Sunday, April 2, 2023

ARP269 Ballston Raid

Over the course of 1780, most of the large-scale fighting took place in the Carolinas where the British still contended to govern, and where the hope of loyalists rising to supplement their ranks still gave leadership the incentive to commit resources there.

Yet, despite the loss of Burgoyne’s army and the devastating attacks on native settlements during the Sullivan Campaign many loyalists from upstate New York still contended for control of that region.  We last left this fight back in Episode 250 when raids under Mohawk leader Joseph Brandt and loyalists under John Johnson wrought havoc in the area through the spring and summer of 1780.  Despite the inability to capture any territory, these raids continued into the fall and winter.

A year earlier, in 1779, the Americans had hit Iroquois settlements, successfully forcing them to retreat into Canada.  The Americans had burned their homes and food for the winter.  In the fall of 1780, the British planned to do the same to the Americans living there.  They launched a series of raids designed to burn the homes and destroy the crops of rebels in the region, just before harvest time.

Haldimand’s Strategy

The Governor of Canada in 1780 was General Frederick Haldimand.  I’ve given background on Haldimand before, way back in Episode 62, when he was leaving Boston in 1775, and also in Episode 197 when he returned to Quebec as its new governor.  

Frederick Haldimand

Despite his qualifications, Haldimand got the job almost by default.  Secretary of State Lord Germain hated his predecessor, Governor Guy Carleton, and wanted him out.  As a military leader, Carleton’s obvious successor would have been General John Burgoyne, that is until Burgoyne surrendered an army at Saratoga. Lieutenant Governor Henry Hamilton, who was also a military officer, might also have been a good choice, but Hamilton had spent the last couple of years as a POW in Virginia, and showed no signs of being able to return to Canada anytime soon.

By comparison Haldimand was an ideal candidate for the job.  He had served as acting Governor of Quebec before the war.  He had combat experience over this same region from his time in the French and Indian War and was a senior lieutenant general.  He spoke English, French, and German, all of which were important.  Canada had a large English and French speaking population at this time, and half of the army stationed in Canada were German-speaking Brunswickers.

Despite all this, the major obstacle to Haldimand’s appointment was his birth.  Haldimand had been born and raised in Switzerland, from a Prussian family who had lived there for several generations.  He had gotten his start in the Prussian Army, and served in the Dutch Army for a while.  The British recruited him just before the start of the French and Indian War as part of an effort to get experienced officers who could raise regiments among the German-speaking population in Pennsylvania.

In addition to being of foreign birth, Haldimand had no friends or family with political influence in London.  That was the fastest way for officers to rise through the ranks.  Despite this lack of connection, Haldimand had risen to major general by 1772.  That, however, created a new problem in 1775.  As London was getting ready to recall General Thomas Gage, his second in command in Boston, General Haldimand, was the next in line of seniority, ahead of Generals Howe, Clinton, and Burgoyne.  

London did not want a foreigner in command of North American Forces, and giving that job to a less senior general would be an insult to Haldimand.  So the same ship that carried Howe, Clinton, and Burgoyne to Boston, also carried a message recalling Haldimand to London.  So for the next several years, London officials kept one of their most senior British generals with the most experience in North America, hanging around London with little to do.

While the war was raging in New York in 1776, Haldimand took a few months on vacation to visit his home town in Switzerland.  By 1777, with Secretary Germain finally getting General Carleton to resign as governor and military commander of Quebec, he offered the job to Haldimand.  Thanks to weather and other problems, Haldimand did not arrive in Quebec until late 1778.

The problem for Haldimand was now that he wasn’t sure what to do in Quebec.  Germain even apologized to Haldimand for not being able to give him any specific expectations of his new job.  After Burgoyne’s fiasco at Saratoga, strategists had given up on the idea of creating a link between Quebec and New York that would cut off New England.  They were now thinking more defensively - holding Quebec against any new invasions from the south.  Remember that the Continental Congress, about this time, was making plans to have General Lafayette lead an invasion that would motivate the French inhabitants to rise up and overthrow British rule.  Even though the Americans did not have the resources to put together their planned invasion, they were very interested in the idea, and the British very much feared it.

As military governor, Haldimand took a firm hand, arresting several newspaper editors and others who propagated what Haldimand called “a licentious spirit.” But the local inhabitants proved to be a minor concern.  Haldimand was more concerned with preventing an invasion from the south.  Remember that at this time the Quebec territory extended all the way down to what is today Kentucky.  The Americans had occupied a good portion of that disputed territory thanks to George Rogers Clark.

Haldimand could not worry about that.  He focused more on the region around Lake Champlain, which might serve as an invasion point from New York.  Soon after his arrival in 1778, Haldimand approved several raids into New York, mostly designed to liberate loyalists who were under house arrest so they could join forces in Quebec.  Haldimand had many loyalists, as well as Iroquois, who wanted to bring the war back to New York and retake their homes.  He was still dealing with the refugees from the Sullivan Campaign in late 1779.  

Haldimand had never gotten the reinforcements that Germain had promised him.  He had nowhere near the manpower needed to take and hold parts of New York.  But the British were quite capable of continuing their raids into New York.

Launching another offensive raid into New York accomplished several things.  It would keep the Americans from having a safe platform from which to launch a new invasion into Quebec.  It would deny food being grown there that would help feel the Continental and French armies.  It would give the loyalist and Iroquois refugees an opportunity for some payback, perhaps even a chance of eventually regaining some of their land.  This is what the loyalists constantly requested of Haldimand.

The British had already launched raids into New York over the spring and summer of 1780.  They now prepared for a fall offensive..  

Fort Ann 

Major Christopher Carleton, the nephew of General Guy Carleton, had remained in Canada after his uncle’s departure.  I last mentioned him back in Episode 202 when Carleton led several relatively uneventful raids through northern New York.  Major Carleton led a force of British Regulars, down from St. John’s in Canada, leaving on September 28, 1780.  

Fort Ann (Replica)
The assembled force included about 650 British regulars and another 200 or so loyalists.  The invasion force filled eight ships and 26 smaller bateaux, reaching Valcour Island on October 2.   As they moved down lake Champlain, several parties of Indians joined them, expanding the force to almost 1000 men.

By October 6, the fleet reached Crown Point where the unoccupied ruins of a fort remained.  There, the loyalists under Captain John Munro separated from the main force, and will get to Munro’s expedition shortly.  The rest of the force under Carleton continued to move south, passing the ruins of Fort Ticonderoga, also now unoccupied by either side.  His fleet sailed down South Bay.  When the ships could go no further, the group disembarked and continued overland.

By October 9th, his force of about 650 men reached the rebel-occupied Fort Ann.  The massive force of regulars, along with field cannon came as a surprise to the small garrison at Fort Ann.

The American commander, Captain Adiel Sherwood, was in charge of the 74 militia officers and men at the fort.  The garrison had almost no rations or ammunition to face any sort of siege.  Sherwood later reported that they only had rations for three or four days, and only four rounds of ammunition per man.  Given the overwhelming force against them, there was no prospect of a defense.

Major Carleton sent forward a flag of truce, and offered little in the way of surrender terms. They would be taken as prisoners of war back to Quebec and that any women and children at the fort would be released unmolested to go to their homes,  Sherwood surrendered the fort without a shot fired.  The British moved through the region, burning or pillaging whatever they could find.

Fort George

The British column continued to move south toward Fort Edward.  At Kingsbury, they ran into a couple of locals on horseback.  The men escaped capture and rode to Fort Edward to warn the garrison.  Instead of continuing south, the column turned Northwest and headed overland to Fort George, at the southern tip of Lake George.  Like Fort Ann, the garrison at Fort George was rather small, and lacked sufficient food or ammunition for any sort of siege. 

Fort George Ruins
The garrison consisted of Continentals from Colonel Seth Warner’s Regiment, many former Green Mountain Boys.  Colonel Warner was away recovering from a wound he had received a month earlier.  The second in command Lieutenant Colonel Samuel Safford was also away, trying to chase down the regiment’s paymaster, after he had escaped arrest for embezzlement: selling the regiment’s new uniforms.  Third in command should have been Major Gideon Brownson, but he was already a prisoner of war in Canada. So command of Fort George fell to Captain John Chipman.

Captain Chipman had been focusing on several British ships on Lake George, north of the fort. He was preparing for an attack, but regardless of any preparation, he lacked the men, ammunition and rations to resist an attack of any size.

Chipman sent a rider to nearby Fort Edward to request additional food.  The rider did not make it to Fort Edward, as he spotted a group of about 30 or 40 hostile Indians, who chased him back to Fort George.  Desperate for food, Chipman ordered a detail under the command of Captain Thomas Sill to go out and clear the road between Fort George and Fort Edward of any hostile war parties.  

Sill’s detail, which left the fort on October 11 came into contact with the advance of Major Carleton’s British regulars and also had to make a quick escape.  Sill then organized his small detail and launched an attack on the pursuing enemy.  Sill’s force of 47 officers and men soon realized they were facing not only a small Indian War party, but a fairly large force of British regulars, probably close to 200 men.  The Continentals soon found themselves surrounded.  Unwilling to surrender, Sill ordered a bayonet charge, with the hope of pushing through the enemy line and returning to Fort George.

The fight was a desperate one.  Captain Sill and eighteen other men were killed in the fighting.  Another 14 were wounded or captured.  Another 14 managed to get through the lines and escape.

The British force then approached Fort George and began to form a line of battle.  The American fired from their one canon, but did not manage to hit the enemy.  Carleton sent a flag of truce, calling for the fort’s surrender.  Half of the garrison had been lost under Captain Sill.  As a result, Chipman only had about 40 soldiers in the fort. Lacking enough food or ammunition to hold out even for a day or two, Captain Chipman surrendered the fort.

Carleton offered terms similar to those he gave at Fort Ann.  The garrison would be taken as prisoners of war, and not massacred or otherwise attacked.  Prisoners could keep a knapsack full of personal items. Women and children would be permitted to return home with their baggage.  Officers could keep their servants.  Indians would not enter the fort until after the British took possession.  For some reason, Carleton added to the terms that one junior officer, Ensign Bonnet was permitted parole and allowed to return home with his family.  My guess is that this was a young man not really of prime fighting age.

After the British had secured the fort, their Indian allies were given leave to plunder the fort on anything of value.  After that, the British burned the fort before departing.  The prisoners were marched up to Ticonderoga, where they were placed aboard ships and taken back to Quebec. Between Fort Ann and Fort George, the British collected 130 prisoners of war.  A few weeks later, Carleton would send a proposal for a prisoner swap, hoping to get back loyalists being held in New York.  However, the Americans would not agree.  Most of the prisoners, at least those who survived, remained in custody until the end of the war.

Ballston Raid

While Major Carleton and his regulars did not plan to go any further, another detachment that had moved out of Canada with Carleton, planned to use the fighting to push further south.  General Haldimand had given authority to Captain John Munro, to raid deeper into New York.  

Captain Munro was a Scotsman who first came to New York as a sergeant in the regular army during the French and Indian War.  He settled in Albany County and became a Justice of the Peace, where he spent much of his pre-Revolution years fighting with Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys.

John Munro
In 1775, Munro had accepted a commission in a loyalist militia, something he denied to patriot authorities in order to avoid. By mid-1776 though, the patriots had put out a warrant for his arrest anyway.  After the Battle of Bennington in 1777, they seized all of his land and property.  By this time Munro had left for Canada where he was serving in the King’s Royal Regiment under Sir John Johnson.

Captain Munro, in this attack, was tasked with continuing the raid further south toward Ballston, taking about 200 loyalists and Mohawk warriors to destroy all patriot properties and crops that they came across.

On October 11, the same day that Forge George fell to Carleton, Munro’s detachment was northeast of Saratoga.  The subsequent withdrawal of the regulars and the news that the locals were aware of his presence, gave Munro pause.  He did not want to walk into an ambush.

His force spent several days making its way down old Indian trails to avoid detection on the main roads.  Munro knew there was another force of loyalists to the south under the command of loyalist Colonel John Johnson.  But he had received no word on Johnson’s whereabouts, and Johnson had not yet launched any attack.

Further, Carleton’s raids on Fort Ann and Fort George had riled up local patriots, and Munro began to receive word of larger patriot militia groups gathering to his north, and possibly cutting off any escape route.  He heard rumors that 500 militia had gathered at Saratoga to confront his raiding party.

Another concern was that Munro's men had run out of food, and were exhausting themselves marching through wilderness to avoid main roads.  Munro decided to raid Ballston, an area a few miles to the west of Saratoga.  It was the closest settlement that would probably have food for his men, and would give him an opportunity to score a success before withdrawing back to Canada.

On the night of October 16, Munro’s raiders attacked the homes of several well known patriot militia officers, capturing several of them, including militia Colonel James Gordon. The colonel was a prominent military and political leader, who also served in the State Assembly.  He was specifically targeted for capture.  His next-door neighbor, militia Captain Tyrannus Collins, was also taken prisoner.  Collins received a tomahawk wound while blocking the door so that his son could escape out a window.  But the wound was not mortal, and Collins became a prisoner.

The loyalists focused on destroying homes and crops, avoiding a confrontation with the nearby militia fort where defenders had gathered.  He reported taking thirty prisoners and looting or destroying at least seventeen farms.

Not wanting to push his luck, Munro withdrew by morning, moving into the mountains.  There, his men rested and slaughtered some of their captured animals for food.  It took more than a week for the force to reach Bulwagga Bay, about half way up Lake George, where they were safely back within British lines.

The Munro raid created great alarm, destroying homes only a day’s march from Albany.  Retired General Phillip Schuyler wrote to Governor George Clinton days after the Ballston Raid.  Schuyler commented “the panic that has seized the people is incredible; with all my efforts I cannot prevent numbers from deserting their Habitations.

Upon his return, Munro was concerned that his inability to connect with Johnson’s force made his actions a disappointment to the British leadership.  Although they said they were satisfied with his efforts, they never gave him another independent command.

General Haldimand’s strategy, however, was not for the raids by Carleton and Munro to have much impact by themselves.  They were designed to distract the enemy from the much larger and more destructive raid on the Schoharie Valley of New York that was supposed to be taking place at the same time.  

We’ll have to get to those raids next time, when we cover the battle of Stone Arabia.

- - -

Next Episode 270 Stone Arabia 

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Further Reading


Battle of Lake George 11 October 1780:

Aikey, Michael "Ballston Raid of 1780: Military Operation or a Time to Settle Old Scores" Journal of the American Revolution, Dec. 6, 2017:

Richmond, James E. "War on the Middleline: The October 1780 British Raid on Ballston" Journal of the American Revolution, July 25, 2016:

Gordon, James, and Josephine Mayer. “Documents: The Reminiscences of James Gordon” New York History, vol. 17, no. 3, 1936, pp. 316–33. JSTOR,

“To George Washington from Philip John Schuyler, 31 October 1780,” Founders Online, National Archives,

Three Rivers: Hudson-Mohawk-Schoharie:

Free eBooks
(from unless noted)

McIlwraith, Jean N. Sir Frederick Haldimand, Toronto: Morang & Co. 1910. 

Books Worth Buying
(links to unless otherwise noted)*

Berry, A. J. A Time of Terror, Trafford Publishing, 2005 (borrow on 

Berry, A.J. Fort Plain & Fort Plank: The Two Fort Plain Forts, Fort Plain Museum, 2013.

* As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

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