The History of New York State
Book XI, Chapter II

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam


Burgoyne was in England at that time. He had left Canada in November, after it had become clear that Carleton must postpone until the next year the operation against Ticonderoga. At the time when King George looked yearningly for a general who had a plan that promised better results, in subduing the American rebels, than had come to Howe or Carleton, Burgoyne was at hand, confident that his "thoughts for conducting the war from the side of Canada" would, if followed, crush all American resistance. His plan was submitted to the King's ministers, and in March, 1777, the King's Council resolved to give Burgoyne command of the Canadian Army. The plan was not much different to that which Carleton had failed to complete in 1776. Burgoyne planned to divide the American colonies in two parts, by seizing the interior waterways of New York. The Great Warpath was to be seized along its whole length, and a British column from New York City was to ascend the Hudson River, to the head of navigation at Albany, where the two major forces would join, thus isolating the New England colonies from the central and southern. Having accomplished this, New England could be cut off by forts and fleets, and, if still intractable, could be attacked from all sides. Thus, the "cradle and stronghold" of the rebellion would be no longer its seat.

Howe, it seems, had already planned operations in Massachusetts. In December, 1776, he had pounced upon Newport, and had proposed to operate "against Boston from Rhode island, with 10,000 men, while an equal force should affect a junction with the enemy of Canada, by way of the Hudson." Ministerial laxity caused Howe to abandon this plan, and, indeed, all cooperation with Burgoyne; but "Burgoyne asserts that he was not informed of the change of plan when he sailed for Canada in April." #24.

Still another operation was embraced in the plan concerted between Burgoyne and the British ministers. As Burgoyne advanced along the Great Warpath toward Albany, he would have on his right the Mohawk Valley--fertile in dangers as well as in alluring advantages. The British already possessed Fort Oswego, the Lake Ontario access to this water route to the Hudson, but where Rome now stands, an American fort guarded the portage. The fort, Stanwix, must be seized before the British could take full advantage of what the Mohawk Valley contained--very many Loyalists and very many Iroquois warriors, also much provender. So it was planned that an auxiliary column of British, under Lieut. Col. Barry St. Leger, should operate in the Mohawk Valley, at the same times as Burgoyne moved along the Lake Champlain-Lake George route. Burgoyne's flank would thus be protected, and the two forces would converge at the mouth of the Mohawk, near Albany.

So desperately did the King and his ministers yearn fro victory, that neither shrank from using Indians. King George "told his ministers, in so many words, that every means of distressing the American would meet with his approval. Mercenaries, savages, refugees--all who could fire a shot, or burn a dwelling were to be enrolled under the proud old banner of the isles. #25 Many worthy Englishman shrank from such an expedient. Lord Chatham (William Pitt) indignantly raised his voice in Parliament. "Who is the man who has dared to associate to our arms the tomahawk and scalping-knife of the savage?" h e cried. He thought of the Prime Minister, and, indeed, of the King himself. Nevertheless, Carleton was asked to furnish Burgoyne with Canadian Indians, and ST. Leger was expected to enroll many more New York Indians. In the instructions sent to General Carleton, the British minister pointed out that Burgoyne's plan could not "be advantageously executed without the assistance of Canadians and Indians." Carleton was asked to furnish both Burgoyne and St. Leger with "good and sufficient bodies of those men." This he did, though Burgoyne seems to have had little confidence in them. He describes the Canadian militia as "ignorant of the use of arms, awkward, disinclined to the service and spiritless." Moreover, the records shoe that he was determined to hold the Indians to civilized methods of warfare.

At first consideration, the British plan did not seem to be a difficult one; and if the three forces--Burgoyne's, St. Leger's and Howe's--could have joined at Albany, that city would undoubtedly have become the pivotal British point of northern operations. AS early as 1776, the King, apparently, had decided that it should be; and in the final instructions, Burgoyne was given no option as t route and objective. The flaw in the plan, or rather, in the execution of the plan, was the failure of the King's ministers to give Howe any instructions at all. Burgoyne received his instruction in England, but the all-important despatches to Howe lay in London forgotten, until the opportunity for cooperation to these two strong British armies has passed. The blunder had been laid to Lord George Germains' incapacity. It seems that he placed a social engagement in the country before his ministerial duty in London on the day that the written despatches for both generals were upon his desk for signature. He signed the orders to Burgoyne, but some clerical mishap in the preparation of the Howe despatch caused Germain to withhold his signature. He departed for the county, after arranging to have Howes orders sent to him there for signature, after correction. Months passed by. It was not until August 17 that General Howe received the order which he should have had in April or May; and in the meantime, left to his own resources, he had changed his plans, going southward instead of north. When the missing orders came to him, he was entering Chesapeake Bay, and Burgoyne was suffering defeat at Bennington. Furthermore, Howe was expanding his own plans against Philadelphia, and it was too late to draw back. "On such trifles does the fate of nations sometimes hang." Howe was at Philadelphia when news reached him of Burgoyne's surrender at Saratoga. Hurried efforts had been made to rectify the blunder. Clinton, in command of the small force that occupied New York City, was ordered to take his small column up the Hudson, but he was a week or so too late. What seemed to be a promising plan came to utter failure, through the negligence of ministerial officials.

In the light of after events, Burgoyne's plan does not seem as flawless as it appeared to be at the outset. Burgoyne's force was not a large one, ST. Leger's was only a small column, and even if Howe has postponed his Philadelphia campaign, and added his 18,000 to Clifton's 6,000 at New York, for the ascent of the Hudson, it is by no means certain that success would have come to British arms. It would have been difficult to coordinate movements of the British columns, whereas American forces opposing them we so placed that communication was much less difficult. Washington at Morristown, Putnam at Peekskill, Schuyler to the northward of Albany, and Gansevoort and Herkimer in the Mohawk Valley, could keep in close touch with each other, and concentrate forces where the danger was greatest. Howe's movements would be countered by the ever-watchful Washington, and it is quite feasible that the latter would have got behind Howe's ascending column, taken new York, and cut off the main British Army from its base. Still, what would have been a hazardous enterprise under the most favorable conditions was made very much worse by the ministerial blunder that caused Howe to abandon his original plan of cooperating with any army from Canada.

However, Burgoyne could not read the picture; and when he began his operations, he was in high spirits, confident of success.

On June 12 the concentration of Burgoyne's army at St. John's, on that river at the outlet of Lake Champlain, just beyond the northern frontier, was deemed to have been completed. Optimism was common, Burgoyne's was to be a triumphal march. Burgoyne felt so gracious toward Governor Carleton, whom he had superseded, but who, nevertheless, had done all that was possible to send Burgoyne into the field well equipped fro success, that after the banquet, Carleton's loyalty was acknowledged by almost a royal salute, fired from his successor's brass artillery--the finest train in all America-- and the occasion was made ore gorgeous by the passing of red-coats in parade to and from the point of embarkation.

St. Johns was especially colorful at that time. Almost 8,000 of the best regular soldiers England would provide were at the disposal of Burgoyne, his army of 7,863 including 3,724 British and 3.016 German veterans. No other corps in America possesses such modern artillery. When two days later, the invasion began, there emerged from the river two Lake Champlain "the most completes and splendid regatta ever beheld" in those parts. The safety of the armada was entrusted to the 640 seamen who manned the nine ships of war, which mounted 143 guns. At Cumberland Head, Burgoyne awaited his supply trains, which consisted of 700 carts and 1,500 horses. altogether, infighting men, arms, artillery, and supplies, Burgoyne began his fateful adventure better equipped than any other expedition that had operated in America had been. At that time, he only had 250 Canadian militia, but 2,000 more were expected to follow shortly, though he not seem to think that they would increase his fighting strength appreciably. He does not seem to have welcomed aboriginal aid. From Cumberland Head, Burgoyne went to Bouquet River, where 400 Indians of the Iroquois Nations joined him. He attended their war-feast, and took occasion to enjoin then to fight in "a civilized manner, bringing their prisoners into vamp instead of killing and scalping them." #26 this they promised to do, and perhaps Burgoyne was satisfied that they would. Their atrocities, in one instance--the scalping of Jane McCrea--did more to swell the ranks of the Americans with militiamen than any feeling of enthusiasm for the cause of independence could accomplish.

It was not so much a feeling of indignation against England, in stooping to use savages, as of determination to avenge fiendish acts by the Indians themselves, that sent otherwise somewhat indifferent American farmers into the American armies in such great force after the tragic death of Jane McCrea. "The manner of her death was at first uncertain; but as the horrible story sped far and wide through the country, the romance of personal consideration gathered about a tragic incident of war, and the feeling aroused was universal and intense. The certain facts appealed to the tenderest sympathies; so much was known to be true that none thought of asking if anything could be false. She was young; she was beautiful; she was gently nurtured and of high social position; she was betrothed and about to be married to a young loyalist officer; she met her sudden death when in the hands of two Indians, and the long and beautiful hair torn from her head was shown afterward at Burgoyne's headquarters. So much was true, and it was enough to excite universal execration, even if the stories that were told of the manner of her death were untrue." As a matter of fact, she was not killed by the Indians, though she was their captive. They had raided the house in which she was staying, had seized her and a Mrs. McNeil, had mounted them on horseback, and were carrying them off, when detected by British soldiers. The latter fired upon the fleeing Indians, and one of their bullets killed Miss McCrea. One of the Indians, "though in rapid flight, paused long enough to seize her long hair and scalp her," reverting, in the excitement , to the manner of warfare that for centuries had been almost inherent in the aborigines. The reaction throughout the northern colonies was a calamity for Britain and an inestimable advantage for America. The McCrea incident gave American generals what Washington had long prayed for--numerical supremacy which would give him a fair chance of showing what Americans could do in offensive warfare. Hitherto, owing to paucity of manpower, Washington and his generals had been restricted to defensive tactics, or at best to the risky offensive-defensive manner of fighting.

Ticonderoga was the only Lake Champlain position that Burgoyne would have at o attack, but there was quiet confidence in some quarters that when he did test its strength he would find it to be impregnable Alas! Ticonderoga had one vulnerable spot. Montcalm had seen it twenty years before, and had declared that the fort would prove "a trap in which some good man would lose hi reputation." A mile to the southward of the fort was a rocky eminence from which cannon could sweep Ticonderoga, and make it untenable. More than one had noticed this weakness, but friction between commanders had prevented a serious attempt being made to rectify the weakness. When, in the spring of 1776, the Quebec expedition had collapsed, Gates was the last to be given the command of the frontier. He had been made a major-general in May and in the next month had been appointed to the command of the remnant of the Quebec Army. This had fallen back upon Crown Point and Ticonderoga. Bother were in Schuyler's territory, who was the senior general of the Northern Department. But Gates, at Ticonderoga, claimed that his was a separate command. It was a problem that Congress alone could solve, Washington having referred it to that body. And political action, even them was a slow process. Meanwhile Gates remained at Ticonderoga, and was in command of the forces there at the time Carlton was on his way southward. The vulnerability of the fortress had been pointed out to gates by Colonel Trumbull, but he had ridiculed the thought that from Mount Defiance the other wise impregnable fortress could be made untenable. As we know, Carleton never had the opportunity of testing its defenses, the valiant Benedict Arnold having so disturbed the Canadian schedule by his heroic naval effort that winter was upon Carleton before he was ready to attach Ticonderoga. During the winter, Gates went to the aid of Washington in New Jersey. After a long delay, Congress decided that Ticonderoga and Fort Stanwix (Rome) was in Schuyler's territory. Gates now refused to serve under Schuyler, so, Colonel St. Clair was given command of Ticonderoga. He had only been its commander for three weeks before Burgoyne appeared before it. The defect had been pointed out to St. Clair, but he had had no chance to occupy Mt. Defiance, as an outer defense. When Schuyler inspected the Ticonderoga defenses on June 20, he found that they were in a deplorable condition. Gates has done little or nothing to strengthen the defenses, and the commissary was wretched. In all military supplies the resources were low, which condition, however, was general in all American military centers. For proper defense Ticonderoga should have had a garrison of 10,000 men, whereas St. Clair had only about one fourth of this number; and his command was made up mainly of untrained militia. Schuyler hastened to Albany to despatch reinforcements. On July 1, he wrote to Colonel Varick: "The insufficiency of the garrison at Ticonderoga, the imperfect state of the fortifications, and the want of discipline in the troops give me great cause to apprehend that we shall lose that fortress." Whether he also saw its vulnerable point is not stated, but certainly Burgoyne was well aware of it. One of his ablest generals, in thinking of Mount Defiance, said: "Where a goat can go, a man can go; and where a man can go he can haul up a gun." Burgoyne began to invest Ticonderoga on the same day that Schuyler wrote to Varick. So the fortress must stand or fall with what forces it then had. Still, St. Clair was somewhat confident of his ability to beat off an attack; there was some doubt whether Burgoyne, indeed, would do more than make a feint at that point to cover flanking operations. The investment opened discouragingly. St. Clair ha so few men that he had to withdraw his men from the outer defenses. In this way, Burgoyne was able to seize Mount Hope with out loss, thereby cutting off the American communication with Lake George. And on the morning of the 5th St. Clair was surprised to find that British artillery had been hauled to the top of Mount Defiance. At once it was clear to him that during the next 24 hours the Ticonderoga garrison would have to endure the terrific plunging fire from this direction without being able to fire a shot in return. This sudden development completely change the plan of defense; indeed, defense was no longer possible. Before St. Clair lay only two courses--surrender or escape. He acted promptly and with courage. He might have stood with stolid stupidity where he was and brought some military glory to himself by a dogged defense at the cost of the lives of hundreds of his men, but he preferred to risk digging his own grave by taking the rational course and trying to escape while there was still time to save his garrison. So while his guns belched forth their noise at their fullest intensity during the remainder of that day, they were spiked at dusk and the women and children were sent up the lake at Skenesborough during the night. Before daylight, the troops marched out, making for Castleton, thirty miles southeast. Across the lake from Ticonderoga was Mount Independence, which had been fortified, and garrisoned with a French general, De Fermoy, in command, A bridge connected it with Ticonderoga. St, Clair's troops had passed over this bridge, and the evacuation of Mount Independence had followed immediately. But, unfortunately, General De Fermoy, when about to leave, detected the movement, and immediately gave chase. While Generals Frazer and Riedesel hurried after St. Clair, Burgoyne and Phillips with the fleet followed the American flotilla that was making for Skenesborough. Colonel Long, with the women and children and the stores, reached Skenesborough a couple of hours ahead of Burgoyne and went on to Fort Ann, eleven miles southward. There he had to turn and face a British regiment and some Indians. After a sanguinary engagement, Long abandoned Fort Ann and fell back to Fort Edward, thirteen miles below.

St. Clair experienced grater difficulty. After retreating all day through the woods, he decided to leave a part of his command at Hubbardton and march with the others to Castleton. On the morning of the 7th Hubbardton was attacked by about 8,000 British regulars, under Fraser. The Americans numbers about 1,300, but Hale's regiment abandon the field, reducing the defense to 900. These fought desperately, and held Fraser at bay until Riedesel arrived with reinforcement. The Americans gave way, before a furious bayonet charge by the Hessians, some retreating to Rutland and some to Pittsford. That they had fought desperately is proved by the casualty list. The colonials lost forty killed, including Colonel Francis; and about 300 were wounded or captured. The British and Hessian losses reach to 181. Colonel Hale's regiment was subsequently overtaken and captured; therefore almost half of St. Clair's command was accounted for. The remainder, under St. Clair, by a circuitous march of more than 100 miles, reached Fort Ward safely on the 12th, picking up the Rutland force on the way.

Schuyler was at Fort Edward, but not in sufficient strength to meet the oncoming Burgoyne. But the way of the latter from Fort Ann had been made very difficult by Schuyler in his retreat. The natural obstacles were such that no commander, given a choice of routes, would have proceeded by proceeded by way of Skenesborough to Fort Edward. The treacherous swamps of that route were made more difficult by Schuyler, whose men choked the innumerable creeks with felled trees. The Fort Edward garrison, therefore, had a little breathing spell before Burgoyne could reach their defenses.

Americans, in general, had a little time in which to recover from the staggering blow that hit them when news came of the surrender of Ticonderoga.

There was universal alarm. With the fall of Ticonderoga it seemed that the whole Northern Department was at the mercy of the enemy. Albany would soon be taken, and from that vantage point New England might be overrun, and Washington's forces imperilled. America was as despondent as England was exultant. Washington wrote: "The evacuation of an event of chagrin and surprise not apprehended; not within the compass of my reasoning. This stroke is severe indeed, and has distressed as much," the war would soon be over. The weak English ministry seemed strong. St. Clair was court-martialed, only to be unanimously acquitted of all blame, what had not hitherto been noticed by farmer-soldiers and so placed would still have been untenable. After St. Clair's acquittal, Schuyler's conduct came under scrutiny, but the court of inquiry could come to no other verdict than that "Major-General Philip Schuyler was not guilty of neglect of duty and is acquitted with the highest honor." If any American general deserves to be reprimanded, Gates was that man; no other Ticonderoga commander had had longer opportunity to study the defenses of these inland gates of New York.

But not all American farmer-soldiers looked upon the loss of the Lake Champlain defenses as an irremediable misfortune. In Thatcher's "Military Journal" is an entry, under date of July 14th, which reads: "It is this event, apparently so calamitous, will ultimately prove advantageous by drawing the British army into the heart of our country, and thereby placing them more immediately within our power." To most people, however, this seemed like expecting a midsummer sun to shine at full intensity in midwinter. Perhaps Schuyler was one of these "well-informed and respectable characters" who were optimistic in the face of disaster. Certainly, no man had fuller knowledge than he of the difficulties that lay before Burgoyne. Schuyler, whom Webster many decades later considered the be "second only to Washington in the services he rendered to the country in the war of the Revolution," was able to muster only 5,000 men at Fort Edward in the middle of July to oppose the victorious enemy, and he could not have overlooked that many of his command were undisciplined militia whose resolution had been already shaken by defeat. However, he knew that the flush of victory now in the faces of the enemy could not last through all the fatigue, privation and desolation that Burgoyne would find tin the twenty-six miles of swamp that separated them. Under normal conditions, twenty-six miles might be covered in a day or two; but Burgoyne was to flounder in that wet stretch for twenty-four days; and while his men spent their strength in making roads and bridges and consuming supplies, Schuyler thought he might have time to strength his own command. Washington was asked for reinforcements, and sent Nixon's and Glover's brigades, also Morgan's riflemen; but , in truth, Washington himself was then in need of all the troops that could be gathered to meet Howe's threat against Philadelphia. However, Generals Arnold and Lincoln of Massachusetts were ordered to report to Schuyler. Nevertheless, the latter, on August 6th, could count on only about 6,000 men, though it was some satisfaction to him to know that two-thirds of them were Continentals.

However, by that time, the situation was not so very dark for the Americans. Fate, or Schuyler's strategy, had plunged Burgoyne into the morass that he should have avoided. All Schuyler's schemes of obstruction along the Skenesborough route, would have gone for naught had the British general followed his original plan, and gone by the Lake George route to the Hudson. But, having taken Ticonderoga so easily and chased the Americans as far as Skenesborough, he seemed now to be so near the Hudson River that to retrace his steps to Ticonderoga and take the longer way around--which, of course, "Colonel" Skene, a Tory whose home was at Skenesborough. By the time Burgoyne approached Fort Edward, Schuyler had such confidence in his ability to hinder him that he ventured to believe "the enemy would not see Albany this campaign." Washington also seemed to be more confident. On July 22d he wrote to Schuyler: "I look forward to a fortunate and happy change. I trust General Burgoyne's army will meet sooner or later an important check, and, as I have suggested before, that the success he has had will prove his ruin." Schuyler's strategy was to draw the enemy farther and farther into a barren country from their source of supply. "As Schuyler retired before Burgoyne, he left neither hoof not blade of corn." Apparently Schuyler had no intention of defending Fort Edward. As a matter of fact, it was a fort only in name. Higher ground commanded it, and at lest its defenses were weak. Maye, he might have made a stand there had not two Massachusetts regiments of militia decamped in a body as Burgoyne approached. Reduced to 4,000, Schuyler could hardly risk a stand against the invading army of 8,000. Yet, he was criticized for abandoning Fort Edward without striking a blow. In withdrawing from it Schuyler improved his position and left the enemy nothing that could aid or nourish them. On July 25th his forces were in position at Moses Kill, a short distance below Fort Edward. On that day, Colonel John Trumbull, Schuyler's adjutant-general, wrote as follows: "Our little army has now returned to Moses Kill, two or three miles below Fort Edward. All the houses, barracks, stores, etc., at the latter place are burned and destroyed. It seems a maxim to General Schuyler to leave no support to the enemy as he retires; all is devastation and waste when he leaves. . . . . Ten days or a fortnight, I fancy will put our position in a position to stand." A week later the Americans fell back to Fort Miller six miles southward, then to Stillwater, and at last to Van Schaick's Island, at the mouth of the Mohawk River, only nine miles north of Albany. Still, there was no immediate reason for panic; the situation was precarious, but Burgoyne was still at Fort Edward, and before he could move far from that place much of great importance might happen.

Meanwhile another invading column was going through Western New York, down the Mohawk River, to join Burgoyne before Albany. Colonel Barry St. Leger, with his 1,700 men, had gone by way of the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario to Oswego, thence along the Oswego River and down Oneida Lake, making for the headwaters of the Mohawk River. To guard the portage between Wood Creek and the Mohawk a fortress had been built by General Stanwix, which was given a new name--Fort Schuyler. Its commander, Colonel Gansevoort, did his best to being the post into good repair, and he had not completed his work before St. Leger began to invest it. Gansevoort commanded the 3d New York regiment. with him also were some Massachusetts Continentals; but, in all, the garrison only numbered 750. The investing force, according to St. Leger's report, included "artillery, the Thirty-fourth and King's regiments" of British regular, "with the Hessian riflemen, and the whole corps of Indians," also two contingents of New York Tories recruited in Tryon and Schoharie Counties. Sir John Johnson commanded Tory regiment known as the Royal Greens, and John Butler, Father of the notorious Walter Butler, a regiment of Rangers. In addition the Mohawk chieftain, Thayendenegea, better known as Joseph Brant, led a strong auxiliary force of Indians, gathered from four of the Six Iroquois nations. Since the flight of Sir John Johnson from Johnstown in the previous year, the Johnson, the Butlers and Brant has hovered near Niagara, actively preparing for the operations in which they were now participating. St. Leger's force, white and red, had left Oswego on July 27th in high spirits, confident that little opposition would be encountered. The Indians had been told that Fort Stanwix (Schuyler) would "fall without a shot."

Some elements that had not been put into the reckoning now became active. For two years or more, the settlers in the Mohawk Valley had taken sides for or against the rebellion, and so vehemently that the arming of one instinctively brought the other group into arms. Living as they did in a turbulent region, overrun by Indians whose peaceful intentions could never be taken for granted, the settlers had fro decades lived to all intents under arms. Now, the Patriots had as much to fear from the Loyalists as from the Indians and the factional feeling had become so intense that the Patriots, or at least some of them, would almost prefer to die fighting then see the victory go to the detested Tories of their region. when on August 2d the advance column of St. Leger's force appeared before Fort Stanwix, word was rapidly passed among the settlers, and an incredibly short time 800 militia reported to their commander, General Nicholas Herkimer, at Fort Dayton. The general had in fact issued a proclamation calling into active service every able-bodied man between the ages of sixteen and sixty. The German of the Palatine villages were in the majority, but the 800 also included some settlers of Celtic ancestry--Irish and Welsh, also some English, Scotch, and Canajoharie vicinity, under Colonel Ebenezer Cox; that from Palatine under Colonel Jacob Klock; the Mohawk regiment under Colonel Frederick Visscher; and that from German Flats and Kingsland, under Colonel Peter Bellinger. These men wee indeed fighting not only to save the fort but their farms and their homes, their women and children, for they dreaded what would happen to them if the Indian hordes got out of hand in victory. So this force of militia was likely to be stronger in the spirit of resistance than almost any other that had taken up arms since Lexington.


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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