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.
LETTER OF GENERAL EBENEZER MATTOON, A PARTICIPANT IN THE BATTLE, WITH NOTES BY THE AUTHOR.1
The following account of the battle at Satatoga is from the pen of E. Mattoon, Esq., of Amherst, Mass. He was an officer in the army, and took a very active part in that memorable contest " which tried men's souls." The description is given in lively colors, and contains some important facts which have never before
1 For this valuable letter from the Saratoga Sentinel of November 10th, 1835, I am indebted to the courtesy of my friend Mr. Lyman C. Draper of Madison, Wis., who first directed my attention to it.
published. It cannot fail to be read with deep interest.
AMHERST, MASS., Oct. 7, 1835.
PHILIP SCHUYLER, ESQ.
Sir: Yours of the 17th ult., requesting me to give you a detailed account of what I recollect of the battle at Saratoga, surrender of Gen. Burgoyne, etc., was duly received.
When I left home on a visit to my friend Frost, at Union Village, it was my intention to have visited the ground on which the army of Gen. Burgoyne was met and compelled to surrender. But the absence of Mr. Frost prevented. Had I known, however, that a descendant of that venerable patriot and distinguished commander, Gen. Schuyler, was living on the ground, I should have procured means to pay him my respects.
Gen. Gates, indeed, obtained the honor of capturing Burgoyne and his army, but let me tell you, sir, that it was more through the wise and prudent counsels of your brave and distinguished ancestor, and the energy and intrepidity of Generals Lincoln and Arnold, than through the ability and foresight of Gates.
In my narrative, I shall confine myself to what transpired from the 7th to the 17th day of October, 1777, both days included. This will necessarily lead me to correct the statement of Gen. Wilkinson and a Mr. Buel 1 in your neighborhood, respecting the fall of Gen. Fraser. By confounding the two accounts of the 19th
1 For an account of Mr. Buel see Prof. Silliman's visit to the battle ground in the Appendix.
of September, and 7th of October, neither of them is correctly described.
The action of the 19th of September, commenced about ten o'clock, A.M., and continued during the day, each army alternately advancing and retiring. On that day. Col. Morgan posted a number of his riflemen to take off the officers as they appeared out of the woods, but no such posting of riflemen occurred on the 7th of October, Gen. Wilkinson to the contrary notwithstanding.
On the 7th of October the American army was posted, their right wing resting on the North river, and their left extending on to Bemis's heights. Generals Nixon and Glover commanding on the right, Lincoln, the centre, and Morgan and Larned the left.1 The British army, with its left resting on the river, commanded by Phillips, their centre by Gen. Redhiesel, 2 and the extreme right
1 "The position thus selected lay between the Hudson river on the east and Saratoga lake only six miles to the west; the high lands west of the river valley were cut by three deep ravines leading easterly, forming strong natural barriers against an approaching army; the whole country in this vicinity, was a wilderness, and the high ground approaches so near the river there, that it was the most advantageous point in the whole valley to dispute the passage of the British army moving from the north. Such was the place selected by the experienced Polish patriot Koscuisko, and approved by Gen. Gates, as the Thermopylae of the struggle for American freedom."- General E. F. Bullard's Centennial Address at Schuylerville, July 4, 1876.
2 Ried-esel, pronounced Re-day-zel, with accent on second syllable. The Cockneys in the British army pronounced it Red-hazel - whence General Mattoon's spelling of it is doubtless derived.- author.
extending to the heights, was commanded by Lord Balcarras 1 where he was strongly fortified. Their light troops were under the command of Gen. Fraser and Lord Auckland.2
About one o'clock of this day, two signal guns were , fired on the left of the British army which indicated a movement. Our troops were immediately put under arms, and the lines manned. At this juncture Gens; Lincoln and Arnold rode with great speed towards the enemy's lines. While they were absent, the picket guards on both sides were engaged near the river. In about half an hour, Generals Lincoln and Arnold returned to headquarters, where many of the officers collected to hear the report, General Gates standing at the door.
Gen. Lincoln says, "Gen. Gates, the firing at the river is merely a feint; their object is your left. A strong force of 1500 men are marching circuitously, to plant themselves on yonder height. That point must be defended, or your camp is in danger." Gates replied, " I will send Morgan with his riflemen, and Dearborn's infantry."
Arnold says, "That is nothing; you must send a strong force." Gates replied, "Gen. Arnold, I have nothing for you to do; you have no business here." Arnold's reply was reproachful and severe.
1 Balcarras, it may be remembered, was the officer who got into a serious altercation with Arnold in England - refusing to speak or recognize him.
Gen. Lincoln says, "You must send a strong force to support Morgan and Dearborn, at least three regiments."
Two regiments from Gen. Lamed's brigade, and one from Gen. Nixon's, were then ordered to that station, and to defend it, at all hazards. Generals Lincoln and Arnold immediately left the encampment, and proceeded to the enemy's lines.
In a few minutes, Capt. Furnival's company of artillery, in which I was lieutenant, was ordered to march towards the fire, which had now opened upon our picket in front, the picket consisting of about 300 men. While we were marching, the whole line, up to our picket or front, was engaged. We advanced to a height of ground which brought the enemy in view, and opened our fire. But the enemy's guns, eight in number, and much heavier than ours, rendered our position untenable.
We then advanced into the line of infantry. Here Lieutenant. M'Lane Joined me. In our front there was a field of corn, in which the Hessians were secreted. On our advancing towards the Corn field, a number of men rose and fired upon us. M'Lane was severely wounded. While I was removing him from the field, the firing still continued without abatement.
During this time, a tremendous firing was heard on our left. We poured in upon them our canister shot, as fast as possible, and the whole line, from left to right, became engaged. The smoke was very dense, and no movements could be seen; but as it soon arose, our infantry appeared to be slowly retreating, and the Hessians slowly advancing, their officers urging them on with their hangers.
Just at this moment, an elderly man, with a long hunting gun, coming up, I said to him, " Daddy, the infantry mustn't leave, I shall be cut to pieces." He replied, " I'll give them another gun." The smoke then rising again, several officers, led by a general, appeared moving to the northward, in rear of the Hessian line. The old man, at that instant, discharged his gun, and the general officer pitched forward on the neck of his horse, and instantly they all wheeled about, the old man observing, " I have killed that officer, let him be who he will." I replied, "you have, and it is a general officer, and by his dress I believe it is Fraser." While they were turning about, three of their horses dropped down ; but their further movements were then concealed by the smoke.
Here I will offer the reasons why I think this officer was Gen. Fraser, and that he was killed by the shot of this old man. In the first place, the distance, by actual measurement, was within reach of a gun. For the next morning, a dispute arising about the distance, some contending that it was eight rods, and others fifteen, two respectable sergeants, both of whom have since been generals in the militia of Massachusetts, Boardman and Lazell, were selected to decide the dispute, by pacing the ground. They did so, and found the distance from the stump where the old man stood to the spot where the horses fell, just twelve rods. In the next place, the officer was shot through the body from left to right as was afterwards ascertained. Now from his relative position to the posted riflemen, he could not have been shot through in this direction, but they must have hit him in front. Moreover the riflemen could not have seen him, on account of the smoke in which he was enveloped.1
The troops continuing warmly engaged, Col. Johnson's regiment coming up, threw in a heavy fire, and compelled the Hessians to retreat. Upon this we advanced with a shout of victory. At the same time Auckland's corps gave way.
We proceeded but a short distance before we came upon four pieces of brass cannon, closely surrounded with the dead and dying; at a few yards further we came upon two more. Advancing a little further, we were met by a fire from the British infantry, which proved very fatal to one of Col. Johnson's companies, in which were killed one sergeant, one corporal, fourteen privates - and about twenty were wounded.
They advanced with a quick step, firing as they came on. We returned them a brisk fire of canister shot, not allowing ourselves time even to sponge our pieces. In a short time they ceased firing, and advanced upon us with trailed arms. At this juncture Arnold came up with a part of Brooks's regiment, and gave them a most deadly fire, which soon caused them to face about and retreat with a quicker step than they advanced.
1 Still, there seems no doubt that Murphy, by the orders of Morgan, shot Fraser; see Silliman's visit in the Appendix where he speaks of Morgan having told his friend, Hon. Richard Brent, to this effect.
The firing had now principally ceased on our left, but was brisk in front and on the right. At this moment, Arnold says to Col. Brooks (late governor of Massachusetts), " Let us attack Balcarras's works." Brooks replied, " No. Lord Auckland's detachment has retired there, we can't carry them." " Well, then, let us attack the Hessian lines." Brooks replies, " With all my heart." We all wheeled to the right, and advanced. No fire was received, except from the cannon, until we got within about eight rods, when we received a tremendous fire from the whole line. But a few of our men, however, fell. Still advancing, we received a second fire, in which a few men fell, and Gen. Arnold's horse fell under him, and he himself was wounded. He cried out, "Rush on, my brave boys." After receiving the third fire, Brooks mounted their works, swung his sword, and the men rushed into their works. When we entered the works, we found Col. Bremen dead, surrounded with a number of his companions, dead or wounded. We still pursued slowly ; the fire, in the meantime, decreasing. Nightfall now put an end to this day's bloody contest. During the day, we had taken eight cannon, and broken the centre of the enemy's lines.
We were ordered to rest until relieved from the camps. The gloom of the night, the groans and shrieks of the wounded and dying, and the horrors of the whole scene baffle all description.
Under cover of this night (the 7th) the British army changed their position, so that it became necessary to reconnoitre on the ground.1 While Gen. Lincoln was doing this, he was severely wounded, so that his active services were lost to the army during that campaign. A powerful rain commenced about 14 o'clock, which continued without abatement till the morning of the 9th. In this time, information came that Gen. Burgoyne had removed his troops to Saratoga. At 9 o'clock A.M., of October 8th, Captain Furnival received orders to march to the river, to cross the floating bridge, and repair to the fording place, opposite Saratoga, where we arrived at dusk. There we found Gen. Bailey of New Hampshire with about 900 men, erecting a long range of fires, to indicate the presence of a large army. The British troops had covered the opposite heights with their fires.
In the early part of the evening Col. Moseley arrived with his regiment of Massachusetts militia, when our company was directed by Gen. Bailey to make a show of our field pieces at the river. We soon extinguished their lights. Then we were ordered to pass Battenkill river, and erect works there, during the night. In the morning we perceived a number of officers on the stairs, and on the east side of the house, on the hill, a little north
1 During a retreat, a " Mr. Willard, residing near the foot of the mountain opposite the battle ground, by night would display signals from its top by different lights, in such manner as from time to time to give the Americans the location and movements of the British army. That mountain is plainly visible from Albany and Fort Edward. It has ever since been known by the name of " Willard's mountain " That is certainly one of the earliest systems of telegraphing known to have been put in practice.
of the Battenkill river, apparently surveying our situation and works.
My captain being sick at the time, I levelled our guns, and with such effect as to disperse them. We took the house to be their head-quarters. 1 We continued our fire till a nine or twelve pounder was brought to bear upon us, and rendered our works useless. Next we were ordered to repair, in haste, to Fort Edward, to defend the fording place. Col. Moseley's regiment accompanied us. Some slight works were thrown up by us, and while thus employed, a number of British officers appeared on the opposite side of the river. We endeavored to salute them according to their rank. They soon disappeared.
1 This was the house, mentioned in the text, as the one in which Riedesel was stationed. Speaking of this house, Gen. Bullard, in his centennial address says: At that time this house belonged to the Lansing family, of Albany and was probably occupied by them as a summer residence. It was deserted before the British army arrived from the north in September. It was a two story house, having a gable or French roof, fronting east with a hall in the middle and a room at each end. One of the old rafters and the plank of the partition, each shattered by a cannon ball, are still carefully preserved on the spot by Mrs. Marshall. She has kindly placed in my hands a gold piece, found by Samuel Marshall on those premises about fifty years ago, which is stamped, " Georgius in, Dei Gratia," with his profile on the one side, and on the other the British crown, 1776. This was evidently a coin lost by the officers in 1777." The house stands a short distance from the road on a gentle eminence, directly opposite the mouth of the Batten kil, and one mile north of the Fish kil. The room in which the wounded man lay, as narrated in the text, is the north east angle of the house, and the visitor can see on casting an eye across the river, that the cannon that did the mischief must have stood on a small eminence still visible on the eastern bank.
During this day (the 10th) we captured fifty Indians, and a large number of Canadians and tories. We remained at Fort Edward till the morning of the 13th. Being then informed of the armistice which had been agreed upon, we were ordered to return to our position upon the Battenkill and repair our works. Here we remained till the morning of the 17th, when we received orders to repair to Gen. Gates's head quarters on the west side of the river.
As we passed along we saw the British army piling (not stacking) their arms ; the piles of arms extending from Schuyler's creek northward nearly to the house on the hill before mentioned. The range of piles ran along the ground west of the road then traveled, and east of the canal as, I am informed, it now runs.
Just below the island we passed the river, and came to Gen. Gates's marquee, situated on a level piece of ground, from 130 to 150 rods south of Schuyler's creek. A little south and west of this there is a rising ground, on which our army was posted, in order to appear to the best advantage. A part of it was also advantageously drawn upon the east side of the river. About noon on the 17th, Gen. Burgoyne, with a number of his officers, rode up near to the marquee, in front of which Gen. Gates was sitting, attended with many of his officers. The sides of the marquee were rolled up, so that all that was transacted might be seen. Gen. Burgoyne dismounted and approached Gen. Gates, who rose and stepped forward to meet him. Gen. Burgoyne then delivered up his sword to Gen. Gates, who received it in his left hand, at the same time extending his right hand to take the right hand of Gen. Burgoyne.
After a few minutes conversation, Gen. Gates returned the sword to Gen. Burgoyne, who received it in the most graceful and gentlemanly manner. The rest of Burgoyne's officers then delivered up their swords, and had them restored to them likewise. They then all repaired to the table and were seated; and while dining, the prisoners were passing by. 1
1 Our favorite Yankee Doodle was also here first adopted as the hymn of freedom. Although some four verses of it were composed by a British surgeon about twenty years earlier at East Albany to ridicule the Connecticut brigade which then appeared under Col. Thomas Fitch, we do not find that it was ever adopted by our side earlier than October, 1777. After the British army had stacked their arms in Fort Hardy, October 17, they crossed Fish creek and passed south through the long lines of the American army. As our victorious host did not feel like insulting a fallen foe it was suggested that a lively tune be played for their consolation, and by common consent, the melodious Yankee Doodle was given by the whole American lines, while the rank and file of the British were passing between them. Unless some other locality shall prove an older title, you can justly claim that our famous Yankee Doodle was first sung in this valley, as the national tune of free America. The 4th Connecticut regiment did gallant service in the Revolutionary war at White Plains, Trenton and Saratoga, and Andrew Fitch, a son of Col. Thomas Fitch, was a lieut. col. in that regiment and probably had the pleasure of hearing that tune under different circumstances, from those under which his father heard it in derision twenty years earlier.
After they had all passed by, a number of us went search of a gun which was upon a carriage the day previous to the 17th, near what was called the Hessian burying ground. But the tracks of the carriage were so confused, and the stench from the dead bodies was so : in offensive, that the search was discontinued.
I have replied to your inquiries, as far as my recollection extends. I should
be very happy to meet you, and spend a day or two in walking over the battle
ground, and entering into other particulars concerning that engagement, which
however, are of minor importance.
With much esteem,
I am, dear sir, yours,
Ebenezer Mattoon was born at Amherst, Mass., Aug. 19, 1755, and died there
Sept. 17, 1843. The son of a farmer, he graduated at Dartmouth College in
1776, and then joined the artillery company at the battle of Saratoga, and
left the service with the rank of major. He was a delegate from Amherst to
the conventions, and was several times a member of the legislature. From 1797
to 1816 major general 4th division; adjutant general of the state 1816; state
senator 1795-6; 20 years sheriff of Hampshire; M.C. 1801-3; and in 1820, although
blind, was a member of the state constitutional convention. He commanded the
A. & H. Artillery company in 1817. Gen. Mattoon was a scientific farmer.--Drake's
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