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.
Meanwhile, General Gates, who had begun the pursuit at noon of the 10th with his main army, reached the high ground south of Fish creek, at four the same afternoon. The departure of Burgoyne's working party for Fort Edward led him to believe that the entire British army were in full retreat having left only a small guard to protect their baggage. Acting upon this impression, he ordered Nixon and Glover, with their brigades, to cross the creek early next morning, under cover of the fog which at this time of year usually prevails till after sunrise, and attack the British camp. The English general had notice of this plan, and placing a battery in position, he posted his troops in ambush behind the thickets along the banks of the creek; and concealed also by the fog, waited the attack confident of victory. At early daylight, Morgan, who had again been selected to begin the action, crossed the creek with his men, on a raft of floating logs, and falling in with a British picket, was fired upon, losing a lieutenant, and two privates. This led him to believe that the main body of the enemy had not moved, in which case, with the creek in his rear, enveloped by a dense fog and unacquainted with the ground, he felt his position to be most critical. Meanwhile, the whole army advanced as far as the south bank of the creek and halted. Nixon, however, who was in advance, had already crossed the stream near its confluence with the Hudson, and captured a picket of sixty men, and a number of bateaux, and Glover was preparing to follow him, when a deserter" from the enemy confirmed the suspicions of Morgan. This was corroborated a few moments afterward, by the capture of a reconnoitering party of thirty-five men by the advanced guard under Captain Goodale of Putnam's regiment, who, discerning them through the fog just as he neared the opposite bank, charged and took them without firing a gun. Gates was at this time at his headquarters a mile and a half in the rear and before intelligence could be sent to him, the fog cleared up, and exposed the entire British army under arms. A heavy fire of artillery and musketry was immediately opened upon Nixon's brigade, and they retreated in considerable disorder across the creek.
General Learned had, in the meantime, reached Morgan's corps, with his own and Patterson's brigade, and was advancing rapidly to the attack, in obedience to a standing order issued the day before " that in case of an attack against any point, whether in front, flank or rear, the troops are to fall upon the enemy at all quarters." He had arrived within two hundred yards of Burgoyne's battery, and in a few moments more, would have been engaged at great disadvantage, when Wilkinson reached him with the news that the right wing under Nixon had given way, and that it would be prudent to retreat-The brave old general hesitated to comply. " Our brethren," said he," are engaged on the right, and the standing order is to attack."
In this dilemma Wilkinson exclaimed to one of Gates's aides standing near, " Tell the general that his own fame and the interests of the cause are at hazard ; that his presence is necessary with the troops." Then turning to Learned, he continued, " our troops on the right have retired, and the fire you hear is from the enemy ; although I have no orders for your retreat, I pledge my life for the general's approbation." By this time several field officers had joined the group, and a consultation being held, the proposition to retreat was approved. Scarcely had they turned about when the enemy, who, expecting their advance had been watching their movements with shouldered arms, fired and killed an officer and several men before they made good their retreat.
Had the plan of the English general succeeded, it is difficult to say what might have been the result. With the brigades of Nixon, Glover, Learned, and Patterson cut off, and with the consequent demoralization of the American army, his retreat would have been rendered less difficult, or, retracing his steps, he might possibly have entered Albany in triumph. He himself called it " one of the most adverse strokes of fortune during the campaign."
The ground occupied by the two armies after this engagement, resembled a vast amphitheatre - the British occupying the arena, and the Americans the elevated surroundings. Burgoyne's camp, upon the meadows and the heights of Saratoga north of Fish creek, was fortified and extended half a mile parallel with the river, most of its heavy artillery being on an elevated plateau, northeast of the village of Schuylerville. On the American side, Morgan and his sharpshooters were posted on still higher ground west of the British, extending along their entire rear. On the east or opposite bank of the Hudson, Fellows, with three thousand men, was strongly entrenched behind heavy batteries ; while Gates, with the main body of the Continentals, lay on the high ground south of Fish creek and parallel with it. On the north. Fort Edward was held by Stark with two thousand men, and between that post and Fort George in the vicinity of Glen's Falls, the Americans had a fortified camp ; while from the surrounding country, large bodies of yeomanry flocked in, and voluntarily posted themselves up and down the river. The "trap" which Riedesel had foreseen, was already sprung.
The Americans, impatient of delay, urged Gates to attack the British camp, but that general, now assured that the surrender of Burgoyne was only a question of time, and unwilling needlessly to sacrifice his men, refused to accede to their wishes, and quietly awaited the course of events.
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