Robert Tomes.

Battles of America by sea and land. With biographies of naval and military commanders (Volume 01) online

. (page 70 of 126)
Online LibraryRobert TomesBattles of America by sea and land. With biographies of naval and military commanders (Volume 01) → online text (page 70 of 126)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

under Colonels Cilley,Scammel,and Hale;
two of New York, under Colonel Philip
Van Cortlandt and Lieutenant-Colonel
Henry Livingston; Colonels Cook and
Latimer s Connecticut militia ; Colonel
Morgan with his rifle-corps, and the two
hundred and fifty infantry under Major
Dearborn, composed the left wing of the
American army, under the command of
Major-General Benedict Arnold, and rest
ed on the heights, nearly a mile from the
river. The centre, composed of General
Learned s brigade; three Massachusetts
regiments, under Colonels Bailey, Wes
son, and Jackson ; and one of New York,
under Colonel James Livingston, occu
pied the elevated plain. The main body,
consisting principally of the brigades of
Nixon, Patterson, and Glover, and com
manded by General Gates in person, com
posed the right wing, extending across
the river hills and ilats toward the Hud


The American army was greatly en
couraged by the arrival of General Stark,
with those troops which had so gallantly
won the day at Bennington. Loud huz
zas from the lines welcomed them as they
entered the camp, aud great service was

expected from them in the approaching
engagement. They were, however, inde
pendent militia, and did not seem disposed
to submit to discipline. They swaggered
about in loose array from tent to tent,
peering curiously into everything, and
apparently undetermined whether to stay
or to go. They now began to collect in
groups, and whisper mysteriously togeth
er. Finally, with their knapsacks still on
their backs, they boldly reminded their
officers that their time of service had expired
thai day, and that they had resolved to go
home. Stark urged them to remain, but
his appeals were in vain ; and the heroes
of Bennington inarched back again, on
the very day they had arrived. Rapidly
as they hurried off, they could not have
got beyond the sound of the guns when
the action began !

The left wing of the British, with the
large train of artillery, under General
Phillips and the baron de Reidesel, occu
pied the flats toward the river. The cen
tre and right wing, of which most were
Germans, commanded by Burgoyne in
person, extended across the plains to the
west. Their position was covered by the
grenadiers and light-infantry, under Gen
eral Fraser and Colonel Breyman. On
the flanks and in front was a miscellane
ous throng of American loyalists, Cana
dians, and Indians.*

About eight o clock in the morning

the officer commanding; an Amer-

Sept, 19

ican picket reported that the en
emy had struck most of their tents on the
plain, and that Burgoyne with his centre
was passing westwardly in the direction

* Street.



[l-ART II.

of the American left. Soon a more gen
eral movement was observed. Fraser,
with his light-infantry, was marching, by
a circuitous route, from the right of the
British, in the same direction as Bur-
goyne; and Phillips and De Reidesel were
bringing up the artillery from the left,
along the flats bordering the Hudson.
The Indians and Canadians, in front of
the British line, were also moving toward
the outposts of the American centre. Bur-
goyne s object was, while the Indians and
Canadians should divert Gates in front,
and Phillips and De Reidesel on his right,
to move round through the woods, and
get to the rear of the American left.

General Gates remained impassive, ap
parently determined to await the attack ;
but Arnold, in command of the left, grew
so impatient, that he sent aid-de-camp af
ter aid-de-camp to Gates, urging him to
be allowed to send out a detachment, in
order to check the advance of the enemy.
The general finally consented, when about
noon Arnold ordered out Morgan and
Dearborn, with their riflemen, to the at
tack. They soon came upon a body of
Indians and Canadians in the woods, and
scattered them at the first fire. The rifle
men now pushed on in pursuit, when they
found themselves suddenly brought to a
check by being confronted with the whole
British line.

A complete rout of the Americans en
sued, and Morgan s corps was so scattered,
that he himself was left with only two of
his men ! As the old forest-hunter was
striving with his shrill " turkey-call" ( from
the conch-shell which he wore suspended
from his neck) to whistle back his dis

persed troops, Wilkinson, the adjutant-
general, rode up. " I am ruined, by G-d !"
exclaimed Morgan, with tears in his eyes.
" Major Morris ran on so rapidly with the
front, that they were beaten before I
could get up with the rear, and my men
are scattered God knows where !" Mor
gan, when marching into action, always
brought up the rear himself, " to see," as
he said, "that every man did his duty;
and that cowards did not lag behind while
brave men were fighting."

Several officers and men of Morgan s
corps had been taken prisoners. Major
Morris, who had led them on so impetu
ously, only saved himself by dashing his
horse through the ranks of the enem}^
who surrounded him, and making oft by
a circuitous route. The " turkey -call"
soon brought back the fugitives, and Mor
gan with his corps reformed, and being
joined by Colonels Cilley, Brooks, and
Scammel, and Major Hull, with their New
Hampshire regiments, is now again pre
pared for action. It is renewed with
great spirit on both sides ; now the Brit
ish are gaining ground, and again the
Americans ; and so the contest is contin
ued, with fluctuating result, until each
party finally retires within the intrench-
ments, while neither claims the advan

Arnold, in the mean time, keeping watch
over the movement of General Fraser
who is attempting to turn the American
left determines to thwart him by cut
ting him off from the main body of the
British. He accordingly pushes on rap
idly with Colonel Hale s New-Hampshire
regiment, three of New York under Van




Cortland and Livingston, and a body of
Connecticut militia, with the view of turn
ing Eraser s left. As, however, he is stri
ving to carry out his manoeuvre unob
served, under the cover of the forest, he
suddenly comes upon Fraser with his
whole force, and a struggle ensues ; but
General Phillips soon making his appear
ance with his artillery, gave the enemy
so greatly the advantage, that the Amer
icans prudently retired. There was now
a pause in the action. It was, however,
soon renewed.

The British stood in line, in advance of
their encampment, upon the slope of a
rising ground, amid scattered pines. The
American ranks, formed ready for battle,
were opposite, but closely hid from their
enemy, in a thick forest. Between the
two was "Freeman s farm," a cleared field,
once cultivated by the hand of the peace
ful husbandman, now choked with weeds
and abandoned to the tramp of the sol
dier. This Freeman s farm, between the
opposing armies, was now the field of bat

The British provoke the conflict by a
discharge of artillery. The Americans,
however, remain unmoved. Soon the
smoke clears away, and the ranks of the
enemy are seen in motion, hurrying down
the slope with apparent irregularity, as
the sight is confused by the scattered
pines. They now show themselves, how
ever, in close and well-ordered array, ad
vancing in the cleared ground below.
They come on quickly, nearer and near
er ; they halt, level their muskets, firing
a volley, and then rush forward, charging
with their bayonets. The Americans with

hold their fire until the British are close
up, and then with a sure aim pour upon
them such a discharge, that their ranks,
reeling with the shock, finally break and
give way. The Americans now rush from
their forest-covert and follow the enemy
in close pursuit across the field. The
British, reaching the high ground, and
being covered by their artillery, now ral
ly, and again charging with the bayonet,
drive the Americans in their turn back
to the woods. The marksmen once more
with their deadly fire compel the enemy
to flee, and again pursue them to the cov
er of their encampment. The British
rally and charge as before ; and thus did
" the battle fluctuate, like waves of a
strong sea, with alternate advantage, for
four hours, without one moment s inter
mission." Gallantly they fought on both
sides, and night alone ended the conflict.
Neither the British nor the Americans
could justly claim the victory. The loss
was nearly the same, amounting to more
than three hundred each ; while the num
ber engaged was also about equal, though
some have stated that the Americans on
ly brought twenty-five hundred into the
field against three thousand of General
Burgoy ne s troops.

In the course of the struggle, the Amer
icans succeeded in gaining possession of
some of the British artillery, but they had
to fight hard for it. The captain and
thirty-six men, out of a company of forty-
eight, were struck down before their gun
could be taken, so manfully did they cling
to their piece. The cannon taken, how
ever, for want of horses to bring them
off, were left upon the field, and conse-



[TART n.

quently again fell into the hands of the

General Burgoyne claimed the victory,
as appeared by some letters found in the
pouch of an Indian, who was shot dead
by one of the American scouts on the
lookout throughout the whole country
around for British spies and messengers.
The letters were writ: en by Burgoyne to
Sir Guy Carleton, in Canada. In one he
wrote : " I take the first opportunity to
inform you we have had a smart and very
honorable action, and are now encamped
in the front of the field, which must de
monstrate our victory beyond the power
of even (in American newspaper writer
to explain away." In another letter he
declared : " We found live hundred of
their [the Americans ] bodies the morn
ing after."

There were two women of rank in the
British camp, w T hose noble devotion to
their husbands and spirited endurance of
the trials of affection and fortitude to
which they were exposed in the course
of the terrors and horrors of actual war,
have given a romantic interest to Bur-
goyne s campaign. No historian has failed
to record the remarkable adventures of
the baroness Reidesel and Lady Harriet
Ackland. The former has, in her own
natural narrative, left the best history of
her sad experience in America.

The baroness Reidesel was the wife of
the Hessian general in command of the
Germans. Lady Harriet Ackland was the
sister of the earl of Ilchester. arid the
wife of Major Ackland, of the grenadiers.
They had accompanied their husbands to
Quebec, where they were urged to remain

during the campaign. Lady Ackland.
however, having heard that the major
had received a wound in the affair at
Hubbardton, she hurried to join him in
spite of the risks and trials of the jour
ney. She could not be prevailed upon
afterward to leave him, and accompanied
the army during the dreary and tedious
march to Fort Edward. Here the tent
in which she lodged took fire, and she
barely escaped with her life. She still
resolutely persevered in clinging to her
husband, and followed each advance of
the British army, driving in " a small, two-
wheeled tumbril, drawn by a single horse,
over roads almost impassable." :i:

The baroness Reidesel, equally devo
ted, followed her husband also. "I or
dered," she writes, " a large calash to be
built, capable of holding my three chil
dren, myself, and two female-servants ; in
this manner we moved with the army in
the midst of the soldiery, who were very
merry, singing songs and panting for ac
tion." She thus followed the army, gen
erally remaining about an hour s march
in the rear, where she received daily vis
its from her husband the baron. When
Burgoyne encamped opposite to Gates,
Major Williams of the artillery proposed,
as the frequent change of quarters was in
convenient, to have a house built for her,
"with a chimney," quite an unusual lux
ury in that hard campaign. As it would
cost "only five or six guineas" some
twenty-five dollars the baroness con
sented, and the dwelling was constructed,
and named " The Blockhouse," from its
square form, and the resemblance which

* Thucher.



it bore to buildings so called, erected for
purposes of defence.

On the bloody day of the 19th of Sep
tember, however, the "Blockhouse" was
abandoned ; and the baroness Reidesel,
together with Lady Ackland and the wives
of Major Ilamage and Lieutenant Rey-
nell, being advised to follow the route of
the artillery, took refuge, when the en
gagement commenced, in a small hut near
Freeman s farm, the ladies retiring into
the cellar as the danger increased.

" I was an eye-witness," says the bar
oness, " to the whole affair ; and as my

husband was engaged in it, I was full of
anxiety, and troubled at every shot I
heard. I saw a great number of the
wounded, and, what added to the distress
of the scene, three of them were brought
into the house in which I took shelter."
One was Major Harnage, who was very
badly wounded ; and, soon after, word
came that Lieutenant Reynell was shot
dead ! The wives of both were in the
hut, with the baroness Reidesel and Lady
Ackland. " Imagination wants no help,"
wrote Burgoyne, " to figure the state of
the whole group."


A Gloomy Morning. Gayly to Arms ! Anxious Expectation. Attack postponed. Another Delay. News from oir
Henry Clinton. General Burgoyne s Only Hope. The Treacherous Iroquois. Nothing more from Sir Henry. Im
patience of Burgoyne. Fortifies. No Sleep. The Provincials in High Spirits. Trouble in the American Camp
Generals Arnold and Gates. Their Quarrel. Arnold resigns. A Second, Sober Thought Arnold without Com
mand. Blustering ahout the Camp.


THE morning after the battle of
Bemis s heights opened dull and
gloomy. A thick mist rose from the river,
and, overspreading plain and forest, hung
in heavy folds about the sides
of the hills. The dead and the
wounded had been gathered during the
night from the field of battle. Sufferers
were groaning with pain in tent and hos
pital ; mourners were weeping over the
fresh graves of their buried comrades ;
surgeons with probe and knife were busy
at their bloody but merciful work; and
priests were uttering the solemn words
:>f prayer. Yet, amid the gloom of Na

ture, the groans of the dying, and the
mourning for the dead, the drums beat
gayly to arms in the British camp, and
soldiers were briskly stepping into the

The thick fog hid the two armies from
each other, but both were ready to renew
the bloody struggle of yesterday. A de
serter came into the American camp, his
mouth all smutched with the biting of
cartridges. He had been, he said, in the
whole of the action of the previous day.
The night was spent in removing the
wounded and the women to the encamp
ment and hospital tents near the river.




Fresh ammunition bad been served out
to the troops ; his own cartridge-box was
now crammed with sixty rounds ; and he
declared that when he left the British
ranks, only a quarter of an hour before,
the whole of the enemy s force was un
der arms, and orders had been given to
attack the American lines. In ten min
utes more, he added, Burgoyne would

Trusting to this report, General Gates
ordered his lines to be manned immedi
ately ; and he and his officers exhorted
the troops to show themselves, in the com
ing conflict, w r orthy of the cause for which
they fought. The men, though wearied
with a struggle which had lasted until
night of the previous day, readily obeyed
the summons for another day s work ; and
eagerly, as they stood in rank, strove to
pierce with their straining eyes the thick
mist, and catch a glimpse of the approach
ing enemy.

Gates, however, did not share in the
enthusiasm of his troops. Each minute,
as it passed, was one of anxious solicitude.
He was ill prepared that day (as he and
some of his officers only knew) to meet
the enemy. His ammunition was nearly
exhausted, and he was anxiously awaiting
a supply from Albany.

An hour of excited expectation and
anxious suspense passed, during which
hope and fear played with the imagina
tion. Some thought they could hear the
movement of the enemy, and others that
through the floating mist they could catch
a sight of the advancing British troops.
The sun, now dispersing the vapor, shone
out not flashing upon the arms of a

threatening enemy, but only revealing in
its bright reflection the sparkling surface
of the Hudson, and the verdure of the
forest, still freshly green in the early au
tumn, upon hill and plain. Gates now
gladly dismissed the troops.

Burgoyne had drawn up his arm} , and
was about ordering it to march to the at
tack, when General Fraser (whose ability
and dauntless courage had gained for him
great and well-deserved influence with
his commander) besought him to post
pone the assault, as the grenadiers and
light-infantry, who w r ere to take the lead,
seemed wearied by the hard work of the
day before. Burgoyne accordingly or
dered his troops back to camp, and de
termined to postpone the attack until the
next morning.

Burgoyne s design was, how r ever, again
put off! His anxious desire to hear from
New York was now gratified. In the mid
dle of the night a spy entered
his camp, with a letter in cipher
from Sir Henry Clinton, in which that
general stated that he was about making
an attack upon the forts on the North

The American srouts were everywhere
so much on the alert, that the ingenuity
of the British commanders was greatly
taxed to keep up a communication. Let
ters were often copied in duplicate, and
even in triplicate; and, although each was
sent by a separate messenger, it was sel
dom that either arrived. Burgoyne now
heard from Sir Henry Clinton for the
first time. Greatly disappointed as he
was to find that General Howe with his
whole force was not coming to Albany,

Sept, 21,




to co-operate with him, as he had been
led to expect when the plan of the cam
paign was laid down by the English gov
ernment, he was still encouraged by the
mere show of an advance of a British
force, however small, from New York. In
answer to Sir Henry Clinton, Burgoyne
wrote : " An attack, or the menace of an
attack, upon Montgomery [the fort of
that name on the North river], must be
of great use, as it will draw away a part
of this force, and I will follow them close.
Do it, my dear friend, directly."

He now determined to wait a few days,
in order to give Sir Henry Clinton an op
portunity to begin operations, before ma
king his attack. His provisions could not
last beyond the 20th of October ; and, as
his communication with Canada w r as so
completely cut off, that he could not re
ceive a man or a biscuit from that quar
ter, his only hope was, with the aid of
General Clinton, to be able soon to move
forward. He could wait until the 12th,
he declared, and no longer.

Colonel St. Leger had succeeded, after
his flight from Fort Schuyler, in making
his way back to Ticonderoga with a mea
ger remnant of troops, and would have
joined Burgoyne had he been able to
reach him. Colonel Brown was in his
way with a detachment of General Lin
coln s New-Hampshire troops, which, af
ter retiring from an unsuccessful attempt
upon Fort Diamond, was now hanging in
the rear of the British encampment, and
completely cutting it off from all commu
nication with the north.

Burgoy ne s Indians, too, had suffered
so terribly from Morgan s sharpshooters,

and their propensities for scalping and
plundering been so checked by the hu
mane restrictions of the British command
er, that they lost all inducement to serve,
and could no longer be prevailed upon
to remain. A band of Iroquois, amount
ing to more than a hundred and fifty,
treacherously transferred their uncertain
fealty to what they believed to be the
stronger side, that of Gates. The Cana
dians and American loyalists likewise lost
heart, and deserted in numbers. General
Burgoyne, however, was still firm ; and
his regulars shared in the resolute spirit
of their undaunted commander, who de
clared to his men that he would either
force his way to Albany or leave his bones
on the field of battle. Burgoyne heard
nothing more from Sir Henry Clinton, but
cheered himself and his army with the
hope that intelligence would soon arrive
of a successful result to the promised ef
forts at co-operation from New York.

While Burgoyne was awaiting news
from Sir Henry Clinton, he began to for
tify his encampment. He raised breast
works on the flats by the river to his left,
on the plain at his centre, and up the ac
clivity of the hills on his right, strength
ened here and there by abaltis of heaped-
up rails and by redoubts. His men were
kept constantly at work, and on the alert.
" From the 20th of September to the 7th
of October," wrote Burgoyne, in his nar
rative of the expedition, " the armies were
so near, that not a night passed without
firing, and sometimes concerted attacks
upon our advanced pickets. I do not be
lieve either officer or soldier ever slept
in that interval without his clothes; or




that any general officer or commander of
a regiment passed a single night without
being upon his legs occasionally at differ
ent hours, and constantly an hour before

Gates and his army, although equally
on the alert, had less labor and anxiety.
Their defensive works had already been
raised, and nothing was now left but to
strengthen them here and there. The
Americans were in high spirits ; for, al
though they did not claim the victory on
the 19th of September, they had been
able, with equal if not with fewer num
bers, to fight a drawn battle with the
choicest of the British troops, and were
thus encouraged to further effort. Rein
forcements, too, came thronging in : Gen
eral Lincoln had arrived, with two thou
sand New-Hampshire men ; and the mili
tia offered themselves freely from the sur
rounding country, which was now inspir
ited by the perils threatening Burgoyne,
and the triumphs awaiting Gates. Sup
plies also of food and ammunition were
daily brought into the American camp in
great abundance, while the scanty rations
of Burgoyne s soldiers were rapidly di

There was, however, trouble brewing
111 the American camp. The impetuous
Arnold, never very submissive, had been
vexed into a great rage by the somewhat
arbitrary conduct of General Gates. On
the opening of the battle of the 19th, Ar
nold had repeatedly and urgently sent to
the general-in-chief for reinforcements be
fore his demand was complied with, and
he attributed the delay to an envious spir
it on the part of Gates. The next day,

Arnold importunately insisted

Sept, 20,

upon Gates giving battle to the
enemy ; but his advice, very intrusively
and persistently urged, was finally reject
ed, although the reason was left unex
plained. Gates s reason was a good one
(his supply of ammunition having given
out), but he did not deign to state it
leaving Arnold to put his own construc
tion upon his motives. The latter attrib
uted it to envy, and gave vent to his feel
ings of indignation. "I have lately ob
served," he wrote to Gates, "little or no
attention paid to any proposals I have
thought it my duty to make for the pub
lic service ; and when a measure I have
proposed has been agreed to,- it has been
immediately contradicted. I have been
received with the greatest coolness at
headquarters, and often huffed in such a
manner as must mortify a person with
less pride than I have, and in my station
in the army."

Arnold began to talk freely in camp of
Gates s opposition to him, and succeeded
in gaining the sympathy of some of the
officers, among whom there were those
who were attached to General Schuyler,
and were indignant that he should have
been superseded. He was thus encour
aged in the indulgence of his spirit of in
subordination. General Wilkinson, on the
other hand, was at that time a great par
tisan of Gates ; and, being unfriendly tow
ard Arnold,he lost no opportunity of grat
ifying the one and vexing the other. He

/ O o

accordingly, with apparently no better
motive than piquing Arnold, induced the
commander-in-chief to issue the following


order: "Colonel Morgan s corps, not be-


Online LibraryRobert TomesBattles of America by sea and land. With biographies of naval and military commanders (Volume 01) → online text (page 70 of 126)