and the 24th regiment on the right. But ‘Gates did not wait to be attacked; and directly the British line was formed and began to advance, the American general, with admirable skill, caused a strong force to make a sudden and vehement rush against its left. The Grenadiers under Ackland sustained the charge of superior numbers nobly. But Gates sent more Americans forward, and in a few minutes the action became general along the centre, so as to prevent the Germans from sending any help to the ‘Grenadiers. Burgoyne’s right was not yet engaged ; but a mass of the enemy were observed advancing from their extreme left, with the evident intention of turning the British right, and cutting off its retreat. The Light Infantry and the 24th now fell back, and formed an oblique second line, which enabled them to baffle this manoeuvre, and also to succour their comrades in the left wing, the gallant Grenadiers, who were overpowered by superior numbers, and, but for this aid, must have been cut to pieces. Arnold now came up with three American regiments and attacked the right flank of the English double line. Burgoyne’s whole force was soon compelled to retreat toward their camp; the left and centre were in complete disorder; but the Light Infantry and the 24th checked the fury of the assailants, and the remains of Burgoyne’s column with great difficulty effected their return to their camp, leaving six of their guns in the possession of the enemy, and great numbers of killed and wounded on the field ; and especially a large proportion of the artillerymen, who had stood to their guns until shot down or bayoneted beside them by the advancing Americans.

Burgoyne’s column had been defeated, but the action was not yet over. The English had scarcely entered the camp, when the Americans, pursuing their success, assaulted it in several places with uncommon fierceness, rushing to the lines through a severe fire of grape-shot and musketry with the utmost fury. Arnold especially, who on this day appeared maddened with the thirst of combat and carnage, urged on the attack against a part of the intrenchments which was occupied by the Light Infantry under Lord Balcarras.

But the English received him with vigour and spirit. The struggle here was obstinate and sanguinary. At length, as it grew towards evening, Arnold having forced all obstacles, entered the works with some of the most fearless of his followers. But at this critical moment of glory and danger, he received a painful wound in the leg which had already been injured at the assault on Quebec.

To his bitter regret, he was obliged to be carried back. His party still continued the attack; but the English still continued their obstinate resistance, and at last night fell, and the assailants withdrew from this quarter of the British intrenchments. But in another part the attack had been more successful. A body of Americans under Colonel Brooke, forced their way in through a part of the intrenchments on the extreme right, which was defended by the German reserve under Colonel Breyman. The Germans resisted well, and Breyman died in defence of his post; but the Americans made good the ground which they had won, and captured baggage, tents, artillery, and a store of ammunition, which they were greatly in need of. They had, by establishing themselves on this point, acquired the means of completely turning the right flank of the British, and gaining their rear. To prevent this calamity, Burgoyne effected during the night a complete change of position. With great skill he removed his whole army to some heights near the river, a little northward of the former camp, and he there drew up his men, expecting to be attacked on the following day. But Gates was resolved not to risk the certain triumph which his success had already secured for him. He harrassed the English with skirmishes, but attempted no regular attack. Meanwhile he detached bodies of troops on both sides of the Hudson to prevent the British from re-crossing that river and to bar their retreat. When night fell, it became absolutely necessary for Burgoyne to retire again, and, accordingly, the troops were marched through a stormy and rainy night toward Saratoga, abandoning their sick and wounded, and the greater part of their baggage to the enemy.

Burgoyne now took up his last position on the heights near Saratoga, and, hemmed in by the enemy who refused an en-counter, and baffled in all his attempts at finding a path of escape, he lingered until famine compelled him to capitulate.

At length the 13th of October arrived, and as no prospect of assistance appeared, and the provisions were nearly exhausted, Burgoyne, by the unanimous advice of a council of war, sent a messenger to the American camp to treat of a convention. After various messages, a convention for the surrender of the army was settled, which provided that ” the troops under General Burgoyne were to march out of their camp with honours of war, and the artillery out of the intrenchments to the verge of the river, where the arms and artillery were to be left. The arms to be piled by word of command of their own officers. A free passage was to be granted to the army under Lieutenant-General Burgoyne to Great Britain, upon condition of not serving again in North America during the present contest.”

The articles of capitulation were settled on the 15th of October, and on that very evening a messenger arrived from Clinton with an account of his success, and with the tidings that part of his force had penetrated as far as Esopus, within fifty miles of Burgoyne’s camp. But it was too late. The public faith was pledged; and the army was indeed too debilitated by fatigue and hunger to resist an attack, if made; and Gates certainly would have made it, if the convention had been broken off.

Accordingly, on the 17th, the Convention of Saratoga was carried into effect. By this convention 5790 men surrendered themselves as prisoners. The sick and wounded left in the camp when the British retreated, together with the numbers of the British, German, and Canadian troops, who were killed, wounded, or taken, and who had deserted in the preceding part of the expedition, were reckoned to be 4689.

Gates, after the victory, immediately despatched Colonel Wilkinson to carry the happy tidings to Congress. On being introduced into the hall, he said : ” The whole British army has laid down its arms at Saratoga; our own, full of vigour and courage, expect your orders. It is far your wisdom to decide where the country may still have need of their services.”

Honours and rewards were liberally voted by the Congress to their conquering general and his men; and it would be difficult to describe the transports of joy which the news of this event excited among the Americans.

They began to flatter themselves with a still more happy future. No one any longer felt any doubt about their achieving their independence. All hoped, and with good reason, that a success of this importance would at length determine France, and the other European powers that waited for her example, to declare themselves in favour of America. ” There could no longer be any question respecting the future, since there was no longer the risk of espousing the cause of a people too feeble to defend themselves.