« PreviousContinue »
and not exceeding 3,400 men, were inadequate to the defence of this position. Accordingly, no sooner was the place invested, than their General, St. Clair, called a Council of War; and the officers, agreeing in opinion, drew off the troops by night, leaving Ticonderoga to the occupation of the British. Next morning, when their retreat was discovered, they were hotly pursued; and two of their divisions being overtaken, were put to the rout, or cut to pieces, in skirmishes at Huberton and Fort Anne. The remainder made their way to General Schuyler, at Fort Edward, upon the Hudson river.
Fort Edward was now, in like manner, the aim of General Burgoyne. He rejected, as circuitous, the ordinary route by Ticonderoga and Lake George, and with his main body, pushed forward across the country from Skenesborough. Here he found himself harassed by almost every obstacle that either art or nature could supply. The Americans had felled large trees on both sides of the track, so as to fall across it with their branches mingled. The face of the country was likewise so broken with streams or swamps, that in this moderate distance, the British had no less than forty bridges to construct; one of these, a log-work over a morass, two miles in length.* "When at last, through all these impediments, Burgoyne did appear before Fort Edward, he found that the enemy had relinquished it on his approach, and fallen back towards Stillwater, lower down the Hudson. But the delays in his march had afforded them what they chiefly needed—further time to mature their preparations for defence.
At Fort Edward it was Burgoyne's first care to open the communications by Lake George, and thus, for the time, secure his supplies from Canada. He found himself unable to obtain adequate supplies around him; and his principal dependence was upon the stores of salt provisions brought from England into the St. Lawrence, and conveyed from thence across Lake Champlain. He found, also, that he must no longer reckon on the co-operation which he had hoped, on the side of the Mohawk river. Colonel St. Leger had been despatched from Canada with
a small body of light troops, to reduce Fort Stanwix (or Fort Schuyler, as the Americans termed it), and from thence make his way to Burgoyne; but St. Leger was baffled by the steadiness of the garrison, and compelled to retire with loss. Perhaps, however, the principal disappointment of Burgoyne lay in the ill conduct of his Indians. So early as the 11th of July we may observe him complain as follows, to the Secretary of State: "Con"fidentially to your Lordship, I may acknowledge that in "several instances, I have found the Indians little more "than a name. If, under the management of their con"ductors, they are indulged for interested reasons in all "the caprices and humours of spoiled children, like them "they grow more unreasonable and importunate upon "every new favour. Were they left to themselves, enor"mities too horrid to think of would ensue; guilty and "innocent, women and infants, would be a common "prey,"
It is due to Burgoyne to state, that from the first he had made most strenuous exertions, both by word and deed, to prevent any such enormities. The testimony, for example, of his aide-de-camp, Lord Petersham, when examined before the House of Commons, is clear and precise upon that point.* But, in spite of all restraints, the cruel temper and the lawless habits of these savages would sometimes burst forth—sometimes not more fatally to their enemies than to their friends. The tragical fate of Miss Mac Rea raised one loud cry of pity and of indignation on both sides of the Atlantic. This lady, in the bloom of youth and beauty, the daughter of an American loyalist, was betrothed to an officer in the British provincial troops. Anxious for her security, the officer engaged some Indians to escort her from her home, and convey her to the British camp, where her marriage would be solemnised. As a further precaution, he promised to reward the person who should bring her safe to him, with
* See Burgoyne's Narrative and Collection of Documents, pp. 65, 66. second ed. Charles Stanhope, Lord Petersham, succeeded as third Earl of Harrington in 1779, and survived till 1829. Let me say—what all who knew him would, I believe, most readily attest — that in his long career, and many high commands, few officers were ever more respected and beloved.
a barrel of rum. But this very precaution, as it seemed to be, was the cause of the disaster which ensued. Two of the Indians, who took charge of her, began a quarrel on the way, which of them should first present her to her bridegroom. Each was eager for the rum; each resolute that his companion should not receive it in his place. At last one of them, in sudden fury, raising his tomahawk, struck Miss Mac Rea upon the head, and laid her a corpse at his feet. General Burgoyne, at this news, displayed the utmost resentment and concern. He compelled the Indians to deliver up the murderer, and designed to put him to death. He was only induced to spare his life upon the Indians agreeing to terms, which the General thought would be more effectual than any execution, in deterring them from similar barbarities. Deterred, indeed, they were. But when they found themselves precluded from their expected delights of plundering and scalping, they began to desert, and go home. Of nearly five hundred, who at the outset joined Burgoyne, less than three score at last remained beneath his banner.
It may well be imagined, that while Burgoyne was advancing, declamations against his and the Indians' cruelty (for no distinction was admitted) were rife on the Americans' side. In the same spirit a manifesto had been issued by General Schuyler, recounting with great exaggeration the acts of violence committed last winter in the Jerseys by the British troops. By such means, and still more, perhaps, by the natural spirit of a freeborn people when threatened with invasion, a resolute energy against Burgoyne was roused in the New England States. In all these the Militia was called out, and hastened to obey the call. But in a great number of cases such forms were deemed tedious, and dispensed with. Many a hardy yeoman, hearing of "the Britishers' " advance, waited for no further summons; he took down his gun from the wall, he drew forth his horse from the stable, and rode off at once to the scene of danger. The families that had no men to spare were only the more eager to send supplies. An officer of Burgoyne's army, passing through Massachusetts as a prisoner a short time afterwards, observes, that "In many poor habitations they "have parted with one of their blankets, where they had "only two, for the use of their soldiers."* Thus in front of Burgoyne a large force was quickly mustered, which, by accessions from other provinces, grew at last to 13,000 men; men deficient, indeed, in discipline and order, but, as their adversaries after they had tried them owned, resolute and brave, and in one respect, namely, as skilful marksmen with the rifle, not to be surpassed.
For the command of this rising force a new appointment was sanctioned by the Congress. The gentlemen seated at their ease in the town of York wholly overlooked the deficiencies and difficulties caused in great part by their own neglect. They reprobated in the strongest terms the evacuation of Ticonderoga, and the retreat of their army down the Hudson; they could assign to it no better motive than either cowardice or treachery. Under such impressions they recalled the General Officers in the Northern department, and ordered an inquiry into their conduct. At the close of that inquiry some time afterwards, St. Clair and the other persons thus set aside were acquitted, and acknowledged to be wholly free from blame. Meanwhile the chief command in this quarter was intrusted to General Gates. The talents of that officer did not rise above mediocrity; but under him was serving Arnold,—Arnold, the bold, the skilful, and the enterprising, and, as yet, the warm and thorough enemy of England.
From Fort Edward General Burgoyne constructed a bridge of rafts across the Hudson, and sent over a division of his army, under General Frazer, to take post on th« heights of Saratoga. At the same time he had in view another enterprise on the opposite side. He had learnt that the enemy were collecting large supplies at Bennington, in part of'live cattle, and in part of corn. To obtain these supplies for the use of his own soldiers was in his situation an object of paramount importance. He despatched for this purpose an expedition commanded by Colonel Baum, and consisting of 200 Germans and dismounted dragoons, and a very few English, with some Indians and Canadian volunteers — in all about 500
* Letter from Cambridge, November 25. 1777. Travels by Lieutenant Anburey, voL ii. p. 45. ed. 1783.
men. At a later period Burgoyne was blamed, perhaps hypercritically, for not having sent English, instead of Germans, on this critical service, where success would depend so much on early and exact intelligence. As Baum marched onwaids, he found himself joined by a party of American loyalists. In his Report, of which he says himself, " Pray pardon the hurry of this letter ; it is "written on the head of a barrel:" he observes, " People
are flocking in hourly, but want to be armed; the "savages cannot be controlled; they ruin and take every "thing they please." *
On drawing nigh to Bennington, Colonel Baum found that the force opposed to him was far greater than his own, the American Greneral Stark having unexpectedly arrived at the head of the Militia from New Hampshire. Burgoyne had no sooner received the express to apprise him of this event, than he hastened to detach a second division of Germans, under Colonel Breyman, to support the first. But before this second division could reach the ground, the first was attacked by Stark. "We will "gain the victory," said he to his men, " or, Molly Stark "shall be a widow to-night!" It is acknowledged by American writers that Baum made a brave and resolute defence, f Nevertheless he was overpowered, and compelled to give way. When Baum's troops were already put to flight, the division under Breyman came up, and the conflict was renewed, but with no different result. In these two engagements the loss of the Americans was inconsiderable, while on the British side there were upwards of 200 killed, and 700 prisoners; among the latter Baum himself, who shortly afterwards died of his wounds.
The disaster at Bennington exerted a fatal influence over the rest of this campaign. To the Americans it gave new hope and self-reliance. On the other side, it disheartened more especially the loyalists of the province, open or concealed. Till now they had promised, nay begun, to join the British standards. Henceforth
* See Appendix to General Burgoyne's Narrative, p. 71. ed. 1780.
f Life of Stark, by Mr. Edward Everett, p. 86.