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.
THE disastrous result of the campaign of General Burgoyne is to be ascribed more to his own blunders and incompetency than to any special military skill on the part of his conqueror. In December, 1776, Burgoyne, dissatisfied with his subordinate position under Carleton, concocted with the British ministry a plan for the campaign of 1777. A large force under himself was to proceed to Albany by way of Lakes Champlain and George, while another large body, under Sir Henry Clinton, advanced up the Hudson in order to cut off communication between the northern and southern colonies, in the expectation that each section being left to itself would be subdued with little difficulty. At the same time. Colonel Barry St. Leger was to make a diversion on the Mohawk river.
For the accomplishment of the first part of this plan, a powerful force was organized in Canada, the command of which was transferred from Sir Guy Carleton - the ablest British general, by the way, at that time or subsequently in America-and conferred upon General Burgoyne-an army which, for thoroughness of discipline, and completeness of appointment had never been excelled in America.1 The generals, also, who were to second him in the expedition were trustworthy and able officers. Major General Phillips was not only distinguished as an artillery officer, but had given proof of exceptional strategical skill , Major General Riesdel had been specially selected for his military experience, acquired during a long service, and particularly during the seven years' war, where he had enjoyed the entire confidence of Prince Ferdinand. The English Brigadiers Fraser and Hamilton, and the German ones, Specht, and Gall and Lieut. Col. Breymann, had been appointed to commands solely on the ground of their professional merits. The former had attained a high reputation for judgment and cool daring, and was considered one of the most promising officers in the army. Colonel Kingston, the adjutant-general, had served with distinction in Burgoyne's horse in Portugal, and Majors Lord Balcarras,
1 Burgoyne arrived in Quebec on the 6th of May, 1777, and received the command of the forces from General Carleton on the 10th. General Riedesel, however, with his Brunswick Contingent, had been in Canada for fully a year - during which time, he, with the practical strategy and acuteness of observation which always distinguished him, had employed that time in drilling his troops to meet the customs of the Americans. "Thus," he says in one of his letters, " I perceived that the American riflemen always shot further than our forces - consequently I made my men practice at long range and behind trees that they might at least be enough for them." Speaking of the removal of Carleton at this juncture, Riedesel further says : " a great mistake was undoubtedly here made by the British ministry. Carleton had, hitherto, worked with energy and success; knew the army thoroughly, and enjoyed the confidence of the officers and men. It was a great risk to remove a man, who was so peculiarly fitted for so important a position, without a better cause."
and Ackland, commanding respectively the light infantry and grenadiers, were each, in his own way, considered officers of high professional attainments and brilliant courage. 1 All things being in readiness, Burgoyne, in the early summer of 1777, sailed up Lake Champlain ; and, on the 17th of June encamped on the western shore of that lake at the falls of the little river Bouquet, now Willsborough. At this place he was joined by about four hundred Indians, under the Chevalier St. Luc and Charles De Langlade,2 whom, in a council and war feast called and given specially for the purpose, he addressed in a speech designedly couched in their own
1 Fonblanque's Life of Burgoyne. For the detailed return of the troops (English and German) employed on the expedition (compiled at considerable labor by Mr. Fonblanque), and also for remarks on the question of the employment of Germans by the English government, see Appendix No. II.
2 Thomas Anburey, an officer in the army of General Burgoyne, wrote in 1777 from the borders of Lake Champlain : " We are expecting the Ottawas. They are led by M. de Saint Luc and M. de Langlade, both great partisans of the French cause in the last war, the latter is the person who, at the head of the tribe which he now commands planned and executed the defeat of General Braddock."
Burgoyne, the unfortunate commander of the aforesaid army, expressed himself in a no less formal manner, in a letter to Lord George Germain, dated Skenesborough, July the eleventh, 1777 : " I am informed," says he, " that the Ottawas and other Indian tribes, who are two days' march - from us, are brave and faithful, and that they practice war and not pillage. They are under the orders of a M. Saint Luc, a Canadian of merit, and one of the best partisans of the French cause during the last war, and of a M. de Langlade, the very man who with these tribes projected and executed Braddock's defeat. See Appendix XII, for a further account of Langlade's connection with Burgoyne and the latter's relations with his Indian allies.
figurative language, and intended both to excite their ardor in the approaching campaign, and " to inculcate those humane principles of civilized warfare which to them must have been incomprehensible." On the 30th of June, the main army made a still further advance and occupied Crown point 1 (Fort St. Frederick), while General Fraser pushed ahead as far as Putnam's creek, three miles north of Ticonderoga. In the evening the following orders were given : " The army embarks tomorrow to approach the enemy. The services required on this expedition are critical and conspicuous. During our progress occasions may occur in which nor difficulty, nor labor, nor life are to be regarded. This army must not retreat." Then, having issued a grandiloquent proclamation designed to terrify the inhabitants of the surrounding
1 Called Kruyn, or Kroonpunt (or Scalp point), by the Dutch; and by the French, Point a la Cheveleure. The ramparts of this fortress, which are still standing, are of wood and earth riveted with solid masonry. They are twenty-four feet high, twenty-five thick, and inclose an area of fifteen hundred yards square, surrounded by a deep, broad moat, cut into granite. There are, also, a double row of stone barracks, and on the north, a gate with a draw-bridge, together with a subterranean or covered passage leading from one of the bastions to the bank of the lake. The size and extent of these works render their exploration very satisfactory and instructive. The promontory which juts out from the farther shore directly opposite Crown point and on which Gen. Riedesel was encamped for a day or two, is called Chimney point. When Fort Frederick was built, in 1731, a French settlement of considerable size was begun at this place. During the old French war, however, it was destroyed by a party of Mohawk Indians, who burned the wood-work of the houses, leaving the stone chimneys standing. For many years afterwards these stood, like solitary and grim sentinels, watching over the ruins. Hence the name.
rounding country into submission, Burgoyne prepared to invest Ticonderoga.
Leaving a detachment of one staff officer and two hundred men at Crown point for the defence of the magazines, the royal army in their bateaux started again at five o'clock in the morning of July 1st, in two divisions. The corps of General Phillips was on the west and that of General Riedesel on the east side of the lake. The Dragoons formed the van of the whole army. The fleet advanced as far as Putnam's creek almost within cannon shot of the Americans. The right wing of the army encamped on the spot recently occupied by the brigade of Fraser (that officer having again gone ahead), and the left wing under Riedesel occupied the eastern shore opposite the right wing. The corps of General Breymann advanced on the same shore as far as the left wing of the fleet, from the flag-ship of which, the Royal George, the American position could easily be seen. The garrison of Ticonderoga was estimated at from four to five thousand men, and consisted of twelve regiments divided into four brigades commanded by General St. Clair. Its position was covered on the right flank by Fort Independence, a star-fort built on a considerable eminence, on the east shore of Lake Champlain and fortified by three successive lines of fortifications. It was separated by water from Ticonderoga which lay on the opposite side and consisted chiefly of the old French works.1 In the lake between the two forts lay four
1 Ticonderoga (called by the French respectively Fort Vaudreuil-after an early Canadian governor-and Fort Carillon) is situated fifteen miles south of Crown point and thirty north of Whitehall. It is formed by a sharp angle in the narrow waters of the lake, and an arm of that lake stretching to the westward which receives the waters of Lake George at the foot of a precipitous fall of some twenty feet. The stream which connects these lakes makes a considerable curvature to the west, and in the distance of two miles tumbles over successive layers of rocks about 300 feet-the difference of the level between the surface of Lake George and that of Lake Champlain, furnishing a variety of excellent mill-sites, accessible to the navigable waters of Lake George forty miles, and to those of Lake Champlain and the river Sorel 130 miles. This position was fortified by the French long before the war of 1755. It is rendered famous by the repulse of Abercrombie by Montcalm in 1758 with the loss of 2000 men, although he might, by taking possession of Mt. Defiance (Sugar-loaf hill) have carried the place without hazarding a man.
armed vessels, and both were connected by a bridge, In front of this bridge there was a strong iron chain hanging across the water, which was intended to break the first assault of the British. To the left of Ticonderoga there was another fortification upon a hill covering the enemy's left toward the sawmills on the portage between Lake Champlain and Lake George. Ticonderoga was garrisoned by one-half of the American force, or two brigades , the third brigade was at Fort Independence, and the fourth was distributed in the entrenchments outside of the fort. This was the position of the Americans when General Burgoyne arrived in front of Ticonderoga.
At noon of the 2d of July, Fraser moved forward, and taking possession of some high ground which commanded the American line and cut off their communication with Lake George, named it Mount Hope, in anticipation of victory.1 At the same time, Phillips moved more to the right and occupied the sawmills. 2 Riedesel likewise advanced with Breymann's corps and took up a position in front of Fort Independence behind the stream, Petite Marie. Meanwhile, unfortunately for the Americans, their engineers had overlooked the high peak or mountain, called Sugar-loaf hill (Mount Defiance), situated south of the bridge on the point of land at the
1 In the beginning of this skirmish Lord Balcarras, who commanded the light-infantry, had his coat and trousers pierced with thirty balls, and escaped with a slight wound , while at the same time, Lieut. Haggit received a mortal wound in both eyes by a ball, and Lieut. Douglass of the 29th, while being carried wounded off the field, was shot through the heart by a sharp-shooter.
Mount Hope is thus described by Wilkinson: " When the French officer [Montcalm] who commanded at Ticonderoga in 1758, heard of Abercrombie's approach, he found it necessary to take possession of an elevated ridge on the direct route to it from the landing at Lake George, which, at less than half a mile entirely overlooked the works. This ridge is flat on the summit and extends westwardly about half a mile to the sawmills at the perpendicular fall at the outlet of Lake George where it terminates in still higher ground called Mount Hope. On the south it presents a bold declivity washed by the strait, and on the north it declines until it sinks into a plain which is extended about one hundred rods to the shore of the lake where the bank is ten or twelve feet high." It was here that Abercrombie suffered so disastrous a repulse.
2 On the approach of Gen. Fraser, the Americans, most unaccountably, immediately abandoned all their works in the direction of Lake George, setting fire to the block-houses and sawmills; and without sally or other interruption, permitted the enemy under Maj. Gen. Phillips, to take possession of the very advantageous post of Mount Hope, which besides commanding their lines in a dangerous degree, totally cut off their communication with Lake George. The only excuse for such an early abandonment of this important point, was found in the fact that General St. Clair had not force enough to man all the defences."- Stone's Brant.
confluence of the waters of Lakes George and Champlain. Originally it had been supposed and taken for granted, that the crest of Sugar-loaf hill was not only inaccessible, but too distant to be of any avail in covering the main fortress. This opinion was an error, to which the attention of the officers had been called the preceding year by Colonel John Trumbull, then adjutant general for the Northern department. When Colonel Trumbull made the suggestion, he was laughed at by the mess; but he soon proved the accuracy of his own vision, by throwing a cannon-shot to the summit ; and subsequently clambered up to the top, accompanied by Colonels Stevens, Wayne and Arnold.1 It was a criminal neglect, on the part of the Americans, that the oversight was not at once corrected, bv the construction of a work upon that point, which would have commanded the whole post. It was a neglect, however, that was soon to cost them dear. While the maneuvers of Fraser and Phillips, above described, were executing, Lieutenant Twiss made a thorough personal examination of Sugar-loaf hill, and reported that the hill " completely commanded the works and buildings both at Ticonderoga and Fort Independence; that it was distant about 1400 yards from the former and 1500 from the latter; that the ground might be levelled so as to receive cannon ; and that a road to convey them, though extremely difficult, might be built in twenty-four hours. Accordingly, as soon as darkness had set in, a
1 Conversations of the author's father with Col. John Trumbull.
winding road was cut to its summit, a battery commenced and cannon to serve it transported thither. In fact, so expeditiously was the work carried forward under Phillips,1 that the garrison of Ticonderoga, on awaking the next morning found to their amazement and dismay that from the crags seven hundred feet above, the British were coolly looking down upon them, watching their every movement, and only waiting for the completion of their batteries to open fire. In this critical situation, St. Clair at once called a council of war, which unanimously decided on an immediate evacuation. It was also determined that the baggage of the army, with such artillery, stores and provisions as the necessity of the occasion would admit, should be embarked with a strong detachment on board of two hundred bateaux, and dispatched under convoy of five armed galleys, up the lake to Skenesborough (Whitehall), and that the main body of the army should proceed by land, taking its route on the road to Castleton in Vermont, which was about thirty miles south-east of Ticonderoga, and join the boats and galleys at Skenesborough. Absolute secrecy was also enjoined. Accordingly, early in the evening. Colonel Long, with five armed galleys and six hundred men, set out with the sick and wounded for Skenesborough, and a few hours later, about two o'clock in the morning of July 6th, St. Clair with the
" General Phillips has as expeditiously conveyed cannon to the summit
of this hill [Mount Defiance], as he brought it up in that memorable battle
at Minden, where, it is said, such was his anxiousness in expediting the artillery,
that he split no less than fifteen canes in beating the horses."-
main body of the troops passed over the floating bridge in safety, and probably would have effected his retreat wholly undiscovered, had not the head-quarters of General Roche De Fermoy, who commanded Fort Independence, either through accident or treachery, been set on fire.1 This unfortunate occurrence threw the Americans into disorder, and informed the British of the retreat. At early daylight, Riedesel embarked his men and took possession of Fort Independence ; at the same time that Fraser occupied Ticonderoga. Eighty large cannon, five thousand tons of Hour, a great quantity of meat and provisions, fifteen stands of arms, a large amount of ammunition, and two hundred oxen, besides baggage and tents, were found in the deserted forts.
There would seem to have been no necessity for this stampede. The camps of the Americans were not surrounded - on the contrary the road to Vermont was still open-and the batteries of the assailants were not yet in position. "Great fright and consternation," says General Riedesel in his journal, " must have prevailed in the enemy's camp, otherwise they would have taken time to destroy the stores and save something." 2
1 It is a somewhat singular fact, says General J. Watts De Peyster, that generally whenever the Americans were unsuccessful a foreigner was mixed up in it. A little thought on the part of the reader will confirm the truth of this observation.
2 And yet, St. Clair's retreat was by no means so disorderly as some have represented it. Lamb, who was a conscientious and shrewd observer, speaking of this says : "After the enemy retreated we marched down to the works, and were obliged to halt at the bridge of communication which had been broken down. In passing the bridge and possessing ourselves of the works we found four men lying intoxicated with drinking, who had been left to fire the guns of a large battery on our approach. Had the men obeyed the commands they received, we must have suffered great injury; but they were allured by the opportunity of a cask of madeira to forget their instructions, and drown their cares in wine. It appeared evident they were left for the purpose alluded to, a8 matches were found lighted, the ground was strewed with powder, and the heads of some powder-casks were knocked off in order, no doubt, to injure our men on their gaining the works. An Indian had like to do some mischief from his curiosity-holding a lighted match near one of the guns, it exploded, but being elevated, it discharged without harm."
The news of the fall of Ticonderoga was received in England with every demonstration of joy. The king rushed into the queen's apartment, crying " I have beat them, I have beat all the Americans," and "Lord George Germaine announced the event in parliament as if it had been decisive of the campaign and of the fate of the colonies."
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