EARLY in May (1777), Burgoyne, who went to England the previous autumn, returned to Quebec, bearing the commission of lieutenant-general and commander-in-chief of the British forces in Canada. In June, he had gathered about seven thousand men at St. Johns, on the Sorel, for an invasion of the province of New York, with ample supplies, and boats for transportation. His force was composed of British and German regulars, Canadians and Indians. The Germans were commanded by Major-General Baron de Riedesel, and Burgoyne's chief lieutenants were Major-General Phillips and Brigadier-General Fraser.
At dawn, on the morning of the 20th of June, the drums in the camp at St. Johns beat the generale instead of the reveille, and very soon afterward the army were on the vessels, Burgoyne making an ostentatious display as he entered the schooner Lady Mary. The wives of many of the officers accompanied their husbands, for they expected a pleasant journey to New York, Burgoyne having sent word to Howe that he should speedily meet him on the navigable waters of the Hudson. The departure of the fleet was signalized by the Indians, who having spilled the first blood in the campaign, brought in ten scalps as trophies of their savage warfare. So was begun the execution of the ministerial measure for spreading terror over the land by means of savage atrocities.
Before a fair wind the great armament moved up the lake, with music and banners. At near the mouth of the Raquet River, Burgoyne went on shore and there feasted about four hundred savages, to whom he made a speech, praising them for their fidelity to the king; exhorting them to "strike at the common enemy of their sovereign and America," whom he called "parricides of the State," and forbidding them to kill excepting in battle, or to take scalps excepting from the dead. This speech he caused to be published. His own commentary on it may be found in a threatening proclamation issued at Crown Point a few days afterward, in which he said: "Let not people consider their distance from my camp. I have but to give stretch to the Indian forces under my direction--and they amount to thousands--to overtake the hardened enemies of Great Britain. If the frenzy of hostility should remain, I trust I shall stand acquitted in the eyes of God and man in executing the vengeance of the State against the willful outcasts."
The whole invading army (a part of it on land) reached Crown Point on the 26th of June, and menaced Ticonderoga, where General St. Clair was in command. The invading force then numbered something less than nine thousand men, with a powerful train of artillery manned by veterans. The garrisons at Ticonderoga and Mount Independence opposite, had an aggregate force of not more than thirty-five hundred men, only one in ten of them possessing a bayonet. Schuyler had too few troops (mostly militia) below to spare a reinforcement for St. Clair, without uncovering points which, left unprotected, might allow the invaders to gain the rear of the lake fortresses. Besides, he was compelled to make provision for meeting St. Leger's invasion of the Mohawk Valley. There were strong outposts around Ticonderoga, but there were not troops enough to man them; and there were eminences that commanded the fort that were left unguarded for the same reason. Between Ticonderoga and Mount Independence was a floating-bridge and boom which the Americans thought might effectually obstruct the passage of the British vessels, but these utterly failed in the hour of need. St. Clair perceived the web of peril that was weaving around him, but he kept up courage, declaring that he would totally defeat the enemy.
At Crown Point, Burgoyne issued a pompous proclamation to the inhabitants of the Upper Hudson Valley, which contained the threat above alluded to. He acted promptly as well as boasted. At the beginning of July he moved from Crown Point upon the upper lake fortresses with his whole army and navy. Riedesel led the Germans on the eastern side to attack the works on Mount Independence, while Phillips and Fraser pressed on to the outworks of Ticonderoga. They seized an eminence that commanded the road to Lake George; also mills in the rear of the fort. This was speedily followed by taking possession of and planting a battery of heavy cannon upon Mount Defiance, where plunging shot might be hurled into Fort Ticonderoga from a point several hundred feet above it. St. Clair, perceiving that the fort was no longer tenable, called a council of war, when it was resolved to evacuate it. On the evening of the 5th of July, the invalids and convalescents under Colonel Long, with stores and baggage, were sent off in bateaux for Skenesborough (now Whitehall); and two o'clock on the morning of the 6th, the garrison, having spiked the guns which they could not take with them, silently crossed the floating-bridge to Mount Independence under cover of a brisk cannonade from that eminence. With the garrison there, the began, just before the dawn, a flight through the forests southward to the rugged hills of Vermont. The light of the waning moon was too feeble to reveal their movements, and the Americans hoped to leave their enemies far in their rear before their flight should be discovered. Unfortunately a building on Mount Independence was set on fire, and the light thereof betrayed the flying troops. Pursuit was immediately ordered. Fraser pressed forward with grenadiers and took possession of Ticonderoga, while Riedesel seized and occupied Mount Independence. The former crossed the floating-bridge before sunrise, and with the Germans began a hot pursuit of the fugitive army.
Meanwhile Burgoyne, on board the schooner Royal George, ordered his gunboats to pursue the bateaux. The bridge barrier was soon removed, and the British vessels gave chase. They overtook the bateaux at near the landing-place at Skenesborough, and destroyed them and their contents. Colonel Long and his men escaped; and after setting on fire everything combustible at Skenesborough, they fled to Fort Ann, a few miles in the interior, pursued by a British regiment. Near Fort Ann, he turned upon and routed his pursuers, when the latter was reinforced and Long was driven back. He burned Fort Ann, and fled to Fort Edward on the Hudson.
When the army of St. Clair reached Hubbardton, in Vermont, the main body marched through the woods toward Castleton, leaving the rear-guard, under Colonel Seth Warner, one of the brave "Green Mountain Boys," to gather up the stragglers. While awaiting their arrival, Warner was overtaken by the van of the pursuers, on the morning of the 7th, when a sharp engagement took place. Colonel Francis of New Hampshire, who commanded the rear-guard in the flight, was killed. The Americans were dispersed and fled, but about two hundred of them were made prisoners. The pursuers lost almost as many killed and wounded, and gave up the chase. St. Clair, with about two thousand troops, made his way in safety to Fort Edward.
A very large amount of provisions and military stores, and almost two hundred pieces of artillery, were lost by the Americans when they evacuated Ticonderoga. The news of the disaster went over the country, with wildest exaggerations. Generals Schuyler and St. Clair were condemned without stint and without reason. They had done all that it was possible for men to do under the circumstances. The States as individual communities and by their representatives in Congress had utterly failed to supply the Northern Department with sufficient men to defend it. The Congress had been practically deaf to the repeated calls of Schuyler for reinforcements. He had pointed out the dangers of an impending invasion while his force was too small to stay, or even impede it much. Washington, more wise than the Congress, saw the importance to his own army and the safety of the country in checking the progress of the invaders; and though he was sorely in want of reinforcements coming from New England, he directed that a part of them, when they should reach the Hudson River, should be sent up that stream to assist Schuyler against a powerful foe. The enemies of the commander of the Northern Department, in and out of Congress, took an ungenerous advantage of the public ignorance of the truth, and condemned him as an incompetent. Some went so far as to call him a traitor. After tedious endeavors he procured a trial by a court-martial, who, by their verdict, heartily approved by the Congress, fully vindicated his character in every respect.
Schuyler was at Saratoga when he heard of the disaster. He hastened to Fort Edward to gather there the scattered troops and oppose the further advance of Burgoyne, who, victorious, was boastful and arrogant. In a proclamation he peremptorily demanded the instant submission of the people. Schuyler immediately issued a counter-proclamation, with excellent effect; but with the remnant of St. Clair's army added to his own force at the middle of July, he had not more than four thousand effective men--a number totally inadequate to combat with the enemy. He employed it simply but effectually, in destroying bridges and felling trees in the pathway of the invader. So impeded, Burgoyne did not reach Fort Edward until the close of July. He was compelled to move cautiously, for Carleton had refused to garrison the lake-forts, and the lieutenant-general was compelled to "drain the life-blood" of his army to defend them. His Indians, too, were beginning to be restless, and some were leaving him.
Schuyler, with his little army, continued to impede the progress of Burgoyne, at the same time falling back, until, in August, he resolved to make a stand at Stillwater, and establish there a fortified camp, for recruits for his force were then coming in freely. The panic caused by the evacuation of Ticonderoga and the invasion was beginning to subside, and a patriotic spirit took its place. Burgoyne was evidently growing weaker by his compulsory delay. His base of supplies was so distant, and precarious, that he was soon placed in a half-starving condition, surrounded on three sides by foes who were preparing to make raids on the fourth. He was absolutely unable to retreat or move forward with vigor. In this dilemma, and feeling the necessity of making a bold stroke for relief, he sent a detachment of his army, composed of Germans, Canadians, Tories and Indians, toward Bennington, in the now State of Vermont, which had been organized and declared independent by a convention at Windsor in the previous January. The object was to strengthen and organize the Tories; procure horses to mount the German dragoons, and to seize cattle, wagons, and stores which it was said had been gathered in large numbers and quantities at Bennington. The detachment was commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Baum of the German dragoons. They reached the neighborhood of Bennington on the evening of the 13th of August . Perceiving some reconnoitering Americans the next morning, Baum sent back for reinforcements, when Burgoyne dispatched two German battalions with two cannon under Lieutenant-Colonel Breyman, who marched through steady rain almost continually for thirty hours. Baum, in the meantime, had taken position on a hill four or five miles westward of Bennington, that sloped down to the Walloomscoick Creek, and there cast up some intrenchments.
The New Hampshire militia had just been organized, and placed under the command of Colonel William Whipple (a signer of the Declaration of Independence) and John Stark, a veteran of the French and Indian War. They were embodied to assist in defending the western frontiers of Vermont from the invading British army. When Baum arrived on the Wallooms-coick, Stark was at Bennington with part of a brigade. He immediately sent for the shattered remains of Colonel Seth Warner's regiment at Manchester. They marched all night in rain, and joined Stark on the 14th at near dawn, thoroughly drenched. All that day and the next, the drenching rain continued. Parties of Americans continually annoyed the intruders by attacks here and there upon their flanks or rear, but no battle occurred. On the evening of the 15th, some reinforcements came from Berkshire, Massachusetts, bringing with them the Rev. Mr. Allen, a belligerent chaplain. He told Stark that the people of his district had been frequently called out to fight, without being allowed to, and if they were not gratified this time, they would not turn out again. "Do you wish to march now, in the darkness and rain?" inquired Stark. "No, not just this moment," answered the fighting parson. "Then," Stark said, "if the Lord shall once more give us sunshine, and I do not give you fighting enough, I'll never ask you to come out again." Sunshine came with the morrow, and the parson and his men had "fighting enough" before the evening twilight.
On the bright, hot morning of the 16th (August, 1777), Stark formed a plan of attack on the foe lying upon the Walloomscoick Heights. He divided his force, and at three o'clock in the afternoon, the detachments, led by Colonels Nicholls and Herrick, Hubbard and Stickney, and a considerable force by Stark in person, attacked the enemy on every side. The frightened Indians dashed through a gap in the encircling American lines and fled to the shelter of the woods, leaving their chief dead on the field. After a severe contest for two hours, the ammunition of the Germans failed, when they attempted to break through the line of besiegers with bayonets and sabres. In the attempt Baum was killed and his veterans were made prisoners. At that moment Breyman appeared with his wearied battalion, and Warner joined Stark with some fresh troops. The battle was instantly resumed. The cannon which had been taken from the Germans was turned upon their friends. A desperate fight ensued and continued until sunset, when Breyman retreated, leaving his artillery and nearly all of his wounded behind. The Germans had lost about one hundred and fifty killed and wounded, and seven hundred made prisoners. The loss of the Americans was less than a hundred.
The victory was complete and brilliant. It inspirited the Americans, and carried dismay to the hearts of the Tories and the British commander. To the latter the expedition was very disastrous. It disheartened his Tory friends. Many of the Canadians and Indians deserted, and the spirits of his whole army were depressed. It crippled his movements at a moment when it was all-important that he should go forward with celerity. St. Leger, whom he had sent by way of Oswego to invade the Mohawk Valley, was there, besieging Fort Schuyler on the site of Rome, and they were to meet as victors at Albany. His plans were frustrated; his hopes were destroyed. His troops had to be fed with provisions brought from England by way of Canada, over Lakes Champlain and George and a perilous land carriage, for gathering patriots were hovering about his rear. It was perilous for him to remain where he was, and more perilous for him to advance or retreat.
While these important events were occurring eastward of Schuyler's camp at Stillwater, equally important ones were happening westward of him. Brant had come from Canada in the spring of 1777, and in June was at the head of a band of Indian marauders on the head-waters of the Susquehanna. Brigadier-General Nicholas Herkimer was at the head of the Tryon county militia, and was instructed by Schuyler to watch and check any hostile movements of the Mohawk Chief, whose presence had put an end to the neutrality of his nation and of others of the Iroquois Confederacy. To assist the Whigs of Tryon country, a garrison commanded by Colonel Peter Gansevoort was placed in Fort Schuyler, which was reinforced by the regiment of Colonel Marinus Willett. Bateaux had just brought provisions up the Mohawk for the garrison, when, at the beginning of August, St. Leger, with a motley host of Tories and Canadians, under Colonels Johnson, Claus and Butler, and Indians led by Brant, arrived from Oswego and began a close siege of the fort. Hearing of this, Herkimer, with the Tryon county militia, proceeded to help the garrison. He sent them word that he was coming. On the receipt of the news a part of two regiments (Gansevoort's and Wesson's), led by Colonel Willett, made a sortie from the fort, and fell upon the camp of Johnson's "Royal Greens" so suddenly and effectively, that they were dispersed in great confusion, Sir John not having time to put on his coat before he was compelled to fly. His papers and baggage and those of other officers, and the clothing, blankets, stores and camp equipage, sufficient to fill twenty wagons, were the spoils of victory, with five British standards as trophies. A part of Sir John's "Greens," and some Indians, had gone to meet approaching Herkimer.
At Oriskany, a few miles west of Utica, Herkimer and his little army were marching in fancied security on the morning of the 6th of August, when Tories and Indians from St. Leger's army, suddenly rose from an ambush and fell upon the patriots at all points with pikes, hatchets, and rifle-balls. Herkimer's rear-guard broke and fled; the remainder sustained a fierce conflict for more than an hour with great bravery. General Herkimer had a horse shot dead under him, and by the bullet that killed the animal, his own leg was shattered just below the knee. Sitting on his saddle and leaning against a beech tree, the brave old general (then sixty-five years of age) directed the battle with great coolness, while the bullets flew thickly around him. A heavy thunder-shower caused a lull in the fight. When it had passed, the battle was renewed with great violence, Major Watts, a brother-in-law of Sir John Johnson leading a portion of the "Greens." At length the Indians, hearing the firing in the direction of the fort, where Willett made his sortie, became panic-stricken and fled to the deep woods. They were soon followed by the equally alarmed Tories and Canadians. The Patriots were left masters of the field, but they did not relieve Fort Stanwix. Their commander was carried to his home, below the Little Falls, where he died from the effects of excessive bleeding from his wound.
St. Leger continued the siege. The garrison bravely held out; and Colonel Willett went from the fort stealthily down the Mohawk Valley with a message from Gansevoort to Schuyler, asking for relief. The sagacious general perceived the importance of beating back St. Leger, as a part of the means for securing the expected victory over Burgoyne. He called a council of officers, and proposed to send a detachment up the valley. They opposed the measure because the army was then too weak to check the march of Burgoyne. The general persisted in his opinion of the necessity and humanity of sending a force to the relief of Fort Schuyler. He was walking the floor with great anxiety of mind, when he heard one of the officers say in a low tone of voice, "He means to weaken the army." That was an epitome of all the slanders which had been uttered since the evacuation of Ticonderoga. He heard the charge of implied treason with the hottest indignation. Turning quickly toward the slanderer, and unconsciously biting into several pieces a clay pipe which he was smoking, he exclaimed in a voice that awed the whole company into silence: "Gentlemen, I shall take the responsibility upon myself; where is the brigadier who will take command of the relief? I shall beat up for volunteers to-morrow." General Arnold, ever ready for deeds of daring, at once stepped forward and offered his services. Before noon the next day (August 13), eight hundred stalwart men were enrolled for the expedition. They were chiefly from the Massachusetts brigade of General Larned. They followed their brave leader with perfect confidence, and won success. By prowess, audacity and stratagem, Arnold compelled the invader to raise the siege of Fort Schuyler within ten days after he left the camp at Stillwater. At Fort Dayton (German Flats) he found a half-idiotic Tory, a prisoner, who had been tried for crimes and condemned to death. His mother begged for his pardon. It was promised by Arnold under the condition that he should go, with a friendly Oneida Indian, among the savages in St. Leger's camp, and by representing the Americans on the march against them as extremely numerous, frighten them away. The prisoner agreed. He had several shots fired through his coat, and with these evidences of "a terrible engagement with the enemy," he ran, almost out of breath, among the Indians, declaring that he had just escaped from the approaching Americans. Pointing toward the trees and the sky, he said, "They are as many as the leaves and the stars at night." Very soon his companion, the Oneida, came running from another direction, with the same story. The Indians, thoroughly alarmed, held a pow-wow--a consultation with the Great Spirit--and resolved to fly. No persuasion could hold them. Away they went as fast as their feet could carry them, toward Oswego and the more western wilds, followed by their pale-faced confreres, pell-mell, in a race for the safe bosom of Lake Ontario. So the siege of Fort Schuyler was raised; and so ended the formidable invasion from the west.
The expulsion of St. Leger and his followers was a severe blow to the hopes of Burgoyne. This disaster following so closely upon that near Bennington, staggered him. His visions of conquest, and orders, and perhaps a peerage for himself, vanished. His doom was pronounced. His army was already conquered in fact--it needed very little to make it so, in form. The wise policy and untiring exertions of General Schuyler had accomplished the ruin of the invading army.
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