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.
FIGHT AT DIAMOND ISLAND, 1 AND AN INCIDENT
OF BURGOYNE'S CAMPAIGN.
On page 54 mention is made of the British army hearing shouting in the American camp, which proved to be rejoicing at the capture of some bateaux, and a part of the 53d regiment of the English. It was at this time, Sept. 24, 1777, that the fight at Diamond island near the head of Lake George occurred. Burgoyne on pushing south from Skenesborough had left small garrisons at Ticonderoga, Fort George and Diamond island; there being at the latter post, particularly, a large accumulation. Seizing the opportunity thus afforded. General Lincoln, acting under the direction of the commander-in-chief, resolved, if possible, to break Burgoyne's line of communication and capture his supplies. Col. John Brown was accordingly sent with a force to attack Ticonderoga. Meeting with but partial success in this enterprise, he returned by way of Lake George ; and it was while on his way up the lake that the fight at Diamond island occurred.
A recent writer has taken pains to gather up all the
1 So called from the innumerable beautiful crystals which are there found. Silliman, who was here in 1819, says: "The crystals are hardly surpassed by any in the world for transparency and perfection of form. They are, as usual, the six-sided prism, and are frequently terminated at both ends by six-sided pyramids. These last of course, must be found loose, or, at least, not adhering to any rocks , those which are broken off have necessarily only one pyramid."-SilLiman's Travels, p. 153.
" During the events stated above, an attempt was made against Ticonderoga by an army assembed under Major-General Lincoln, who found means to march with a considerable corps from Huberton undiscovered, while another column of his force passed the mountains Skenesborough and Lake George, and on the morning of the 18th of September a sudden and general attack was made upon the carrying place at Lake-George, Sugar-Hill, Ticonderoga, and Mount-Independence. The sea officers commanding the armed sloop stationed to defend the carrying place, as also some of the officers commanding at the post of Sugar-Hill and at the Portage, were surprised, and a considerable part of four companies of the 53d regiment, were made prisoners, a block-house, commanded by Lieutenant Lord of the 53d, was the only post on that side that had time to make use of their arms, and they made a brave desence till cannon taken from the surprised vessel was brought against them.
" After stating and lamenting so fatal a want of vigilance, I have to inform your Lordship of the satisfactory events which followed.
" The enemy having twice summoned Brigadier General Powell, and received such answer as became a gallant officer entrusted with so important a post, and having tried during the course of four days several attacks, and being repulsed in all, retreated without having done any considerable damage.
" Brigadier General Powell from whose report to me I extract this relation, gives great commendations to the regiment of Prince Frederick, and the other troops statloned at Mount-Independence, The Brigadier also mentions with great applause the behaviour of Captain Taylor of the 21st regiment, who was accidentally there on his route to the army from the hospital, and Lieutenant Beecroft of the 24th regiment, who with the artificers in arms defended an important battery." 1
documents and throw light: on Col. Baum's attacks on Ticonderoga and Diamond island, and we quote from him as follows:
" Since the printed accounts of the attack upon Ticonderoga are almost as meagre as those of the struggle at the island, we will here give the official report, which is likewise to be found among the Gates Papers, now in the possession of the Historical Society of New York, prefacing the report, however, with the English statement of Burgoyne.
" In the course of a vindication of his military policy, Gen. Burgoyne writes as follows;
North end of lake George landing.
" thursday Sept. 10th 1777
" Sir : With great fatigue after marching all last night I arrived at this place at the break of day, after the best disposition of the men, I could make, immediately began the attack, and in a few minutes, carried the place. I then without any loss of time detached a considerable part of my men to the mills, where a greater number of the enemy were posted, who also were soon made prisoners, a small number of whom having taken possession of a block house in that Vicinity were with more difficulty brought to submission ; but at a sight of a Cannon they surrendered. During this season of success, Mount Defiance also fell into our hands. I have taken possession of the old trench lines at Ticonderoga, and have tent a flag demanding the surrender of Ty: and mount independence in strong and peremptory terms. I have had as yet no information of the event of Col. Johnsons attack on the mount. My lots of men in these several actions are not more than 3 or 4 killed and 5 wounded, the enemy's lots: is less. I find myself in possession of 293 prisoners. Viz. 2 captains, 9 subs. 2 Commissaries non Commissioned officers and privates 143. British 119, Canadians 18 artificers ?? and retook more than 100 of our men. total 193, exclusive of the prisoners retaken.-The watercraft I have taken, is 150 batteaus, below the falls on lake Champlain 50 above the falls including 17 gun boats and one armed sloop. arms equal to the number of prisoners. Some ammunition and many other things which I cannot now ascertain.
1 State of the Expedition from Canada, by Burgoyne, p. xciv. Ed. 1780.
" Such is Burgoyne's account of the attack upon Ticonderoga , next to which comes that of Col. Brown, who, for the second time in the course of his military experience, had an opportunity of exhibiting his valor in connection with the fort. His report to Gen. Lincoln runs as follows:
must not forget to mention a few Cannon which may be of great service to us.
Tho. my success has hitherto answered my most sanguine expectations, I cannot
promise myself great things, the events of war being of dubious in their nature,
but shall do my best to distress the enemy all in my power, having regard
to my retreat -There is but a small quantity of provisions at this place which
I think will necessitate my retreat in case we do not carry Ty and independence
- I hope you will use your utmost endeavor to give me assistance should I
need in crossing the lake &c - The enemy but a very small force at fort
George. Their boats are on an island about 14. miles from this guarded by
six companies, having artillery-I have much fear with respect to the prisoners,
being obliged to send them under a small guard - I am well informed that considerable
reinforcements is hourly expected at the lake under command of Sir John Johnson
- This minute received Gen. 1 Powals answer to my demand in these words, 'The
garrison intrusted to my charge I shall defend to the last.' Indeed I have
little hopes of putting him to the necessity of giving it up unless by the
force under Colonel Johnson.
" I am &
" Genl. Lincoln.1" JOHN BROWN."
" We now turn to the fight at Diamond island, giving first the English version, simply remarking as a preliminary, that the postcript of a letter addressed, by Jonas Fay to Gen. Gates, dated Bennngton, Sept. 22, 1777, is the following:
" By a person just arrived from Fort George-only 30 men are at that place and 2 Gun Boats anchor'd at a distance from land and that the enemy have not more than 3 weeks provision."2
"Writing from Albany after his surrender. Gen. Burgoyne says, under the date of Oct. 27th, that --" On the 24th instant, the enemy, enabled by the capture of the gun boats and bateaux which they had made after the surprise of the sloop, to embark upon Lake George, attacked Diamond Island in two divisions.
1 Gates papers, p. 154.
2 Ibid, p. 208.
" Captain Aubrey and two companies of the 47th regiment, had been posted at that island from the time the army passed the Hudson's River, as a better situation for the security of the stores at the south end of Lake George than Fort George, which is on the continent, and not tenable against artillery and numbers. The enemy were repulsed by Captain Aubrey with great lots, and pursued by the gunboats under his command to the east shore, where two of their principal vessels were retaken, together with all the cannon. They had just time to set fire to the other bateaux, and retreated over the mountains." 1
1 State of the Expedition from Canada, p. 53.
" This statement was based upon the report made by Lieut. Irwine, the commander at Lake George, whose communication appears to have fallen into the hands of Gates, at the surrender of Burgoyne.
Geo. Irwine, of the 47th, reports thus to Lieut, Francis Clark (Clerke), aid-de-camp
to Gen. Burgoyne:
" Fort George 24th Sept. 1777.
" I think it necessary to acquaint you for the information of General Buygoyne, that the enemy, to the amount of two or three hundred men came from Skenesborough to the carrying place near Ticonderoga and there took seventeen or eighteen Batteaus with Gunboats - Their design was first to attack the fort but considering they could not well accomplish it without cannon they desisted from that scheme, they were then resolved to attack Diamond Island (which Island Capt. Aubrey commands) and if they succeeded, to take this place, they began to attack the Island with cannon about 9 o'clock yesterday morning, I have the satisfaction to inform you that after a cannonading for near an hour and a half on both sides the enemy took to their retreat. Then was Gun boats sent in pursuit of them which occasioned the enemy to burn their Gun boats and Batteaus and made theirs escape towards Skenesborough in great confusion - we took one Gunboat from them with a twelve pounder in her and a good quantity of ammunition-we have heard there was a few killed and many wounded of them. There was not a man killed or hurt during the whole action of his Majesty's Troops. I have the honor to be Sir your most obedient and moft humble
" Geo Irwine Com at Fort George
" Lt 47th" 1
We next give the report of Col. Brown, who writes as follows, and not without
" Skeensboro Friday 11 o'clock, a m. Sept 26th 1777
" Dear Sir
" I this minute arrived at-this place by the way of Fort Ann, was induced to take this route on act of my Ignorance of the situation of every part of the continental Army ---
" On the 22d inst at 4 o'clk P.M. I set sail from the north end Lake George with 20 sail of Boats three of which were armed. Viz one small sloop mounting 3 guns. and 2 British Gun Boats having on Board the whole about 410 Men officers included with a Determined resolution to attack Diamond Island which lies within 5 miles Fort George at the break of Day the next Morning, but a very heavy storm coming on prevented - I arrived Sabbath Day point abt midnight where I tarried all night, during which time I [sic] small Boat in the fleet taken the Day before coming from Fort George, conducted by one Ferry lately a sutler in our army, I put Ferry on his Parole, but in the night he found Means to escape with his Boat, and informed the Enemy of our approach, on the 23d I advanced as far as 12 Mile island, the Wind continuing too high for an attack I suspended it until the Morning of the 24th at 9 o'clock at which time I advanced with the 3 armed Boats in front and the other Boats, I ordered to wing to the Right and left of Island to attempt a landing if practicable, and to support the Gun Boats in cafe they should need assistance, I was induced to make this experiment to find the strength of the Island as also to carry it if practicable-the enemy gave me the first fire which I returned in good earnest, and advanced as nigh as I thought prudent, I soon found that the enemy had been advised of our approach and well prepared for our reception having a great number of cannon well mounted with good Breast Works, I however approached within a small Distance giving the Enemy as hot a fire as in my Power, until the sloop was hulled between wind and Water and obliged to toe her off and one of the boats to damaged as I was obliged to quit her in the action. I had two men killed two Mortally wounded
1 Gates papers, p. 212.
And several others wounded in such Manner as I was obliged to leave them under the Care of the Inhabitants, who I had taken Prisoners giving them a sufficient reward for their services.
I Run my Boats up a Bay a considerable distance and burnt them with all the
Baggage that was not portable-The Enemy have on Diamond Island as near as
could be collected are about three hundred, and about 40 at Fort George with
orders if they are attacked to retreat to the Island - Gen. Borgoine has about
4 Weeks Provision with his army and no more, he is determined to cut his Road
through to Albany- at all events, for this I have the last authority, still
I think him under a small mistake-most of the Horses and Cattle taken at Ty
and thereabouts were left in the Woods. Gen Warner has put out a party in
quest of them.
" I am Dear Sr wishing you and the
" Main Army
" great Success your most obt
" huml Sert
" Gen. Lincoln " Jno BROWN
" NB You may Depend on it that after the British Army were supply with six Weeks provision which was two weeks from the Communication between Lake George and Fort Edward was ordered by Gen Burgoine to be stor'd and no passes given --- ;
" The attack on the Island continued with interruption 2 Hours." 1
Thus ended the fight at Diamond island , a fight which, if attended with better
success, might have perhaps hastened the surrender of Burgoyne, and resulted
in other advantages to the American arms. As it was, however, the British line of communication on Lake George was not broken, while the American leaders took good care to prevent this failure from reaching the public ear through the press. Thus Col. Brown's reports to Gen. Lincoln remained unpublished. They have now been brought out and put on permanent record, as interesting material for American history."
Gates Papers, p. 210.
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