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.
As soon as the funeral services were finished and the grave closed, an order was issued that the army should retreat as soon as darkness had set in ; and the commander, who, in the beginning of the campaign, had vauntingly uttered in general orders that memorable sentiment, " Britons never retreat," was now compelled to steal away in the night, leaving his hospital containing four hundred and sixty sick and wounded, to the mercy of a victorious and hitherto despised enemy. Gates in this, as in all other instances, extended to his former companion in arms the greatest humanity.
The army begun its retrograde movement at nine o'clock in the evening of the 8th in the midst of a pouring rain, Riedesel leading the van, and Phillips bringing up the rear with the advanced corps. All deplored the loss of Eraser who had always shown " as great skill in managing a retreat as bravery in leading an attack." Indeed, he used frequently to say that if the army had the misfortune to retreat, he would ensure, with the advanced corps, to bring it off in safety. This was a piece of generalship of which he was not a little vain, having, during the Seven years' war, made good his retreat with five hundred chasseurs in sight of the French army.
this retreat, the same lack of judgment on the part of Burgoyne is apparent.
Had that general, as Riedesel and Phillips advised, fallen immediately back
across the Hudson and taken up his former position behind the Batten kil,
not only would his communications with Lake George and Canada have been restored,
but he could, at his leisure, have awaited the movements of Clinton. Burgoyne,
however, having arrived at Dovegat two hours before daybreak on the morning
of the 9th, gave the order to halt, greatly to the surprise of his whole army.
" Every one," says the journal of Riedesel, " was, notwithstanding,
then of the opinion, that the army would make but a short stand, merely for
its better concentration, as all saw that haste was of the utmost necessity,
if they would get out of a dangerous trap."
At this time the heights of Saratoga, commanding the ford across Fish creek, were not yet occupied by the Americans in force ; and up to seven o'clock in the morning, the retreating army might easily have reached that place, and thrown a bridge across the Hudson. General Fellows, who, by the orders of Gates, occupied the heights at Saratoga opposite the ford, was in an extremely critical situation. On the night of the 8th, Lieut. Col. Southerland, who had been sent forward to reconnoitre, crossed Fish creek, and guided by General Fellows's fires, found his camps so entirely unguarded, that he marched round it without being challenged. He then returned and, reporting to Burgoyne, entreated permission to attack Fellows with his regiment, but was refused. " Had not Burgoyne halted at Dovegat," says Wilkinson, " he must have reached Saratoga before day, in which case Fellows would have been cut up and captured or dispersed, and Burgoyne's retreat to Fort George would have been unobstructed. As it was, however, Burgoyne's army reached Saratoga, just as the rear of our militia was ascending the opposite bank of the Hudson, where they took post and prevented its passage." Burgoyne, however, although within half an hour's march of Saratoga, gave the surprising order that " the army should bivouac in two lines, and await the day."
Mr. Bancroft ascribes this delay to the fact that Burgoyne " was still clogged with his artillery and baggage, and that the night was dark, and the roads weakened by rain. But according to the universal testimony of all the manuscript journals extant, the road which up to this time was sufficiently strong for the passage of the baggage and artillery trains, became, during the halt, so bad by the continued rain, that when the army again moved at four o'clock in the afternoon, it was obliged to leave behind the tents and camp equipage, which fell most opportunely into the hands of the Americans. Aside, however, from this, it is a matter of record that the men, through their officers, pleaded with Burgoyne to be allowed to proceed, notwithstanding the storm and darkness , while the officers themselves pronounced the delay " madness." But whatever were the motives of the English general this delay lost him his army, and perhaps the British crown her American colonies.
During the halt at Dovegats, there occurred one of those incidents which relieve with fairer lights and softer tints the gloomy picture of war. Lady Harriet Ackland had, like the Baroness Riedesel, accompanied her husband to America and gladly shared with him the vicissitudes of campaign life.1 Major John Dyke Ackland, a son of Sir Thomas Ackland, was a rough, blunt man, but a gallant soldier and devoted husband, and she loved him dearly. She had already been subjected to great inconvenience and distress before the army arrived at Saratoga. She had been distinguished by her devotion and unremitting attention to her husband, when he lay sick at Chamblee in a miserable hut. She was, indeed, not only the idol of her husband but, together with the Baroness Riedesel, shared the admiration of the whole army, continually making little presents to the officers belonging to the major's corps, whenever she had anything" among her stores that she thought would gratify
1" While the British army on their advance were encamped at Dovegat (Coveville), Major Ackland's tent took fire, and Lady Harriet and himself were nearly lost in the flames. The major being with the advance guard, and obliged to be very diligent in attending to his command, in consequence of the difficulty and danger of his position, kept a candle burning in his tent. A Newfoundland dog, of which they were very fond, unfortunately pushed the candle from a table or chair where it was standing; it fell against the side of the tent, and instantly the whole was in a blaze. A soldier who was keeping guard near them, rushed in and dragged Major Ackland from the flames, while Lady Harriet crept out almost unconsciously through the back part of the tent. When she looked round she saw with horror her husband rushing into the flames in search of her. Again the soldier brought him out, though not without considerable injury to both. Everything in the tent was consumed; but the major and his lady were too happy to see each other in safety to regret the loss of their camp equipage." - Neilson.
them. In return she received from them every attention which could mitigate the hardships she daily encountered. Again, when her husband was wounded at Hubbardton, she carefully watched over him until he was restored to health. The moment she heard of his wound, she hastened from Montreal, where she had intended to remain, and crossed the lake in opposition to her husband's injunctions, resolved to share his fate and be separated from him no more. And now, ever since he had been wounded and taken prisoner in the action of the 7th, she had been in sore distress, and it had required all the comforting attentions of the baroness to reassure her. As soon as the army halted, by the advice of the latter, she determined to visit the American camp, and implore the permission of its commander to join her husband, and by her presence alleviate his sufferings.
Accordingly, on the 9th, she requested permission of Burgoyne to depart. " Though I was ready to believe," says that general, " that patience and fortitude in a supreme degree were to be found, as well as every other virtue, under the most tender forms, I was astonished at this proposal. After so long an agitation of spirits, exhausted not only for want of rest, but absolutely want of food, drenched in rains for twelve hours together, that a woman should be capable of such an undertaking as delivering herself to an enemy probably in the night, and uncertain of what hands she might fall into, appeared an effort, above human nature. The assistance I was enabled to give was small indeed. All I could furnish to her was an open boat, and a few lines, written upon dirty wet paper to General Gates, recommending her to his protection." 1
In the midst of a driving autumnal storm, and with nothing but a little spirits and water, obtained from the wife of a soldier, to sustain her, Lady Ackland set out at dusk in an open boat for the American camp, accompanied by Mr. Brudenell the chaplain, her waiting maid, and her husband's valet. At ten o'clock, they reached the American advanced guard under the command of Major Henry Dearborn. Lady Ackland, herself, hailed the sentinel, and as soon as the bateau struck the shore, the party were-immediately conveyed into the log-cabin of the major, who had been ordered to detain the flag until the morning, the night being exceedingly dark, and the quality of the lady unknown. Major Dearborn gallantly gave up his room to his guest, a fire was kindled, a cup of tea provided, and as soon as Lady Ackland made herself known, her mind was relieved from its anxiety by the assurance of her husband's safety. " I visited," says Adjutant General Wilkinson, " the guard before sunrise. Lady Ackland's boat had put off, and was floating down the stream to our camp, where General Gates, whose gallantry will not be denied, stood ready to receive her with all the tenderness and respect to which
1 Nor was it in the higher walks of life only that female heroism and conjugal devotion were displayed. Lamb relates an instance of the confinement of a serjeant's wife in the woods near Lake George through which she was going in pursuit of her husband then in Burgoyne'a army at Fort Miller. For this in detail see Appendix No. XV.
her rank and condition gave her a claim. Indeed, the feminine figure, the benign aspect, and polished manners of the charming woman, were alone sufficient to attract the sympathy of the most obdurate, but if another motive could have been wanting to inspire respect, it was furnished by the peculiar circumstances of Lady Harriet, then in that most delicate situation, which cannot fail to interest the solicitude of every being possessing the form and feelings of a man." The kindness which had been shown to his wire, Major Ackland reciprocated, while in parole in New York, by doing all in his power to mitigate the sufferings of the American prisoners. His end was particularly sad. On his return to England, he was killed in a duel to which he had been challenged for warmly defending American courage against the aspersions of a brother officer. Lady Ackland became insane, and remained so two years, when, having recovered, she married the chaplain, Brudenell. 1
1 As every thing connected with this devoted wife must be of interest, the reader is referred to Appendix No. VII for some particulars other afterlife.
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