The History of New York State
Book XI, Chapter II
Part X

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam

 

So we see another manifestation of the ever-strengthening morale of the American soldiers, and another demonstration of Arnold's worth. Gates forgot him--did not even mention Arnold's name once in his official report of the battle. We see the reason, perhaps, in the ruffled state of Gates' feelings next day. Arnold, it seems, wished to renew the fight. Gates refused. Angry words passed between them, and Gates was glad to grant Arnold's request for a pass for himself and staff to report to Washington's headquarters. Later, in a cooler moment, Arnold gave need to a petition signed by all the general officers, except Lincoln and lingered on with the Northern Army, though no longer holding a command.

Burgoyne took many days to recover from Arnold's blow at Freeman's Farm. Indeed, there was not further movement for eighteen days--at least none in the British camp, excepting the consumption of supplies. On the other hand, Gates' army was ever swelling. Lincoln's column of New Englanders came in four days after the battle: General Ten Broeck brought 2,00 more New Yorkers; General Oliver Wolcott came in with some Connecticut militia; and the veteran Stark was operating in strong force in the rear of Burgoyne. The British commander was lost in the woods. He hardly knew where he was, or what was happening. He seemed to be almost cut off from the world. Day after day he expected to hear more hopefully of, or from Sir Henry Clinton. On September 21, he had received word that Clinton would sail up the Hudson from New York City in about ten days to create a diversion in Burgoyne's favor by attacking Forts Clinton and Montgomery; a few miles below West Point; but it was not until October 3 that Clinton left New York; and on that very day Burgoyne had been forced to put his army on short rations. General Clinton did much during the next four or five days. On the 5th Clinton's large force moving both by land and water, was forty miles up the river. On the 6th he outwitted General Putnam, who was in command at Peekskill. The same afternoon the British command, skirting Dunderberg Mountain, appeared before Forts Montgomery and Clinton, carrying both by assault, and almost captured Brigadier-General George Clinton, the Governor of New York. These were brilliant movements, well executed, and desperately contested, the American loss in the two forts were about 300. The Hudson was now open to the enemy. Clinton followed up his success quickly, taking Kingston, the temporary State Capital, but as he was putting the torch to the New York sear of government, Burgoyne was firing his last shot.

The situation of the invading army was becoming more and more critical. Clinton had asked Burgoyne to wait until the 12th, but Burgoyne's famished troops could not wait. With the goal so near, it seemed better to risk all on one supreme effort. It were better to die fighting than to starve inactive. Burgoyne may have thought that Clinton's movement had already drawn heavily from the forces of Gates.

But whatever lay before them, inaction was no longer tolerable. Burgoyne's generals were unanimous upon that point. So, on October 7, the British were seen to be moving. Morgan's riflemen were thrown out to "begin the game." Burgoyne was attempting to work to the rear of the American position on Bemis heights. The movement was soon checked. Then a determined American attack on Burgoyne's left caused the grenadiers and artillerymen to retreat. Morgan and Dearborn simultaneously attacked and routed the British right. The center still held, until reinforcements, including Ten Broecks's New York Militia, came up. Then the center began to waver, and within an hour of the beginning of the British movement, they were returning again in their old positions.

Just then, Arnold came decisively to the front. He had, indeed, been in the thick of the fighting from its opening on that day. thought he held no official authority, he was to all intents, the commanding general, respected not only the rank and file, but acknowledged by the commanders--all except Gates, who had been almost struck dumb when told that Arnold had been darting from brigade to brigade, leading the attack without question and with dauntless courage as well as good judgment, the men cheering him wherever he appeared, and following him with irresistible dash. Such defiance of his authority, though it was winning him the battle, was not to be tolerated. Gates immediately despatched an aide to recall Arnold. The resourceful Benedict, however, knew how to evade him; and now that the British line was breaking, he exerted himself even more. He led Patterson's and Glover's brigades forward impetuosity; next, with Learned's men, he pressed the enemy so vigorously that they broke in confusion. Even when dusk came, and the British were in their trenches, Arnold joined Morgan in a dash on the extreme right, and broke through the line of works held by the Hessians. His indomitable spirit carried the Americans to the rear of the enemy's positions and the Hessians hurriedly abandoned their trenches. In this last effort Arnold's leg was shattered. Upon his dashing steed, the heroic Arnold had been before them, in the thickest of the fighting, throughout the day, thrilling them with his own daring optimism. Now the battle was won. Court-martial, for disobedience, might be his lot, but what mattered to Arnold--his country had triumphed. Arnold's "splendid self-forgetfulness" was seen even in his last act. "For god's sake don’t hurt him; he's a fine fellow," cried Arnold, to stop one of his own men who was about to drive a bayonet through the assailant who had laid the idolized leader low. Even Gates now had the magnanimity to graciously mention Arnold in his report, and congress tried to make amends for their neglect by promoting the wounded hero of Quebec and Saratoga to the rank of Major-General. Mabie wrote: "It was the tragedy of the Revolution that Arnold did not die on that heroic day when he was the lion of the American Army, the idol of the American people, the friend of Washington, the dauntless hero of Quebec and Saratoga. The Arnold of Lake Champlain is the most brilliant figure of the Revolution; if he could have died then with what words of love and honor we should celebrate him today! Nor we cover him and turn our faces away."

Burgoyne could no longer look upon the future with hope. At most, his only hope lay in retreat. Before him was an army twice as numerous, and imbued with the strength that victory brings. At his side was only the disorganized, demoralized, half-starved remnant of his original grand army of invasion. Gone forever was the optimism with which they had opened the campaign. Gone almost were the means of fighting, or indeed of living. Stiff and cold in death lay many of his ablest commanders. General Fraser, as brave and almost as reckless as Arnold, lay in a grave near the Hudson, the hearts of Burgoyne and all British officers being heavy within them as they paid their last military tributes to their dead comrade. Fraser had thrilled his men almost as Arnold had thrilled the American soldiers. With his passing, the spirit of resistance ebbed away. Colonel Breyman, who had commanded the Germans was dead; Burgoyne's principal aide, Sir Francis Clarke, was a prisoner and lay mortally wounded. Burgoyne himself had narrowly escaped death; and the least that could be said of him was that he was a brave man. Now all was over. Burgoyne, like many a brave commander before and since his time, had to face the inevitable humiliation of defeat with as much fortitude as possible.

On the night of the 8th, the British began to retreat quietly to Saratoga. They abandoned everything cumbersome, hoping thus to at least save themselves. Gates t once followed, making quick disposition of his abundant troops, so as to completely surround the enemy. Burgoyne soon found that he could not move from his position beyond the Fish Creek. On the 12th, the day on which Clinton had promised to relieve him, Burgoyne knew that his rations would last only five days more. Next day, he summoned a council, and broached the subject of capitulation. His officers unanimously declared that in view of their critical position and taking into account the suffering they had endured, proposals for surrender could bring no dishonor upon Burgoyne. So, on the 14th, negotiations began. On the 17th the articles of capitulation were signed by Gates and Burgoyne, the "Conventions" as they were called, according the vanquished all the honors of war and free passage to England. Hence, the most memorable event of the war up to that time--at least of those events which are in America's favor--occurred in the forenoon of October 17, when 5,763 officers and men of a gallant and efficient Army marched out from their camps, and laid down their arms in a field near Old Fort Henry, in the presence of only two Americans--Majors Wilkinson and Lewis of General Gates' staff. Burgoyne delivered his sword to Gates, remarking stoically that the fortunes of war made him his prisoner. The Americans, commendable chivalry, extended all possible courtesies to their vanquished foes, recognizing that they had fought with consistent valor, maintaining a high stand of military conduct. Their Indian allies were, fortunately, not in such numbers as to embarrass them, and there were few atrocities. Burgoyne could hardly be blamed for the McCrea incident. Indeed, he wrote to Gates in August on the subject, as follows: "I would not be conscious of the cuts you presume to impute to me for the whole continent of America, though the wealth of the world was in its bowels and a paradise upon its surface." In fact, in his endeavor to hold the Indians strictly to civilized warfare he actually suffered military disadvantage. He would not permit the Indians to take up any operation unless accompanied by and obedient to British officers. This curb the proud Iroquois resented, and their support was only half-hearted. So, the victorious American might well receive the British general and his officers with chivalrous courtesy.

So ended the first phase of the War of the Revolution. The next and final phase was to end in 1781, at Yorktown, when an ever larger force than Burgoyne's surrendered to General Washington. Between Saratoga and Yorktown, between 1777 and 1781, American passed through many period of hardship and anxiety; many situations developed that tested the grit and determination of those who were fighting for independence; but after Saratoga, New York was no longer to be the cockpit of the fight forces. There were some exciting operations in New York State in every year of the war, and New York City itself remained the principal British military center until the end of hostilities, but the major fighting after Saratoga was mostly in Southern States.

After the clearing of opposition on the Hudson, Clinton might have gone rapidly to Albany, and perhaps have joined forced with Burgoyne while the negotiations of the latter with Gates were still proceeding. Certainly, at one time, rather than accept humiliating terms, Burgoyne would have made one last desperate fighting effort. Replying to the proposal of General Gates that the British should "ground their arms," Burgoyne had declared that his troops would prefer to "rush on the enemy, determined to take no quarter." Had Clinton come near at that psychological moment, there would certainly have been a most sanguinary battle, the outcome of which would have been by no means certain, for although Gates has the advantage in numbers, the British were all regulars, all determined men who lives depended upon their last effort. Moreover, the very fact that relief was so near would have given them added courage, and no doubt have spread some depression among the somewhat uncertain American militias. However, it was not to be. Clinton's and Tryon's forces, after taking Forts Montgomery and Clinton, resorted to the wrong tactics. They seemed to think that by devastating the country, and spreading terror, in that vicinity, they might divert Gates from his main purpose, and in this way at one lighten t he opposition before Burgoyne.

The American general was not to be tempted. It seems that Gates "did not make a single movement that lessened the probability of effecting his grand purpose." He did write an expostulatory letter to General Vaughan, who had put Esopus (Kingston) to the torch. In this letter, he said: "Is it thus your King's generals think to make converts to the royal cause? It is no less surprising than true, that the measures they adopt to serve their masters, have a contrary effect. Their cruelty establishes the glorious act of independence upon the board basis of the resentment of the people." After diverging to this extent, however, General Gates concentrated himself wholly upon his main object, that of compelling the surrender of Burgoyne. When this had been achieved, the British forces on the Hudson had no other course open to them than to hasten back to New York City. the great opportunity had passed Great Britain.

America made the most of the opportunity that Saratoga opened to them. Saratoga was, as Ramsay--friend of Washington and the first American to write a history of the United States and to get it printed in American--said: "the hinge on which the Revolution turned." Benjamin Franklin and his fellow-commissioners in France had had a discouraging year of diplomatic effort. Europe had been, to all intents , "sitting on the fence" during 1775 and 1776, being merely interested spectators of the struggle in America. France has warmed a little during 1777, and had in a veiled way given aid to the Revolutionists. But for several reason she had hesitated to take a positive open stand. The prevailing belief was that the Elector of Bavaria would soon pass away, and that then the peace of Europe would be disturbed. France could not forget that the Americana were by blood British. She did not with to involve herself in a quarrel between factions of the same people--to many Europeans the struggle between the motherland and the colonies assumed the aspect merely of civil war--for at any day the factions might settle their differences,, and, indeed, form alliance again their former common enemy, France. The defeat on Long Island, the capture of New York, and the succession of disastrous events in 1776 had shaken the confidence of American sympathizers in Europe. Trenton and Princeton had revived the interest somewhat, but the vast preparations made by England for prosecuting the war vigorously had brought most people to the belief that the colonists could not succeed. However, the capture of Burgoyne's army changed this; it fixed well all wavering politics in France. His Most Christian Majesty Louis the Sixteenth, saw an opportunity of weakening the hereditary enemy of France. news of the capitulation at Saratoga reached France early in December, and the American deputies lost no time in pressing for acceptance of the treaty of alliance and commerce which France had had under consideration for twelve months. the response was prompt; the American Council of State "that it was decided to acknowledge the independence of the Untied States, and to make a treaty with them; that in the treaty no advantage would be taken of their situation, to obtain terms which, otherwise, it would not be convenient for them to agree to; that his Most Christian Majesty desired the treaty once made should be durable, and their amity to subsist forever, which could not be expected, if each Nation did not find an interest in its continuance, as well as it commencement. It was, therefore, intended that the terms of the treaty should be such as the new-formed Untied States would be willing to agree to if they had been long since established, and in the fullness of strength and power, and such as they should approve of when that time should come; this his Most Christian Majesty was fixed in his determination not only to acknowledge, but to support their independence; that in doing this he might probably soon be engaged in a war; yet he should not expect any compensation from the Untied States on that account; nor was it pretended that he acted wholly for their sakes, since besides his real good will to them, it was manifestly the interests of France that the power of England should be diminished, by the separation of the colonies from its government. The only condition he should require and rely on would be, that the United States, in no peace to be made, should give up their independence and return to the obedience of the British Government."

This declaration was made on December 16, 1777, and on the 6th of February, 1778, was confirmed in treaties then signed between France and the Untied States. The British made strenuous efforts during that year to being about peace with America, but Independence was always the obstacle. Replying to British peace commissioners on June 17, President Laurens, by order of the Congress, said: "I have received the letter from your excellencies of the 9th instant, with the enclosures, and laid them before Congress. Nothing but an earnest desire to spare the further effusion of human blood could have induced them to read a paper, containing expression so disrespectful to his Most Christian Majesty (Louis XVI of France), the good and great ally of these States; or to consider propositions so derogatory to the honour of an independent Nation." Congress, he said, was ready to consider a treaty of peace " when the King of Great Britain shall demonstrate a sincere disposition for that purpose." "The only solid proof of this disposition," concluded Mr. Laurens, "will be an explicit acknowledgment of the independence of these States." Or the withdrawal of all British troops, which would mean the same. Thus we see to what extent France held American to independence. Her military and naval service did not reach expectations. Some unforeseen circumstances came, repeatedly, to affect, cancel or diminish, French aid. With the aid of the French corps under Rochambeau, and a French fleet under De Guichen, Washington once was in high hope of retaking New York. Rochambeau, however, was able to bring only a division, and De Guichen was recalled to Europe before anything could be done. Then Washington sadly reflected: "The history of the War of Independence is a history of hopes deceived." Nevertheless, if France did nothing else--and she actually did do very much more--she did the colonists inestimable service in holding America headed unshakably toward Independence. Of course, even before France came into the consideration of the colonists, America had burned all the bridges. The Declaration of Independence gad closed the ways back to Crown allegiance. But after France took up her cause, honor forbade consideration of any peace terms that were not based on the recognition of independence.

This was the one basis that Great Britain would not countenance. She had not prosecuted the war with vigor in 1775 and 1776, because she had been ever looking ahead to the time when the "rebellious minority' in the colonies would reach a more tractable state of mind,. And when harmonious relations would be resumed--forced perhaps by the Loyal majority. There were many occasions in 1776 when a more aggressive general than Howe might have swept ruthlessly through the land and killed the spirit of independence. Washington himself admits this. English statesmen knew that a military conquest of America by the Motherland would hardly bring harmonious relations that would last. Allegiance compelled would always be feeble. Still, if mild measures should fail, a strong arm must be raised. the chance in Britain's attitude is seen in the parting words of the English peace commissioners in 1778. After they had failed in their attempt to negotiate with the Continental Congress, they made public a "manifesto and proclamation" to all Americans. In part, it read: "The policy, as well as the benevolence of Great Britain have so far checked the extremes of war, when they tended to distress a people still considered as our fellow subjects; and to desolate a country shortly to become a source of mutual advantage; but when that country professes the unnatural design, not only of estranging herself or us, but of mortgaging herself and her resources to our enemies, the whole contest if changed; and the question is, how far Great Britain may, by every means in her power, destroy or render useful a connection contrived for her ruin and for the aggrandizement of France. Under such circumstances, the laws of self-preservation must direct the conduct of Great Britain; and if the British colonies shall become an accession to France, will direct her to render that accession of as little avail as possible to her enemy."

In these quotations we have shown the basic thought underlying the respective attitude of France, America, and England. The Britons would indeed infinitely prefer being at peace with America so as to concentrate all her power upon France. The Duke of Richmond did indeed, on April 7, 1778, introduce in the House of Lords a measure that would recall all the forces, land and sea, that were fighting in America; and had not Pitt (Lord Chatham) in a memorable dying effort bitterly opposed the bill, the congress in America would have seen in the withdrawal of British armed forces, that England was not insincere in holding out the olive branch to her former colonies. The strong statesman of earlier days, the aged Pitt, was, once again, for a day, a might force. He came into the House of Lords, "pale, wasted, swathed in flannel,' and painfully dragged himself to his place. AS he rose to reply to the Duke of Richmond, the peers held their breath. Leaning on his crutch, and raising a shriveled hand to heaven, the great statesman of the last war with France, tragically condemned Richmond and his policy. With much of his old oratorical power, Pitt kept the house spellbound. "I have already one foot in the grave," he said. "I think myself happy, my lords, that the grave has not yet closed over me, and that I am still alive to raise my voice against the dismemberment of this ancient and noble monarchy! My Lords, His Majesty succeeded to an empire as vast in extent as proud in reputation. Shall we tarnish its luster by a shameful abandonment of its rights, and of its fairest possessions? Shall this great kingdom, which survived in its entirety the descents of the Danes, the incursions of the Scots, the conquest of the Normans, which stood firm against the threatened invasions of the Spanish Armada, now fall before the House of Bourbon? Surely, my Lords, we are no what we once were!. . . . in god's name, if it be absolutely necessary to chose between peace and war, if peace cannot be preserved with honor, why not declare war without hesitation? . . . .My Lords, anything is better than despair. Let us at least make an effort, and if we must fail, let us fail like men!"

Pitt was true to his word. He gave the last ounce of his strength to defend his country. The excitement of debate was too much for the dying men. He fainted. Pitt killed himself by that last effort; but he killed Richmond's bill which might have ended the war, and conceded independence. The Pitt spirit entered the British people, and the second phase of the war took on a more strenuous gait.

England was especially watching France. War was not declared before fighting broke out between the old sea rivals. An indecisive naval engagement in July, off the French coast, temporarily disposed of or delayed the operations of one French Navy. However, another fleet had sailed from Toulon for America in April, hoping to trap Admiral Howe's fleet in the Delaware, before news reached him that France and England were at war. But D'Estaing arrived in the Delaware too late. Howe had already departed, well aware of the intentions of the French. The lighter British fleet now lay in New York. General Howe, also, had left Philadelphia with the British Army. Without sea communication, it was not of much use to him. New York was a better center. In falling back on New York, Howe might have suffered irretrievable defeat at Monmouth, had not the jealous Lee disobeyed his commander-in-chief, Washington.

England proved able to handle the European situation fairly well, but control of America was a harder task. For 104 days the combined French and Spanish fleets cruised in the English channel, without any disastrous consequences to England; the great display of maritime force brought distinction to only one Frenchman--De Couedic; and he died of wounds sustain in the death-grapple of his ship, the "Surveillance," with a British ship, the 'Quebec." As the year passed, the English people ceased to tremble at the thought of invasion, and at last the French and Spanish fleets had to sorrowfully give up the patrol. Admiral Hardy maintained British maritime supremacy in this immediate danger, though as the years passed, Britain's trouble grew, at sea as well as on land. Admiral de Grasse managed to outwit Admiral Hood in 1780, and bring to the aid of Washington, a force of 3.500 French soldiers. De Grasse, with his fleet, moreover, cooperated in the investment of Cornwallis at Yorktown. And in this last great victory for America the French were more conspicuously present than on any previous occasion. France had an appreciable and appreciated part in the last staggering blow delivered to British arms in America. The surrender of more than 8,000 soldiers, on October 17, 1781, by Cornwallis at Yorktown, was the death blow of British hopes in America.. But it cannot be said that France did more than help American to win her independence. He colonists, perhaps, could have won it without French aid. Still, France made the winning easier for the colonists, and she in "at the death." When the British general handed his sword to Washington at Yorktown, the act was tantamount to pledging Britain to recognize American independence. Certainly, Lord North could put no other construction upon the situation. "Lord North received the news of the capitulation like a bullet in his breast," aid Lord George Germain, who was still Colonel Secretary, "he threw up his arms without being able to utter a word beyond 'My God! All's lost!'"

Shortly afterwards in February, 1782, a combined French-Spanish Army, which had been besieging a small British garrison at Minorca, forced its surrender. The victory was of no more importance than that it came so soon after Yorktown. The rejoicing of France and Spain was hard in England, and it brought about the downfall the tottering North Government. The great Whig opposition was to have an opportunity of disposing of the American trouble. When the North Government was at its last gasp, one of the ablest and bitterest Whigs, lashed Lord North and his American policy thus: Great God! is it still time to talk to us of the rights we are upholding in this war! Oh! Excellent rights! Precious they should be, for they have cost us dear. Oh! Precious rights, which has cost Great Britain thirteen colonies, four islands, 100,000 men, and more than 10,000,000 sterling.! Wonderful rights, which have cost Great Britain her empire upon the ocean and that boasted superiority which made all nations bend before her! Oh! Estimable rights, which have taken from us out rank amongst the nations, our importance abroad, and our happiness at home, which have destroyed our commerce and our manufactures, which have reduced us from the most flourishing empire in the world to a kingdom circumscribed and grandeur-less! Precious rights, which will no doubt cost us all that we have left." Of course, Burke was stretching the facts with all the irresponsible license assumed by politicians out of office. ?but England had, indeed, lived to regret having turned the deaf ear to the not disloyal petitions of her American colonists in 1774 and 1775.

Even after the collapse of Burgoyne, in 1777, however, there were still very many Loyalists--Tories, we call them--in several parts of New York State. And, as the war went its uncertain way in the South the dangers of war were not unknown in the North. AS Roberts says: #29 "New York was made to endure every evil of war. The colony was a series of camps. Battles and marauding expeditions, massacres and the burning of towns, extended over all its inland portions, while the chief city felt the burdens of the headquarters of the royal forces, and the horrors of a multitude of prisons." The new Stage Government could not for a long time extend its functions far over what is now New York State. "With the British in possession of the Hudson and its adjacent territory up to the Highlands, except a part of the counties of Westchester and Orange, and holding the fortified posts on the north, and with the Indians on the western borders of settlement and pouring into the Mohawk Valley, the new State was practically concentrated in the region far west of Oneida Lake." #30 On the Niagara border Sir John Johnson was ever inciting the Indians; and out of the Iroquois country came many bands of savage Indians and vindictive Tories, bent on cruel forays that brought death to many defenseless civilians, of both sexes, and spread terror in frontier settlements. At Cobleskill, Schoharie County, in the spring of 1778, twenty families lived. The males had formed themselves in a military company for their own protection, but there was no fort at Cobleskill. Fearing an attack, they were reinforced by a company of Continental soldiers on May 26. Four days later, these soldiers are ambushed by Indians, under Joseph Brant. Half of the soldiers were killed, a few of them in a valiant effort to cover the retreat of the settlers by turning one of the houses into a fort. They were burned to death in it; and the whole settlement was soon only ashes. Eighteen days later, June 18, a little settlement at the head of Otsego Lake, was swept away by the marauders. A month later, the Indians were again at Cobleskill, and on July 16, Andrustown, a hamlet of seven families, six miles southwest of German Flats, in Herkimer County, was put to the torch, the settled being killed or carried away as prisoners.

 

The History of New York State, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc., 1927

This book is owned by Pam Rietsch and is a part of the Mardos Memorial Library

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

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