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.
On the 13th of September, the royal army, with the exception of the German troops composing the left wing, crossed the Hudson by a bridge of boats, with the design of forming a junction with Sir Henry Clinton at Albany. 1 It encamped on the heights and plains of Saratoga near the mouth of Fish creek (the present site of Schuylerville), within a few miles of the northern division of the continentals under Gates - Burgoyne selecting General Schuyler's house as his headquarters. 2 After
1 The Brunswick Journal states, that as early as the 19th of August, Fraser having occupied Fort Miller on the 9th of that month, a bridge was first made above the present Saratoga falls or rapids ; but upon a better place being found lower down, it was broken up and a new one built below the rapids.
While preparations for crossing the river were making, Burgoyne, says Neilson, " encamped on an extensive flat or intervale, about one hundred rod north of Lansing's saw-mill. Here he had quite an extensive slaughter-yard which so enriched the soil that its effects are still visible on the corn crops and other productions." The exact place where the British crossed the Hudson was just below the Saratoga falls, two miles above Schuylerville, some eighty rods northwest of the present residence of Abraham Yates Rogers. The entrenchments which were at that time thrown up to cover the passage of the river, are still to be seen very plainly. They are three hundred feet in length and from four to six feet high, but are overgrown with scrub pines. Mr. Rogers, whose grandfather lived on the farm at the time, informs me that within thirty years the wooden platforms for the cannon were in existence behind the entrenchment." The survey of the railroad from Greenwich to Saratoga Springs was through these entrenchments.
2 Burgoyne did not cross as soon as he expected, because, finding his provisions short, he was obliged to wait until supplies could be brought up
crossing the bridge 1 the 9th, 20th, 21st and 62nd regiments, with the artillery, were stationed on the plain near the river, between the barracks 2 and the Fish kil, the bateaux on the right bank being crossed by six companies of the 47th. The hills around Saratoga were so densely covered with woods and underbrush that it was impossible to place the army in position to withstand an attack from the Americans. Accordingly all of the generals from Ticonderoga. Sergeant Lamb was accordingly sent back alone (as being thus less liable to attract observation) to that post and soon returned with a month's provisions. For an account of his trip, see Appendix No. XV.
1 The Brunswick Journal, in speaking of the passage of this bridge, says : " The avant-guarde under Fraser was the first to march over. At nine o'clock the reserve under Lieut. Col. Breymann followed after them in order to cover Eraser's left flank. The Germans, who formed the left wing of the army went over last of all [two days afterwards] , as soon as the last man had crossed the bridge it was broken up. They had passed the Rubicon, and all further communication with Canada was now cut off. The army which, on first setting off from there, was 10,000 strong, had already diminished to 6000 [1000 had been left at Ticonderoga] and even these were provided with provisions not only scant in quantity, but bad in quality.
2 These barracks were used as a hospital and were located on the north side of the road to Saratoga Springs, directly upon the present site of the red barns of the Hon. Alonzo Welch of Schuylerville, who resides a few rods east of the barns in the main village street. The barracks were standing and occupied by a farmer up to within thirty years. In March, 1867, Mr. Welch, while plowing back of his barns, came across the burying place of the hospital. The bones thus exhumed, he carefully reburied.
Schuyler's house (so say the manusciipt Journals of the Brunswick officers) was between the old village of Ticonderoga and the Fish kil. This fact is of great importance in locating the old village, which, by the way, at best consisted of only a few scattered houses.
carefully inspected the high ground nearest the camp, and agreed upon a position to be taken up at a moment's notice, in case of an attack. The situation of the army, moreover, was rendered still more precarious by the fact of its being divided by the river, and thus obliged to be constantly on its guard. New entrenchments were therefore thrown up, especially on the side toward Bennington.
After the evacuation of Fort Edward, Schuyler had fallen down the river, first to Stillwater, and then to Van Schaick's island at the mouth of the Mohawk. 1 On the 19th day of August, however, he was superseded by Gates, who, on the 8th day of September, advanced with six thousand men to Bemis's heights, three miles north of Stillwater. These heights were at once fortified,
1 "The reason," says Neilson, " why Schuyler fortified Van Schaick's island with the expectation of opposing Burgoyne in his march to Albany, was as follows: at that time there were no bridges across either the Hudson or Mohawk, nor were there ferries as plenty as they have been since. The only ferry on the Mohawk, between the Hudson river and Schenectady, was Loudon's, five miles above its mouth, where Arnold was posted with the left wing of the American army, for the purpose of preventing a passage at that place. There was another ferry near Halfmoon point (Waterford), across the Hudson, but that would only have been leading him out of the way on the opposite side of the river. Besides, the conveying so large an army over that stream in a common scow-boat, and at the same time subject to be opposed by the Americans who lay near by, would have rendered such an undertaking impracticable. Those being the facts, his course necessarily lay across the sprouts, as they were called, or mouths of the Mohawk, which, except in time of freshets, were fordable, and by four of which that stream enters the Hudson , the second and third forming Van Schaick's island, across which the road passed, and was the usual route at that time."
under the direction of Kosciusko. Along the brow of the river hills he threw up a line of breastworks about three-fourths of a mile in extent, with a strong battery at each end, and one in the centre, in such positions as to sweep the alluvial meadows between them and the river. A line of entrenchments, also, ran from west to east half a mile in length, and terminated on the east end on the west side of the intervale. The right wing occupied a hill nearest the river, and was protected in front by a wide, marshy ravine, and behind this by abattis. From the foot of this hill, across the flats to the river, an entrenchment was opened, at the extremity of which, on the margin of the river, another strong battery was constructed. The left wing commanded by Arnold (who after the defeat of St. Leger at Fort Stanwix, had joined Gates) extended onto a height three quarters of a mile further north, its left flank being also protected on the hillside by felled trees, or slashings. Gates's headquarters were in the centre, a little south of what was then, and is now, known as the Neilson farm.
On the 15th, the Germans crossed the river, and Burgoyne, having destroyed the bridge, gave the order to advance in search of the enemy, supposed to be somewhere in the forest; for, strange as it appears, that general had no knowledge of the position of the Americans, nor had he taken any pains to inform himself upon this vital point.' The army in gala dress, with its left wing
1 For an account of Alexander Bryan, the scout who gave Gates timely notice of the passage of the Hudson by Burgoyne, see Appendix XI.
resting on the Hudson, set off on its march with drums beating, colors flying, and their arms glistening in the sunshine of that lovely autumn day. " It was a superb spectacle," says an eye-witness, " reminding one of a grand parade in the midst of peace." That night they pitched their camp at Dovogat's house (Coveville). 1
On the following morning, the enemy's drums were
1 This house, which is still (1877) standing in good preservation, on the margin of the Champlain canal, about fifty rods from the Hudson, is situated about forty rods east of the road from Schuylerville to Stillwater, in what is called Van Vechten's cove, at Coveville.
In regard to the origin of this name. Professor Asa Fitch writes as follows:
"July 4, 1877-Dear Sir - Having resided six years in Stillwater, eight miles below, and in Ft. Miller over a year, eight miles above Covewlle, I have often been to and through the place, and am quite familiar with the names it has had. Here is very much the largest of the coves or narrow bays (ancient beds of the river) which occur along the stream between Ft. Miller and Stillwater. In summer, when the river is low, this cove is an immense mud-hole or marsh. Hence it was first named by the Dutch, the Great Vlie, or simply the Vlie. This was its current name during the Old French war, and the New England troops passing have probably supposed the name alluded to the swarms of musketoes they here encountered, for they wrote it the Fly, and the Great Fly.
The cove was formerly a noted resort for flocks of wild ducks, attracting hunters hither from all the country around and from this the place received its next name, Dovecot, i.e., dove house or dove place. This is the current statement among the inhabitants of the vicinity, and I doubt not it is correct. This was the prevalent name at the period of the revolution and for many years after. Some writers, unaware of the derivation and meaning of the name spell it differently. Thus in Wilkinson's Memoirs it is spelled Davocote, No doubt Baron Riedesel, on inquiring the origin or signification of this name, was told it meant dove's house, and he, imperfectly acquainted with our language, and supposing it to be the name of a person, and writing it as he understood it to be pronounced, entered it in his journal, Dovegat's house."
I am inclined, however, to think that the word is a compound from the Dutch words doof or doovee, dull, and gat, hole, in other words a kind of Sleepy hollow. Riedesel probably gives the name to the house not from a person of that name living in it, but from the place, i.e., the house at Dovogat.
heard calling the men to arms, but although in such close proximity, the invading army knew not whence the sounds came, nor in what strength he was posted. Indeed, it does not seem that up to this time, Burgoyne had sent off eclaireurs or scouting parties to discover the situation of the enemy. Now, however, he mounted his horse to attend to it himself, taking with him, a strong body guard, consisting of the four regiments of Specht and Hesse-Hanau with six heavy pieces of ordnance, and two hundred workmen to construct bridges and roads. This was the party, with which he proposed, "to scout, and if occasion served," these were his words, " to attack the rebels on the spot." This remarkable scouting party moved with such celerity, as to accomplish two and a half miles the first day, 1 when in the evening, the entire army, which had followed on, encamped at Sword's house, within five miles of the American lines. 2
1 A New Hampshire regiment, while endeavoring to head off Clinton and save Albany, marched forty miles from Saratoga (Schuylerville), in fourteen hours and forded the Mohawk below Cohoes falls. Belknap's New Hampshire. Col. Otho Williams marched forty miles on the 18th of November, 1781. Bancroft, x, 473. Tarleton rode seventy miles in twenty-four hours, destroying public stores on the way. Idem. And Cornwallis, in marching order, pursued Greene's lightened retreating troops at the rate of thirty miles in a day.
2 The site of Sword's house is on the south side of a spring brook, about fifty yards west of the Hudson river, and a few rods north of the south line of the town of Saratoga. It may be readily found from being about thirty rods north of a highway leading from the Hudson river road westerly, which highway is the first one north of Wilbur's basin. This highway was nearly the same at tile time of General Burgoyne's visit in 1777 as now. All traces of the house are now (1877) obliterated save a few bricks and a slight depression in the soil where was the cellar.
The night of the 18th passed quietly, the scouts that had finally been sent out, haying-returned without discovering a trace of the enemy. Indeed, it is a noteworthy fact that throughout the entire campaign, Burgoyne was never able to obtain accurate knowledge, either of the position of the Americans or of their movements ; whereas, all his own plans were publicly known long before they were officially given out in orders. "I observe," writes Mrs. General Riedesel at this time, " that the wives of the officers are beforehand informed of all the military plans. Thus the Americans anticipate all our movements, and expect us whenever we arrive , and this, of course, injures our affairs."
On the morning of the 19th, a further advance was again ordered, an advance which prudence dictated should be made with the greatest caution. The army was now in the immediate vicinity of an alert and thoroughly aroused enemy, of whose strength they knew as little as of the country." Notwithstanding this, the army not only was divided into three columns, each marching half a mile apart, but at 11 o'clock, a cannon, fired as a
" At this encampment (Sword's house) several of our men having proceeded
into a field of potatoes, were surprised by a party of the enemy that killed
about thirty of them. They might without difficulty have been surrounded and
taken prisoners, but the Americans could not resist the opportunity of shedding
blood."-Lamb's Memoirs. Dublin, 1811.
signal for the start, echoed through the still aisles of the primeval forest, informing the Americans of the position and forward movement of the British.
The left column, which followed the river-road, consisted of four German regiments, and the 47th British, the latter constituting a guard for the bateaux. These troops, together with all the heavy artillery and baggage, were under the command of General Riedesel. The right column, made up of the English Grenadiers and Light Infantry, the 24th Brunswick Grenadiers, and the light battalion, with eight 6 pounders under Lieut. Col. Breymann, was led by General Fraser, and followed the present road from Quaker springs to Stillwater, on the heights. The centre column, also on the heights, and mid-way between the left and right wings, consisted of the 9th, 20th, 21st and 62d regiments, with six 6 pounders, and was led by Burgoyne in person. The front and flanks of the centre and right columns were protected by Canadians, Provincials, and Indians. The march was exceedingly tedious, as frequently new bridges had to be built, and trees cut down and removed.
About one o'clock, in the afternoon Colonel Morgan, who with his sharpshooters had been detached to watch the movements of the British and harass them, owing to the dense woods, unexpectedly fell in with the centre column, and sharply attacked it. Whereupon Fraser, on the right, wheeled his troops, and coming up forced Morgan to give way. A regiment being ordered to the assistance of the latter, whose numbers had been sadly scattered by the vigor of the attack, the battle was renewed with spirit. By four o'clock, the action had become general, Arnold, with nine continental regiments and Morgan's corps having completely engaged the whole force of Burgoyne and Fraser. The contest, accidentally begun in the first instance, now assumed the most obstinate and determined character, the soldiers often being engaged hand to hand. The ground being mostly covered with woods embarrassed the British in the use of their field artillery, while it gave a corresponding advantage to Morgan's sharpshooters. The artillery fell into the hands of the Americans at every alternate discharge, but the latter could neither turn the guns upon the enemy, nor bring them off. The wood prevented the last, and the want of a match the first, as the lint-stock was invariably carried away, and the rapidity of the transitions did not allow the Americans time to provide one.
Meanwhile General Riedesel, who had kept abreast of the other two columns and had reached the present site of Wilbur's basin, hearing the firing, on his own responsibility, and guided only by the sound of the cannon, hastened at five o'clock with two regiments through the woods to the relief of the commander-in-chief. When he arrived on the scene, the Americans were posted on a corner of the woods, having on their right flank a deep muddy ravine, the brink of which had been rendered inaccessible by stones and underbrush. In front of this corner of the forest, and entirely surrounded by dense woods, was a vacant space, on which the English were drawn up in line. The struggle was for the possession of this clearing, known then, as it is to this day, as Freeman's farm. It had already been in possession of both parties, and now served as a support for the left flank of the English right wing, the right flank being covered by the troops of Fraser and Breymann. The Continentals had, for the sixth time, hurled fresh troops against the three British regiments, the 20th, 21st and 62d. The guns on this wing were already silenced, there being no more ammunition ; and the artillerymen having been either killed or wounded. These three regiments had lost half their men, and now formed a small band surrounded by heaps of the dead and dying. The timely arrival of the German general alone saved the army of Burgoyne from total rout. Charging on the double-quick with fixed bayonets, he repelled the Americans, and Fraser and Breymann were preparing to follow up the advantage, when they were recalled by Burgoyne and reluctantly forced to retreat. General Schuyler, referring to this in his diary, says : " Had it not been for this order of the British general, the Americans would have been if not defeated, at least held in such check as to have made it a drawn battle, and an opportunity afforded the British to collect much provision of which he [sic] stood sorely in need." The British officers also shared the same opinion. Fraser and Riedesel severely criticised the order, telling its author in plain terms that he did not know how to avail himself of his advantages." Nor was this feeling confined to the officers ; the privates gave vent to their dissatisfaction against their general in loud expressions of scorn, as he rode down the line. This reaction was the more striking, because they had placed the utmost confidence in his capacity at the beginning of the expedition. They were also still more confirmed in their dislike, by the general belief that he was addicted to drinking. Neither does this seem to have been owing to an unwillingness to fight or a lack of esprit; for when, subsequently, the men were reduced to short rations, " they put up," says Riedesel, " with this, as also with all the fatiguing labors, duties and night watches, with the greatest patience and perseverance."
In connection with this battle, the heroism of Lieutenant Hervey, of the 62d regiment, and nephew to the adjutant general of the same name, should not be forgotten. Early in the action he received several wounds, and was repeatedly ordered off the field by Lieutenant Colonel Anstruther , but his enthusiasm would not allow him to leave his brave comrades as long as he could stand. Presently, however, a ball striking one of his legs, his removal became a necessity, and while he was being borne away, another wounded him mortally. In this situation, the surgeon recommended him to take a powerful dose of opium if he would avoid seven or eight hours of dreadful torture. To this he consented, and When his colonel entered the tent with Major Harnage, who were both wounded, they asked whether he had any affairs they could settle for him ? His reply was, that being a minor, every thing was already adjusted , but he had one request, which he retained just life enough to utter; and, with the words, "Tell my uncle I died like a soldier," expired.
Night put an end to the conflict. The Americans withdrew within their lines, and the British and German forces bivouacked on the battle field, the Brunswickers composing in part the right wing. Both parties claimed the victory, yet as the intention of the Americans was not to advance, but to maintain their position, and that of the English, not to maintain theirs, but to gain ground, it is easy to see which had the advantage of the day, The loss of the former was between 300 and 400, including Colonels Adams and Coburn, and of the latter from 600 to 1000-Captain Jones of the artillery, an officer of great merit, being among the killed. The ground afforded on the following day a scene truly distressing. The bodies of the slain, thrown together into one receptacle, were scarcely covered with the soil ; and the only tribute of respect to fallen officers was, to bury them by themselves without throwing them into the common grave. In this battle an unusual number of youthful officers fell on the British side, as their army abounded at this time with young men of high respectability, who after several years of peace anterior to the Revolution, were attracted to the profession of arms. Three subalterns of the 20th regiment on this occasion, the oldest of whom did not exceed the age of seventeen years, were buried together. 1
It was the intention of General Burgoyne, the morning following this engagement, to attack the Americans on their left with his entire force. His sick and wounded were disposed of at the river ; the army was drawn up in order of battle , and he waited only for the dispersion of a heavy fog, when General Fraser observed to him that the grenadiers and light infantry, who were to lead the attack, appeared fatigued by the duty of the preceding day, and that if he would suspend the operation until the next morning (the 21st), he believed they would enter into the combat with greater spirit. Burgoyne yielded
1 " The morning after the action, I visited the wounded prisoners who had not been dressed, and discovered a charming youth not more than sixteen years old lying among them ; feeble, faint, pale and stiff in his gore : the delicacy of his aspect and the quality of his clothing attracted my attention, and on enquiry, I found he was an Ensign Phillips. He told me he had fallen by a wound in his leg or thigh, and as he lay on the ground was shot through the body by an army follower, a murderous villain, who owned the deed, but I forget his name. The moans of the hapless youth affected me to tears, I raised him from the straw on which he lay, took him in my arms and removed him to a tent, where every comfort was provided and every attention paid to him , but his wounds were mortal, and he expired on the 21st. When his name was first mentioned to General Gates, he exclaimed 'just heaven ! he may be the nephew of "my wife,' but the fact was otherwise."-Wilkinson.
to this suggestion ; the orders were countermanded and the troops returned to their quarters. 1 Meanwhile, in the course of the night, a spy reached the British general with a letter from Sir Henry Clinton, advising him of his intended ascent of the Hudson for his relief. Thereupon, he resolved to postpone the meditated attack and await the arrival of Clinton at Albany. 2
1 "If General Burgoyne," says Wilkinson, "had attacked us on the 20th or 21st of September, as he intended, his force would have enabled him to lead a column of 5000 rank and file against our left, where the ground was roost favorable to his approach , whilst a point on our right, by the plain near the river, would have kept every man at his station within our extended lines , and under such advantages on his side, it is highly probable he would have gained a decisive victory, and taken our artillery and baggage , for although our numbers in rank and file exceeded 6000, the sick, casualties, and contingencies of the service, would not have left us more than 5500 men for defence, and from the formation of our camp, by penetrating on the left he would have cut off our right. We were badly fitted to defend works or meet the close encounter; the late hour at which the action closed the day before, the fatigue of officers and men, and the defects of our organization had prevented the left wing from drawing ammunition, and we could not boast of a bayonet for every three muskets. Presumptions as well as blind must be he who presumes to ascribe this critical combination of circumstances to mere accident, or the caprice of fortune !"
2 That Burgoyne, however, believed that he was whipped by the result of the action of the 19th is evident from this fact. In the library of the late John Carter Brown of Providence, R. I., there is a volume of Stedman with marginal notes in the handwriting of Sir Henry Clinton, who once owned the book. In that portion of the work where Stedman speaks of the failure of Burgoyne, Clinton writes as follows : " If General Burgoyne had not been sure of a cooperation, 'tis pity he ever passed the Hudson. Sir H. Clinton, thinking General Burgoyne might want some cooperation (though he had not called for it in any of his letters), offered in his of the 12th of September, to make an attempt on the forts as soon as the expected reinforcements should arrive from Europe. General Burgoyne fought the battle of Saratoga on the 19th, and on the 21st tells General Clinton in answer, that no attempt, or even the menace of an attempt, -would be of use." This discovery was made by a writer (J. C. S ) of Providence, who sent the account to the N. Y. Tribune, in Aug., 1875.
Accordingly, the day that was to have witnessed a renewal of the action of the 19th, Burgoyne devoted to the laying out of a fortified camp. He made the site of the late battle his extreme right, and extended his intrenchments across the high ground to the river. For the defence of the right wing, a redoubt (known as the Great redoubt), was thrown up in the late battle-field, near the corner of the woods that had been occupied by the Americans during the action, on the eastern edge of the ravine. 1 The defence of this position was intrusted to the corps of Fraser. The reserve corps of Breymann were posted on an eminence on the western side of the ravine for the protection of the right flank of Fraser's division. 2 The right wing of the English (Hamilton's) was placed in close proximity to the left wing of
1 This redoubt-destined to be the scene of the hottest part of-the engagement of the 7th of October, was three rods south of the present barnyard of Mr. Ebenezer Leggett, whose house-as mentioned in a preceding note - stands on the old clearing of Freeman, the site of the first action of the 19th of September. Balls and skeletons are still, even at this late day, picked up on this spot. I myself, once, while following the plow of a farmer, picked up four grape shot on the site of this redoubt.
2 The traces of Breymann's entrenchments are yet to be seen very plainly. They lie about twenty rods northwest of Mr. Leggett's house. The place is considerably elevated by nature, and is known among the farmers in the vicinity as Burgoyne's hill. Properly, it should be Breymann's hill. It was at the northeast corner of this eminence that Arnold was wounded in the action of the 7th of October.
Fraser, thus extending the line on the left to the river bank where were placed the hospital and supply trains. The entire front was protected by a deep muddy ditch, running nine hundred paces in front of the outposts of the left wing. This ditch ran in a curve around the right wing of the English brigade, thereby separating Fraser's corps from the main body.
General Burgoyne made his head-quarters between the English and German troops on the heights at the left wing. 1 This was the new camp at Freeman's farm.
1 The Taylor house (Smith's house), has often been mistaken for the head-quarters of Burgoyne. The Brunswick Journal, however, is very explicit in stating that "Burgoyne camped between the English and German troops of Riedesel on the heights at the left wing." This statement, moreover, receives additional confirmation in the following incident. On one of my visits to the battle-ground, I pointed out to Mr. Wilbur (on whose land we were then standing), the place designated by the Brunswick Journal as Burgoyne's head-quarters. " That," exclaimed Mr. Wilbur, " explains what I have often wondered at." He then stated that when he first plowed up that particular spot, he was accustomed to find great quantities of old gin and wine bottles, and that until now, he had often been puzzled to know "how on earth those bottles came there."-See Map.
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