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.
A VISIT TO THE BATTLE-GROUND IN 1827.
The following account of a visit to the field of Saratoga, on the fiftieth anniversary of that battle, viz:
October 17th, 1827, was written immediately afterward for the use of the late Col. William L. Stone, for his Life of Brant. The writer, the late venerable Samuel Woodruff, Esq., of Windsor (Conn.), was a participator in the battle:
WINDSOR, CONN., Oct. 31, 1827.
DEAR SIR :
You may remember when I had the pleasure to dine with you at New York, on the 14th inst., I had set out on a tour to Saratoga to gratify a desire I felt, and which had long been increasing, to view the battle-grounds at that place, and the spot on which the royal army under the command of General Burgoyne surrendered to General Gates on the 17th of October, 1777.
I thought it would add something to the interest of that view to me, to be there on the 17th, exactly half a century after that memorable event took place, You will excuse me for entering a little into the feelings of Uncle Toby respecting Dendermond in the compressed and hastily written journal I kept of my tour, especially as you will take into consideration that I had the honor to serve as a volunteer under General Gates part of that campaign, and was in the battle of the -7th of October.
I take the liberty to enclose you an extract of that part of my journal which embraces the principal object of my tour.
Oct. 17th. After a short stop in Troy, took another stage for Saratoga ; at Lansingburgh, a neat and handsome village, about three miles from Troy, crossed the Hudson on a covered bridge of excellent workmanship, over to Waterford (Old Half Moon point), another rich and flourishing village. Arrived at Fish creek in Saratoga at half past two P.M. through a beautiful, well cultivated interval of alluvial land on the west side of the Hudson - everything from Albany to this place wears the appearance of wealth and comfort. Put up at Mr. Barker's tavern. After dinner viewed the ruins of the British fortifications and head-quarters of Gen. Burgoyne. He kept his quarters for several days at a house, now standing and in good repair, about a mile north of Fish creek, on the west side of the road, owned by Mr. Busher, an intelligent farmer about seventy-five years of age. While Burgoyne held his headquarters at this house. Baron Riedesel, of the royal army, obtained leave of the commander-in-chief to place his lady the baroness and their three small children under the same protection, these were also accompanied by lady Ackland and some other ladies, wives of British officers. At that time some of the American troops were stationed on the east bank of the Hudson, opposite the house, in fair view of it, and within cannon-shot distance. Observing considerable moving of persons about the house, the Americans supposed it the rendezvous of the British officers, and commenced a brisk cannonade upon it; several shot struck and shattered the house. The baroness with her children fled into the cellar for safety, and placed herself and them at the northeast corner, where they were well protected by the cellar wall. A British surgeon by the name of Jones, having his leg broken by a cannon ball, was at this time brought in, and laid on the floor of the room which the baroness and the other ladies had just left. A cannon ball entered the house near the northeast corner of the room, a few inches above the floor, and passing through, broke and mangled the other leg of the poor surgeon. Soon after this he expired. Mr. Busher very civilly conducted me into the room, cellar, and other parts of the house, pointing out the places where the balls entered, etc. From hence I proceeded to, and viewed with very great interest, the spot where Gen. Burgoyne, attended by his staff, presented his sword to Gen. Gates ; also, the ground on which the arms, etc., of the royal army were stacked and piled. This memorable place is situated on the flat, north side of Fish creek, about forty rods west of its entrance into the Hudson, and through which the Champlain canal now passes,
Contiguous to this spot is the N. W. angle of old Fort Hardy, a military work thrown up and occupied by the French, under Gen. Dieskau, in the year 1755. The tines of intrenchment embrace, as I should judge, about fifteen acres of ground. The outer works on the north side of Fish creek, and east on the west bank of the Hudson. Human bones, fragments of fire-arms, swords, balls, tools, implements, broken crockery, etc., etc., are frequently picked up on this ground.
In excavating the earth for the Champlain canal, which passes a few rods west of this fort, such numbers of human skeletons were found as render it highly probable this was the cemetery of the French garrison.
About twenty or thirty rods west of the aqueduct for the canal over Fish creek, stood Gen. Schuyler's mills, which were burned by order of Gen. Burgoyne.
Gen. Schuyler's dwelling-house also, and his other buildings, standing on a beautiful area a little southeast of the mills on the south side of the creek, suffered the same fate. The mills have been rebuilt and are now in operation, at the same place where the former stood. The grandson of Gen. Schuyler now lives in a house erected on the site of the former dwelling of his father- a covered bridge across the creek adjoining the mills.
I cannot, in this place, omit some short notices of Gen. P. Schuyler. It seems he was commander-in-chief of the northern army until the latter part of August, 1777, at which time he was superseded by Gen. Gates.
I remember at that time there was some excitement in the public mind, and much dissatisfaction expressed on account of that measure ; and with my limited means of knowledge, I have never been able to learn what good reason induced his removal. Few men in our country at that time ranked higher than Gen. Schuyler in all the essential qualities of the patriot, the gentleman, the soldier, and scholar. True to the cause of liberty, he made sacrifices which few were either able or willing to bear. The nobility of soul he possessed, distinguished him from ordinary men, and pointed him out as one deserving of public confidence.
At the surrender of the royal army, he generously invited Gen. Burgoyne, his suite, and several of the principal officers, with their ladies, to his house at Albany, where, at his own expense, he fed and lodged them for two or three weeks with the kindest hospitality.
This is the man, who, a few days before, had suffered immense loss in his mills and other buildings at Fish creek, burned by order of the same Burgoyne who had now become his guest.
Respecting Gen. Gates, I will only say finis coronatopus.
Oct. 18th. At seven A.M., started on foot to view some other and equally interesting places connected with the campaign of 1777. Three miles and a half south of Fish creek, called at the house of a Mr. Smith, in which Gen. Fraser died of wounds received in the battle of the 7th October, and near which house, in one of the British redoubts, that officer was buried. This house then stood by the road on the west margin of the intervale, at the foot of the rising ground. A turnpike road having since been constructed, running twenty or thirty rods east of the old road, the latter has been discontinued, and Mr. Smith has drawn the house and placed it on the west side of the turnpike.
Waiving, for the present, any farther notices of this spot, I shall attempt a concise narrative of the two hostile armies for a short period anterior to the great battle of the 7th of October.
The object of the British general was to penetrate as far as Albany, at which place, by concert, he was to meet Sir Henry Clinton, then with a fleet and army, lying at New York. In the early part of September, Gen. Burgoyne had advanced with his army from Fort Edward, and crossed the Hudson with his artillery, baggage wagons, etc., on a bridge of boats, and intrenched the troops on the highlands in Saratoga. On the 1910 of September they left their intrenchments, and moved south by a slow and cautious march toward the American camp, which was secured by a line of intrenchments and redoubts on Bemis's heights, running from west to east about half a mile in length, terminating at the east end on the west side of the intervale.
Upon the approach of the royal army, the American forces sallied forth from their camp, and met the British about a mile north of the American lines. A severe conflict ensued, and many brave officers and men fell on both sides. The ground on which this battle was fought was principally 'covered with standing wood. This circumstance somewhat embarrassed the British troops in the use of their field artillery, and and afforded some advantage to the Americans, particularly the riflemen under the command of the brave Col. Morgan, who did great execution. Night, which has so often and so kindly interposed to stop the carnage of conflicting hosts, put an end to the battle. Neither party claimed a victory. The royal army withdrew in the night, leaving the field and their slain, with some of their wounded, in possession of the Americans. The loss of killed and wounded, as near as could be ascertained, was, on the part of the British, 600 , and on that of the Americans, about 350, The bravery and firmness of the American forces displayed this day, convinced the British officers of the difficulty, if not utter impossibility, of continuing their march to Albany. The season for closing the campaign in that northern region was advancing-the American army was daily augmenting by militia, volunteers, and the "two months men," as they were thin called. The fear that the royal armies might effect their junction at Albany, aroused the neighboring states of New England, and drew from New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Vermont, a large body of determined soldiers. Baum's defeat at Bennington had inspired them with new hopes and invigorated their spirits.
Under these circumstances, inauspicious to the hostile army, the British commander-in-chief summoned a council of war; the result of which was to attempt a retreat across the Hudson to Fort Edward. Gen. Gates, apprehending the probability of this measure, seasonably detached a portion of his force to intercept and cut off the retreat, should that be attempted.
Many new and unexpected difficulties now presented themselves. The boats which had served the British army for a bridge, being considered by them as of no further use, had been cut loose, and most of them floated down the river. The construction of rafts sufficient for conveying over their artillery and heavy baggage, would be attended with great danger as well as loss of time. The bridges over the creeks had been destroyed, great quantities of trees had been felled across the roads by order of the American general, another thing, not of the most trifling nature, Fort Edward was already in possession of the Americans. In this perplexing dilemma the royal army found themselves completely checkmated. A retreat, however, was attempted, but soon abandoned. Situated as they now were, between two fires, every motion they made was fraught with danger and loss. They retired to their old intrenched camp.
Several days elapsed without any very active operations on either aide. This interval of time was, however, improved by the royal army in preparations to make one desperate effort to force the line of the American camp, and cut their way through on their march to Albany. The American army improved the meantime in strengthening their outer works, arranging their forces, and placing the Continentals on the north side of the intrenchments, where valiant men were expected ; thus preparing to defend every point of attack , Morgan, with his riflemen, to form the left flank in the woods.
During these few days of " dreadful preparation," information daily arrived in our camp, by deserters and otherwise, that an attack would soon be made upon the line of our intrenchments at Bemis's heights, near the headquarters of Gen. Gates.
The expected conflict awakened great anxiety among the American troops, but abated nothing of that sterling intrepidity and firmness which they had uniformly displayed in the hour of danger, all considered that the expected conflict would be decisive of the campaign at least, if not of the war in which we had been so long engaged. Immense interests were at stake. Should Gen. Burgoyne succeed in marching his army to Albany, Gen. Clinton, without any considerable difficulty, would there join him with another powerful English army, and a fleet sufficient to command the Hudson from thence to New York. Should this junction of force take place, all the states east of the Hudson would be cut off from all efficient communication with the western and southern states.
In addition to this there were other considerations of the deepest concern. The war had already been protracted to a greater length of time than was expected on either side at the commencement. The resources of the country, which were at first but comparatively small in respect to those things necessary for war, began to fail the term of enlistment of many of the soldiers had expired.
We had no public money, and no government to guaranty the payment of wages to the officers and soldiers, nor to those who furnished supplies for the troops.
Under these discouraging circumstances it became extremely difficult to raise recruits for the army. During the year 1776 and the fore part of '77, the Americans suffered greatly by sickness, and were unsuccessful in almost every rencontre with the enemy. Men's hearts, even the stoutest, began to fail. This was indeed the most gloomy period of the war of the Revolution.
On the 7th of October, about ten o'clock A.M., the royal army commenced their march, and formed their line of battle on our left, near Bemis's heights, with Gen. Fraser at their bead. Our pickets were driven in about one o'clock P.M., and were followed by the British troops on a quick march to within fair musket shot distance of the line of our intrenchments. At this moment commenced a tremendous discharge of cannon and musketry, which was returned with equal spirit by the Americans.
For thirty or forty minutes the struggle at the breastworks was maintained with great obstinacy. Several charges with fixed bayonets were made by the English grenadiers with but little effect. Great numbers fell on both sides. The ardor of this bloody conflict continued for some time without any apparent advantage gained by either party. At length, however, the assailants began to give way, preserving good order in a regular but slow retreat-loading, wheeling, and firing, with considerable effect. The Americans followed up the advantage they had gained, by a brisk and well-directed fire of field-pieces and musketry. Col. Morgan with his riflemen hung upon the left wing of the retreating enemy, and galled them by a most destructive fire. The line of battle now became extensive, and most of the troops of both armies were brought into action. The principal part of the ground on which this hard day's work was done, is known by the name of Freeman's farm. It was then covered by a thin growth of pitch-pine wood without under brush, excepting one lot of about six or eight acres, which had been cleared and fenced. On this spot the British grenadiers, under the command of the brave Major Ackland, made a stand, and brought together some of their field artillery, this little field soon became literally "the field of blood." These grenadiers, the flower of the royal army, unaccustomed to yield to any opposing force in fair field, fought with that obstinate spirit which borders on madness. Ackland received a ball through both legs, which rendered him unable to walk or stand. This occurrence hastened the retreat of the grenadiers, leaving the ground thickly strewed with their dead and wounded.
The battle was continued by a brisk running fire until dark. The victory was complete , leaving the Americans masters of the field. Thus ended a battle of the highest importance in its consequences, and which added great lustre to the American arms. I have seen no official account of the numbers killed and wounded; but the loss on the part of the British must have been great, and on the part of the Americans not inconsiderable.
The loss of general officers suffered by the royal army was peculiarly severe. But to return to the Smith house. I made known to the Smith family the object of my calling upon them ; found them polite and intelligent and learned from them many interesting particulars respecting the battle of the 7th of October. For several days previous to that time Gen. Burgoyne had made that house his head-quarters, accompanied by several general officers and their ladies, among whom were Gen. Fraser, the Baron and Baroness Riedesel, and their children.
The circumstances attending the fall of this gallant officer have presented a question about which military men are divided in opinion. The facts seem to be agreed, that soon after the commencement of the action. Gen. Arnold, knowing the military character and efficiency of Gen. Fraser, and observing his motions in leading and conducting the attack, said to Col. Morgan, " that officer upon a grey horse is of himself a host, and must be disposed of. Direct the attention of some of the sharpshooters among your riflemen to him." Morgan, nodding his assent to Arnold, repaired to his riflemen, and made known to them the hint given by Arnold. Immediately upon this, the crupper of the grey horse was cut off by a rifle bullet, and within the next minute another passed through the horse's mane, a little back of his ears. An aid of Fraser noticing this, observed to him, " Sir, it is evident that you are marked out for particular aim ; would it not be prudent for you to retire" from this place ?" Fraser replied, " my duty forbids me to fly from danger ; " and immediately received a bullet through his body. A few grenadiers were detached to carry him to the Smith house.
Having introduced the name of Arnold, it may be proper to note here, that although he had no regular command that day, he volunteered his service, was early on the ground, and in the hottest part of the struggle at the redoubts. He behaved (as I then thought), more like a madman than a cool and discreet officer. Mounted on a brown horse, he moved incessantly at a full gallop back and forth, until he received a wound in his leg, and his horse was shot under him. I happened to be near him when he fell, and assisted in getting him into a litter to be carried to head-quarters.
Late in the evening Gen. Burgoyne came in, and a tender scene took place between him and Fraser. Gen. Fraser was the idol of the British army, and the officer on whom, of all others, Burgoyne placed the greatest reliance. He languished through the night, and expired at eight o'clock the next morning. While on his deathbed he advised Burgoyne, without delay, to propose to Gen. Gates terms of capitulation, and prevent the further effusion of blood ; that the situation of his army was now hopeless , they could neither advance nor retreat. He also requested that he might be buried in the Great redoubt - his body to be borne thither between sunset and dark, by a body of the grenadiers, without parade or ceremony. This request was strictly complied with.
After viewing the house to my satisfaction, I walked up to the place of interment. It is situated on an elevated piece of ground, commanding an extensive view of the Hudson, and a great length of the beautiful interval on each side of it. I was alone ; the weather was calm and serene. Reflections were awakened in my mind which I am wholly unable to describe. Instead of the bustle and hum of the camp, and confused noise of the battle of the warrior, and the shouts of victory which I here witnessed fifty years ago, all was now silent as the abodes of the dead. And indeed far, far the greatest part of both those armies who were then in active life at and near this spot, are now mouldering in their graves, like that valiant officer whose remains are under my feet - " their memories and their names lost," while God, in his merciful Providence, has preserved my life, and after the lapse of half a century has afforded me an opportunity of once more viewing those places which force upon my mind many interesting recollections of my youthful days.
19th. On my return down the river from Albany to New York, in the steam boat
North America, I had leisure and opportunity for reflecting upon the immense
wealth and resources of the state of New York- greater, I believe, at this
time than that of any other two states in the Union. It would be hazarding
nothing to say, that this single state possess more physical power, and more
of the " sinews of war," than were employed by the whole thirteen
states through the war of the Revolution. This among other considerations,
led me to the reflection how honorable it would be to the state, and how deserving
of the occasion, that a monument be erected at or near the place where the
royal army surrendered by capitulation on the 17th of October, 1777, in commemoration
of an event so important in our national history. The battle of the 7th of
October may be considered, in its effects and consequences, as the termination
of the war, with as much propriety as that of Bunker's hill was the commencement
I am. Sir,
Very respectfully yours,
William L. Stone, Esq.
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