Sunday, September 13, 2020

ARP166 Surrender at Saratoga



Last week, we covered the Battle of Bemis Heights, the final effort by General Burgoyne to push his British force down the Hudson Valley and cut off New England for the rest of the continent.

British Trapped

Instead, Burgoyne found his own army cut off from Canada and unable to reach Albany.  Following his defeat on October 7, 1777, Burgoyne’s army moved into a defensive posture. The Americans had remained in the field that night, prepared to resume their attack in the morning.  Burgoyne, however, removed his army about a mile north during the night.  The British abandoned their field hospital and around 400 wounded to be captured by the enemy.  They could not carry the wounded and did not have food for them. The British leadership believed that the wounded would be better off in the care of the Americans as prisoners of war.

Surrender at Saratoga (from Wikimedia)
The Americans woke up to find that the battlefield was theirs.  A cold driving October rain drenched everyone as they recovered from the battle. Burgoyne spent that day and the next retreating further north to Saratoga Heights, where his army had built entrenchments as they had advanced weeks earlier.  From his entrenchments, Burgoyne desperately awaited word from General Sir Henry Clinton, and clung to the hope of a relief column marching north from New York City.

Benedict Arnold’s leg wound was so bad that surgeons wanted to amputate.  Arnold refused to allow it and endured months of suffering as he slowly recovered.  At first he moved to Albany where he spent most of the winter. Later, he returned to Connecticut where he would continue his rehabilitation.  Without Arnold to urge more offensive action, the victorious General Horatio Gates once again settled into his defense on Bemis Heights.  

Benjamin Lincoln

General Benjamin Lincoln raised the concern that Burgoyne and his army might try to escape north and return to Fort Ticonderoga. Gates permitted General Lincoln to lead a group of militia north to hold the ford across the Hudson River near Fort Edward.  While Lincoln was moving north on October 8, the day after the battle at Bemis Heights, he rode ahead of his militia, personally scouting the area ahead.  While riding through a thick woods, he ran into a group of soldiers who he thought were local militia.  

Benjamin Lincoln
(from Mass. Hist. Soc.)
Lincoln rode within a few yards of the group before he realized that they were actually British regulars and some of their German allies.  As Lincoln wheeled his horse around to escape, the group fired on him, shattering his leg. The wounded general managed to ride away and return to his own forces.

Lincoln’s wound was rather serious.  Like Arnold, the army evacuated him to Albany where surgeons recommended amputation.  After three months in Albany, Lincoln was transported to Boston to continue his rehabilitation.  There he underwent several more painful surgeries to remove bone fragments from his leg.  The injury would keep Lincoln away from active duty for nearly a year, returning to service in August 1778.

Meanwhile, General Gates sent militia under the command of militia Brigadier General John Fellows to take 1300 men northward to contest any British attempt to cross the Hudson River.

Lady Harriet Acland

While the British army retreated, at least one Brit refused.  Lady Harriet Acland had been with Burgoyne’s army since it had left Canada.  Her husband, Major John Acland had been shot in both legs and taken prisoner.  During the British retreat, Lady Acland decided that her place was with her husband.  Acland was also pregnant with her second child at the time.  

Lady Acland
(from Wikimedia)
In the middle of the night on October 8, in a driving rain, Lady Acland traveled down river to meet up with the Continental Army.  Burgoyne provided her with a note and sent her aboard ship under a flag of truce.

Several miles downriver, she came upon sentinels under the command of Colonel Henry Dearborn.  By this time, it was after 1:00 AM.  Dearborn convinced the young woman to spend the rest of the night in a small house he had commandeered as his headquarters.  Dearborn assured Lady Acland that it was too dangerous to travel at night and that he had met with Major Acland and that his injuries were not immediately life threatening.

The next day, Gates’ aide, accompanied Lady Acland, along with her maid and Major Acland’s valet, back to headquarters.  There she met with General Gates.  The American commander acceded to her request to be reunited with her husband.  She would help nurse her husband back to health while he remained an American prisoner.

Gates Advances

Two days after the battle, on October 9, General Gates learned that the British under Henry Clinton had taken fort Montgomery.  Gates now feared a possible relief force was on the way to rescue Burgoyne.  He advanced north to confront Burgoyne’s army before any possible relief force could arrive.  The Americans kept the British pinned down on Saratoga Heights for several days.  Morgan’s riflemen picked off any British soldier who dared raise his head out of the entrenchments.

Gen. Horatio Gates
(from Wikimedia)
On October 11, Gates received word that Burgoyne’s army had crossed the Hudson and had retreated back to Fort Edward.  Gates now believed he was only facing a small rear guard on Saratoga Heights.  With this information, Gates deployed much of his army under General Nixon and General Glover, along with Morgan’s Riflemen to advance on Saratoga Heights through a dense fog.

The problem was, Gates’ intelligence was wrong.  As the army advanced, they came across a British deserter.  General Glover personally interrogated the regular, and asked about the forces that had marched to Fort Edward.  The deserter informed Glover that a small detachment had attempted to move to Fort Edward, but found all the passes blocked by American defenders.  As a result, they had turned back and that the entire army remained at Saratoga Heights.

The deserter could have been giving him misinformation.  Glover told the man that if he lied, he would be hanged as a spy.  The man stuck to his story.  If true, it meant the Americans were marching right into the most heavily defended British lines and could be cut down.  In fact the deserter’s story was true, except about being mistaken about why the detachment to fort Edward had returned.  It probably could have made it, but General Burgoyne had recalled them.  General Glover was able to call off the advance and pull back the continental soldiers before they marched into a death trap.

Instead, the Americans continued to blast away at the British defenses from a distance.  The increasingly desperate British soldiers were out of food, lacked access to water, and were almost out of ammunition.  Most concerning to some, the army had run out of rum.

Surrender Negotiations

On October 13, General Burgoyne held another council of war to decide on next steps.  Even Burgoyne accepted that another attack was impossible.  The army’s line of retreat was also now cut off as General Stark had brought his militia army to block any northern passage for the British.  Burgoyne proposed dissolving the army and allowing each man to try to make his way through the woods back to Fort Ticonderoga.  The other general officers balked at that idea.  They then got down to answering some serious questions.  Had other armies surrendered in similar situations? Would it be dishonorable to surrender in this situation?  Everyone seemed to agree without debate that surrender at this point would be neither unprecedented nor dishonorable.  The final question was whether surrender was absolutely necessary.  After some debate, the council agreed that it was, if they could obtain reasonable terms from the enemy.

Saratoga Surrender, 1777 by Moran
Burgoyne sent a messenger under a flag of truce to request a discussion with Gates the following morning about ending the hostilities.  General Gates already felt assured of final victory.  The day before, he had written a letter to Congress informing them of his great victory.  He did not bother to write to General Washington, his immediate superior.  With this victory, combined with Washington’s loss of Philadelphia,  Gates seemed once again focused on his dream of replacing General Washington as commander of the Continental Army.

On October 14, Major Robert Kingston carried General Burgoyne’s terms to the General Gates.  Kingston informed Gates that Burgoyne was willing to fight another battle, but was also willing to agree to a cease fire to discuss terms.  Gates was having none of it.  He knew Burgoyne’s situation was desperate.  He announced his terms to the major, which essentially amounted to unconditional surrender.  The army would ground their weapons and surrender as prisoners.

When Kingston returned, Burgoyne convened another council at which the British leaders agreed that the terms were ridiculous and that they would rather fight to the death than accept them.  After they calmed down, Burgoyne sent another counter-proposal.  The British would march out of camp, ground their arms, and march to Boston.  They would be permitted to retain their baggage and officers would retain their swords.  From there, they would be allowed to embark for England, on the condition that no officer or soldier would again return to fight in North America for the remainder of the war.

Burgoyne may have liked this terms, but this was unquestionably a bad deal for the Americans.  The British army had lots of soldiers all over the world.  Burgoyne was simply suggesting that his army would be deployed somewhere else, thus freeing up other soldiers to return to America and continue the fight.

Amazingly though, Gates accepted the proposal, only requiring that it be completed by 2:00 PM that day.  This acceptance then made Burgoyne suspicious.  Why did Gates go from demanding unconditional surrender to agreeing to all of Burgoyne’s terms as long as it got done quickly?  Burgoyne suspected that Gates had received word of a Clinton relief force and that he wanted to finalize the surrender before it arrived.

British Camp at Saratoga (from British Battles)
Burgoyne, in fact, was right.  Gates had received word that a fleet was moving up the Hudson River.  He feared that a relief force was on its way.  These were the soldiers under General John Vaughan that Clinton had deployed upriver after the capture of Fort Montgomery.  The intelligence Gates received was sketchy.  He feared that the relief force was much larger than it was and that it might pose some real threat, which it did not.  Clinton meant the offensive to be a distraction and it almost worked.

Burgoyne, however, did not take advantage of the moment and finalize the generous terms.  Instead, he asked for a postponement, which Gates granted.  As a delay tactic, Burgoyne proposed that each commander send two officers to negotiate the details of the surrender.

On October 15, Continental Colonel James Wilkinson and militia brigadier general William Whipple met with British Lieutenant Colonel Nicholas Sutherland and Captain James Craig to work out a final written agreement, which both commanders would review.  That evening, the British said they would agree to everything except one word.  Rather than call it a “treaty of capitulation” they wanted to call it a “treaty of convention.”  Not getting hung up on that one word, General Gates agreed.

That same night, a loyalist entered the British camp with a rumor that the British had captured Albany and that part of Gates’ army had moved south to engage.  Once again, General Burgoyne gathered his top officers to decide whether they should break the agreement and fight on.  The majority voted that even if true, they had already agreed to terms and that it would be dishonorable to go back on that agreement.

Burgoyne, however, was not convinced.  He knew that he could not mount an attack or pull off a retreat, but his army could defend its entrenchments long enough for a relief force from Albany to arrive.  The next day, Burgoyne sent a letter to Gates saying that he had received intelligence that much of the American army had been detached and that their agreement had been based on the numerical superiority of that army.  Burgoyne insisted that Gates allow the British to see if the army was as large as Gates claimed.

By the time Gates received Burgoyne's latest communication, he was assured that there was no real threat from the south and had reason enough to back out of the agreement.  Instead, he sent a note back to Burgoyne saying that there would be no more discussions.  Burgoyne could agree or not within the next hour.

Burgoyne called another council of war at which all of his officers objected to pulling out of the agreement.  Even if Clinton had taken Albany, and there was still no evidence that he had, there was no way for the army to hold out for as long as it would take Clinton to fight his way to Saratoga.  Only Burgoyne himself seemed reluctant to end these negotiations.  

Out of patience, General Gates sent word that his messenger should return with the signed convention, or he would launch his attack.  The messenger returned with the convention, containing Burgoyne’s signature.

Raid on Kingston

That same day, October 16, British General John Vaughan was doing his very best with his limited resources to help Burgoyne.  Vaughan had taken 1700 soldiers up the Hudson River, as far as Kingston, NY.  This was more than 100 miles up the Hudson River from New York City, but still more than 50 miles south of Albany.  

Livingston's Mansion, Clermont, burned 
(from Friends of Clermont)
Vaughan had hoped to provide a distraction with his small force, which he did.  The town of Kingston had served as the patriot capital of New York.  Earlier that year, the first patriot state legislature had begun meeting there.  Governor George Clinton had taken his oath in Kingston to become the first patriot governor of New York.

As Vaughan’s fleet approached, legislators fled.  Governor Clinton attempted to march a militia force of 1000 men to Kingston to confront the British.  But as the fleet approached there was only a handful of local militia, who fled after a brief firefight.  Vaughan landed his force and marched up the hill to the town.  There, he heard a rumor that Burgoyne’s army had already surrendered, but had no way to verify it.  Moving forward, he ordered all the buildings put to the torch, burning the homes of over 4000 people.  The attack took about three hours.

After that, the fleet continued north to the home of Robert Livingston, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and at that time chancellor of the patriot government of New York.  The British burned his mansion and all other neighboring buildings around the estate.

Vaughn’s force remained in the area for about a week.  He did not try to advance any further upriver to Albany.  After receiving confirmation of Burgoyne’s surrender, he sailed his fleet down river to New York City again.  His only stop was to burn Forts Clinton and Montgomery, which his army had captured earlier.

Burgoyne Surrenders

On October 17, the British and German forces at Saratoga Heights, marched out of their camp, grounded their weapons and prepared to be marched as prisoners to Boston.  The Brunswickers gave their regimental flags to the Baroness Von Riedesel.  She sewed them into a pillow and eventually smuggled them back to Brunswick.

General Burgoyne changed into his dress uniform, which he had planned to wear on his entrance into Albany.  He and Major General Riedesel and Philips along with others, rode out to meet with General Gates.  Burgoyne and Gates had known each other since they were both lieutenants in the same British regiment thirty years earlier.  Gates greeted his old comrade saying “it’s good to see you.” Burgoyne responded that it was not so good to see him and offered his sword in surrender.  Gates took the sword, but then returned it and invited the enemy officers to a banquet.

Although Gates had promised that the army would be marched to Boston and then sent back to England.  That, however, was not in the cards.  At first, General Glover marched the convention army, as it came to be called, to Cambridge, just outside Boston.  It remained there for nearly a year.  During that time about 1300 prisoners escaped and established new lives in America.

Encampment of Convention Army
(from Wikimedia)
The Continental Congress and General Washington did not like the terms of the Convention, and found excuses not to fulfill its terms.  Congress instructed General Burgoyne to provide them with a list of all officers in order to ensure that none of them ever returned to North America.  When Burgoyne did not provide the list, Congress used that as an excuse to hold the army.  Later, Congress voted to hold the army until King George III directly ratified the convention, which was unlikely since it would recognize the independent authority of Congress.

After a year in Cambridge, the Continentals marched the prisoners to Charlottesville, Virginia, which gave another 600 prisoners the opportunity to escape and begin new lives in America.  They remained there until 1780 when the war moved to Virginia and the prisoners were taken to a more secure location in Frederick, Maryland.

As was typical, officers were given parole and could live in whatever accommodations they like.  Soldiers were kept in miserable poorly constructed barracks and held until the end of the war in 1783.  Those who had not escaped or died finally returned to England.

Almost immediately after the surrender, Burgoyne began writing a series of letters back to London, blaming his loss on the strict instructions had been given and the lack of any support from the main army in New York City.   He became the guest of General Phillip Schuyler, who had returned to the army for the surrender, even though he no longer held a command position.  

Schuyler might have been able to offer Burgoyne accommodations in his luxurious upstate mansion, but for the fact that Burgoyne had ordered it burned to the ground a few weeks earlier.  Instead, the Schuylers and their new guests took up accommodations in another country manner.  As a prisoner, Burgoyne actually apologized for burning Schuyler’s home, but Schuyler dismissed it as “fortunes of war”.  Burgoyne would then travel to Cambridge, and after a few months received parole to return to England and begin his political battles over the blame for the loss.

Schuyler also took in the Baroness Von Riedesel and her two daughters.  General Riedesel approved of this knowing that a gentleman would take proper care of his family.  Both would leave after a few days and travel to Cambridge to be with the army. The Baroness spent the rest of the war with her husband as a prisoner on parole with the Convention Army.  

After Burgoyne returned home, General William Phillips became the ranking officer in the Convention Army.  Remained with the army, and along with the Riedesels, became a popular guest in Virginia in elite social circles.  He would be exchanged in 1780 and returned to duty.  We will see him again in future episodes.

The victorious General Gates became the toast of America.  Gates, as I said, seemed to want to replace Washington as commander, and resumed his efforts to snub Washington and criticize his leadership.  This would also create problems that will be the subject of future episodes.  But for now, he was the conquering hero who had defeated the British Army.

The victory at Saratoga was a major turning point of the war, for many reasons, not the least of which was its effect on France’s decision to join the war a few months later.

The war further south around Philadelphia, however, pressed on.  

Next week: General Howe seeks to clear the Delaware River and open up Philadelphia for the Royal Navy.

- - -

Next  Episode 167 Defending the Delaware (available Sept. 20, 2020)



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First Do No Harm

by K. S. Avard (Releases Sept. 25, 2020).

In 17th Century Vienna, a local watchman discovers a dead body outside of Stephansdom Cathedral.  He soon realizes that the black plague is sweeping across the city.  He must determine: Is there a medical cure that will stop this illness from devastating the population? or is the plague the result of other-worldly beings bringing God’s wrath to a sinful people?

Author Kurt Avard takes readers on a journey through a society still emerging from medieval Europe to embrace enlightenment.  The struggle between religion and science breaks into open warfare as a determined group searches for a way to end this terrible suffering.  “First, Do no Harm” releases on September 25, 2020.  Pre-order your book on Amazon today.

Further Reading

Websites

Horatio Gates: https://www.mountvernon.org/library/digitalhistory/digital-encyclopedia/article/horatio-gates

Bemis Heights October 7, 1777 Battlemap: https://www.battlefields.org/learn/maps/saratoga-bemis-heights-october-7-1777

Battle of Saratoga: https://www.battlefields.org/learn/revolutionary-war/battles/saratoga

Brandow, John. H. “GUIDE TO THE SARATOGA BATTLEFIELD.” Proceedings of the New York State Historical Association, vol. 12, 1913, pp. 315–320. www.jstor.org/stable/42890016

Strach, Stephen G. “A MEMOIR OF THE EXPLOITS OF CAPTAIN ALEXANDER FRASER AND HIS COMPANY OF BRITISH MARKSMEN 1776-1777 (Continued).” Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research, vol. 63, no. 255, 1985, pp. 164–179, www.jstor.org/stable/44229658

Kelly, Jack Terror on the Hudson: The Burning of Kingston, 2018: https://newyorkalmanack.com/2018/06/terror-on-the-hudson-the-burning-of-kingston

Hargreaves, Reginald “Burgoyne and America's Destiny” American Heritage Magazine, Volume 7, Issue 4, June 1956: https://www.americanheritage.com/burgoyne-and-americas-destiny

Reynolds, William W. “Demise of the Albamarle Barracks: A report to the Quarermaster General” Journal of the American Revolution, May 31, 2018: https://allthingsliberty.com/2018/05/demise-of-the-albemarle-barracks-a-report-to-the-quartermaster-general

Free eBooks
(from archive.org unless noted)

Anbury, Thomas Travel through Various Parts of North America, Vol. 1, William Lane, 1789.

Baster, James (ed) The British Invasion from the North: The Campaigns of Generals Carleton and Burgoyne from Canada, Joel Munsell’s Sons, 1887.

Bird, Harrison March To Saratoga General Burgoyne And The American Campaign 1777,
Oxford Univ. Press, 1963

Bowen, Francis Life of Benjamin Lincoln, Boston: C.C. Little and J. Brown, 1847.

Brandow, John H. The story of old Saratoga; the Burgoyne campaign, to which is added New York's share in the revolution, Brandow Printing, 1919.

Clay, Steven E. Staff Ride Handbook for the Saratoga Campaign, 13 June to 8 November 1777, Combat Studies Institute Press, 2018 (US Army Website):.

Deane, Charles, Lieutenant-General John Burgoyne and the convention of Saratoga one hundred years ago. A paper read before the American antiquarian society on the 22d of October, 1877, Worcester: C. Hamilton, 1878.

Eelking, Max von, (translated by Stone, William L.) Memoirs of Major General Riedesel, Vol. 1, J. Munsell, 1868.

Hadden, James Hadden's Journal and Orderly Books, Joel Munsell’s Sons, 1884.

Hudleston, Francis J. Gentleman Johnny Burgoyne : misadventures of an English general in the Revolution, Bobbs-Merrill Co. 1927.

Luzader, John Decision on the Hudson, National Park Service, 1975.

Moore, Howard P. A Life of General John Stark of New Hampshire, New York self-published, 1949.

Riedesel, Friederike Charlotte Luise, Freifrau von Letters and journals relating to the war of the American Revolution, and the capture of the German troops at Saratoga, Joel Munsell, 1867.

Stone, William Leete, The Campaign of Lieut. Gen. John Burgoyne  and the expedition of Lieut. Col. Barry St. Leger, Albany, NY: Joel Munsell, 1877.

Walworth, Ellen H. Battles of Saratoga, 1777; the Saratoga Monument Association, 1856-1891, Joel Munsell’s Sons, 1891.

Books Worth Buying
(links to Amazon.com unless otherwise noted)*

Furneaux, Rupert The Battle of Saratoga, Stein and Day 1971.

Gabriel, Michael P. The Battle of Bennington: Soldiers & Civilians, History Press, 2012.

Ketchum, Richard M. Saratoga, Turning Point of America’s Revolutionary War, Henry Holt & Co, 1997.

Logusz, Michael O. With Musket and Tomahawk, The Saratoga Campaign and the Wilderness War of 1777, Casemate Publishing, 2010

Luzader, John F. Saratoga: A Military History of the Decisive Campaign of the American Revolution, Casemate Publishers, 2008

Mintz, Max M. The Generals of Saratoga: John Burgoyne and Horatio Gates, Yale Univ. Press, 1990

Philbrick, Nathaniel Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution, Viking, 2016.

Randall, Willard Sterne Benedict Arnold: Patriot and Traitor, William Morrow & Co, 1990.

Schnitzer, Eric H. & Don Troiani, Don Troiani's Campaign to Saratoga - 1777: The Turning Point of the Revolutionary War in Paintings, Artifacts, and Historical Narrative, Stackpole Books, 2019

Snow, Dean 1777: Tipping Point at Saratoga, Oxford Univ. Press, 2016.

Ward, Christopher The War of the Revolution, Macmillan, 1952.

* As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.


Sunday, September 6, 2020

ARP165 Bemis Heights (2nd Saratoga)


A few weeks ago, we left General Horatio Gates at the head of an army comprised of Continentals and militia poised to block the advance of General Johnny Burgoyne and his army of British and German Bruswickers.  The two armies had fought at what became known as the battle of Freeman’s Farm, without any real change to the two army’s positions.

Since then, both armies remained in position, neither ready to advance on the other.  Gates sat behind his entrenchments at Bemis Heights, waiting for the British to get desperate enough to attack his strong defensive position.

British Desperation

With each day that passed, the Continental Army grew stronger, while the British grew weaker.  By early October, Gates had over 10,000 and Continentals and militia under his direct command.  Burgoyne’s army had dwindled to about 5000.  He was cut off from food and supplies from the north, and could not venture out to forage in the area, not that there was much left to forage even if they could go out.

The British army had been on reduced rations, meaning the men were not getting enough to eat.  By day, Continental riflemen picked off British pickets from a distance.  At night, the patriots snuck up on the pickets and killed them with knives or tomahawks.  Among the ranks, suicides and desertions grew.  Conditions were that miserable and prospects that bleak.

Benedict Arnold wounded on Bemis Heights
(from British Battles)
For many officers and men, more than their own lives were at stake.  Many of them had their families with them.  These dependents were on the same starvation-level rations as the army and faced an unknown fate if they fell into the hands of the enemy.  German commander Friedrich von Riedesel had his wife and daughters with him.  He had attempted to send his family back, but his wife refused to abandon him.

For reasons beyond the safety of his family, General Riedesel had been pushing Burgoyne to pull back the army to Fort Edward.  From there, they would be able to reestablish supply lines to Ticonderoga and would have a better line of retreat.  Burgoyne dismissed such recommendations.  He was still focused on getting to Albany.  He had sent messages to General Henry Clinton in New York, encouraging him to send an army up the Hudson to meet up with Burgoyne in Albany.  Retreating was out of the question.  Even so, Burgoyne knew his position was becoming more desperate each day.

In addition to Burgoyne facing an army twice his size, New York militia general Jacob Bailey now led 2000 soldiers north of Fort Edward, making that route of retreat much less of a possibility.  

As I mentioned last week. Burgoyne wrote a series of letters to General Clinton.  Most had a rather optimistic tone, explained later as not wanting to put in writing how really desperate his situation had become.  Burgoyne had learned only recently that General Howe had abandoned him by taking his entire army south to capture Philadelphia and with no intention of moving north again that year.  Burgoyne learned of that long enough before that he could have retreated back to Ticonderoga and ended the season there.  That was what many of his generals recommended.

Burgoyne, though, had gone to London the year before and gotten this command by telling the political leadership that the generals in America were too timid and not aggressive enough in pushing forward.  He had promised to open up a corridor from Canada to New York City that year.  Anything less would be seen as a failure.  Perhaps withdrawal would have been a sensible act of caution, but that is exactly how he had criticized his superiors in order to get this command ahead of more senior generals.  Burgoyne was a gambler.  He knew that he had to take some real risks, not only to win the war, but also to justify his rise in the ranks past other leaders.

General Burgoyne
(from Wikimedia)
Although he didn’t use the term, Burgoyne was showing the same “victory or death” attitude that had served the Americans well in many prior battles.  Turning back was not a serious consideration.

Although General Howe had abandoned him, Burgoyne still hoped that Clinton could salvage the campaign.  Although Clinton complained that he did not have enough men even to defend his command around New York City, Burgoyne hitched all of his hopes on Clinton sending a force up the Hudson River to Albany.  If he could just reach that town, his army would be saved.  Clinton had sent a message which Burgoyne received on September 21.  Clinton had sent the message ten days earlier, saying that ten days later he would begin a diversionary attack up the Hudson River with 2000 men to attack Fort Montgomery and that he hoped it might divert some of the American forces away from Burgoyne.  

Clinton never indicated he would go all the way to Albany.  Even if he did, Clinton’s 2000 man force combined with Burgoyne’s army of 5000 or 6000 effectives would still be outnumbered, by the enemy, probably by two to one.  Even if Clinton delivered more than he promised in his note by taking Albany, that would not necessarily spell victory for the British.  Burgoyne still placed all of his hopes on joining up with Clinton at Albany and ultimately reaching New York City.  Even though that looked increasingly unrealistic to just about everyone else.

Burgoyne's Advance (from Wikimedia)
Some have argued that Burgoyne’s letters to Clinton at this point indicated that Burgoyne knew that failure was the probable end of his campaign and that he wanted someone else to take the blame.  On September 27 Burgoyne sent a messenger to tell Clinton he needed assurance that Clinton could take Albany before he could push through.  Otherwise, if Clinton failed, Burgoyne would be forced to retreat.  The next day, Burgoyne learned about John Brown’s raid that had captured Skenesborough and also received an inaccurate report that the Americans had taken Fort George.  This caused Burgoyne to dash off another desperate note to Clinton saying that he would not have given up  his communications with Ticonderoga if he had not expected to meet up with British forces at Albany.  Clinton sent reply messages to make clear he was not going to Albany. The Americans intercepted those messages, so they never reached Burgoyne anyway.

On October 4 and 5, 1777 Burgoyne held a council of war with General Riedesel, Philips, and Fraser.  They agreed that they needed to do something soon.  The army would launch an attack against the American defenses. Their hope was to punch a hole in the lines, and march through to Albany. 

Burgoyne originally proposed that he would deploy virtually his entire army against the American Left, leaving only a few hundred men to guard the baggage near the river.  The other generals thought this was insanity, since the Americans could then easily capture their baggage with a quick raid, leaving the army in the field with nothing.  Generals Riedesel and Fraser still recommended the army retreat back to Fort Edward.  Burgoyne, however, refused to consider that option.  

Instead, the generals agreed on a plan to attack the American left flank. If they could roll up the Americans there, they could take the heights and threaten to push the rest of the Continental Army back against the Hudson River.  The British could then push more soldiers into the battle as needed over the course of the day, while still protecting their baggage.  It was a desperate gamble, but really the best option aside from retreat or surrender.

Arnold-Gates Fight

The American leadership though, seemed to be doing everything it could to undermine its own very strong position.  Specifically, the fight between General Gates and General Arnold grew into an all-out squall.  Gates had left Arnold pretty much on his own on the left flank during the battle of Freeman’s Farm a few weeks earlier.  By failing to send sufficient reinforcements that day, Gates seemed to be trying to set up Arnold for failure.  When the Americans under Arnold held their own under the British assault, it appeared that Arnold would be credited with a great victory.  Arnold had to return to headquarters to beg Gates personally to send in more reinforcements.  After that, Gates refused to let Arnold return to the battlefield and lead the final victory.  By all appearances, Gates seemed more willing to lose the battle than to give Arnold credit for the victory.

When Gates reported the victory to Congress and to the Governor of New York, he did not even mention Arnold.  Gates merely stated that a division of the army had stopped the British advance.  He named several field officers but failed to mention Arnold’s leadership at all.

Gen. Horatio Gates
(from Nat. Port. Gal.)

Several days after the battle at Freeman’s farm. Colonel James Wilkinson removed Morgan’s riflemen from Arnold’s command and moved them to his own command, without giving Arnold any notice.  It was hard for anyone to see any military value to this change.  In fact, removing the riflemen from the flanks, where they had been so critical at Freeman’s Farm seemed the height of military stupidity.  The lack of any notice was also a deliberate act of disrespect designed to provoke Arnold.  Arnold had issued daily orders to Morgan’s men, only to find them countermanded by Wilkinson's orders.  It made Arnold look like a fool who did not know what was happening in the chain of command.

Arnold took the orders as a direct insult against him and one putting the whole army at risk in an attempt to win some petty political game.  He charged into Gates’ headquarters for a direct confrontation.  The two generals got into a screaming match.  Gates said he was not even sure Arnold was still a general since he had submitted his resignation to Congress weeks earlier, shortly before traveling to Saratoga.  He informed Arnold that he was relieved of command and that General Lincoln would take his place.  He further suggested that if Arnold did not like it, he should go back to Philadelphia and take up the issue with Congress.

Arnold stalked out, but then sent a written note asking Gates to explain the reasons for his treatment.  Instead, Gates simply sent a note to Arnold giving him leave to return to Philadelphia, and saying he would no longer speak with Arnold either in person or in writing.  

According to legend, although the document has never been found, every officer of the line in the army, except General Lincoln, signed a written request to Arnold not to abandon the army at this time.  Even officers who knew how prickly Arnold could be did not want to lose their best combat commander on the eve of battle.  

American Charge at Saratoga
(from History on the Net)
As I mentioned in an earlier episode, Gates’ disfavor of Arnold seemed to stem from Arnold’s decision to take two young officers, Richard Varick and Henry Livingston onto his staff.  The two officers had been on General Schuyler’s staff before he lost his command.  Gates saw Arnold’s decision to give staff positions to these two young allies of his arch-rival as a direct attack against him.

After hearing from all the officers who wanted Arnold to remain, Gates sent out a feeler via an aide to see if Arnold would be willing to dismiss the two men, as an olive branch to repair relations between them.  Arnold absolutely refused to dismiss two officers.  They had done nothing wrong and he would not dismiss them in order to assuage the commander’s feelings.  Although Varick and Livingston soon left on their own, the two generals seemed unwilling to repair their relationship for the good of the war effort.

Arnold remained in camp, but Gates refused to include him in any staff meetings of top officers.  Arnold continued to write letters to Gates, recommending various actions, but Gates simply ignored them.  On October 1, Gates formally stripped Arnold of command, personally took over the left wing, and gave General Lincoln command of the right wing.

Despite having stronger numbers and a good position, the Continental Army’s leadership seemed hopelessly divided.  Gates seemed determined to destroy Arnold, even if it meant losing the battle.

The Battle

On the morning of October 7, General Burgoyne personally led a division of over 2000 soldiers, along with General Fraser, against the American left flank.  His goal was to see if they could find weakness in the American lines.  The light infantry, grenadiers, and select German troops, backed by ten field cannon left camp shortly after 10:00 AM, advancing to Barber’s Wheatfield.  From there, they could observe the American positions.  

Bemis Heights troop positions (from Wikimedia)
Facing the British in the woods on the other side of the field were Morgan’s rifles along with Enoch Poor and Ebenezer Learned’s brigades, more than 2000 continentals, with perhaps another 1500 militia.  For most of the morning, the two armies eyed each other and vied for position.  

Around 2:00 PM, the British opened fire against Poor’s brigade. The distance was too far for the firing to be effective and the Americans held their ground.  Finally, the British charged across the field with their bayonets, but were cut down by the Americans at close range.  Major John Acland, who led the British charge was shot in both legs and taken prisoner.  General Poor’s Continentals counter-charged and captured the British cannons on the other side of the field.

Morgan’s riflemen engaged with Fraser’s regulars, keeping the British pinned down with deadly accurate rifle fire.  Burgoyne sent orders for the men to withdraw, but Morgan’s riflemen shot the messenger before he could get to Fraser.  Not aware of the orders, Fraser remained on the field, taking heavy casualties.

Arnold Attacks 

As the battle raged, General Gates was nowhere close to the battle.  Although Gates had made himself the division commander there, he remained at his headquarters two miles away from his soldiers in the field.  Arnold, confined to his tent, fumed as he heard the distant sound of gunfire.  For several hours, the Americans, primarily General Enoch Poor’s brigade and Morgan’s riflemen, held the enemy at bay. Gates dispatched written orders based on reports received from the battlefield.

Finally, after he could take it no longer, Arnold mounted his horse and rode toward the sound of gunfire.  He found Colonel Morgan, but simply rode past him toward the enemy.  On the front lines, Arnold rallied the retreating men and reorganized them for another charge.  Morgan’s riflemen soon caught up with Arnold and provided him with support as the British line reeled from the unexpected American charge.

Benedict Arnold at Saratoga
On the other side of the lines, General Simon Fraser attempted to rally the British lines, riding up and down, encouraging the men.  Arnold saw Fraser’s effective leadership.  He did not know it was Fraser, but turned to Morgan and told him that the officer needed to be taken out.  Morgan assigned the job to one of his best sharpshooters.  Minutes later, Fraser fell off his horse, fatally wounded with a shot to the stomach.

Men who saw Arnold in the field that day described him as a madman, perhaps even drunk. Although the charge of drunkenness seems to have been made by his detractors trying to disparage his role that day.  Arnold rode back and forth, shouting to them and encouraging them, regularly exposing himself to enemy fire, as if he preferred to die in battle than return to his tent as ordered.  

He rode his horse across the entire British line of battle, drawing numerous shots but never being hit.  Finally Arnold rallied a regiment to charge the British redoubt, leading the charge himself.  The defenders fired at him, finally taking down his horse,who collapsed.  Arnold jumped free from the falling animal and stood up, only to have a wounded enemy soldier shoot him at near point blank range, hitting Arnold in the leg.  When the soldiers with Arnold moved to bayonet his attacker, Arnold said “Don’t hurt him! He’s a fine fellow.  He only did his duty.”

It was the last great charge of the day and allowed the Americans to hold the field.  The Germans made one more futile attempt to retake the redoubt but were easily driven back. The British pulled back to a defensive position near the Hudson River, badly bloodied that day.  As Arnold was carried from the field, Gate’s aide finally caught up with him, with the orders that he should return to camp immediately.

Aftermath

Between the two battles, Freeman’s farm and Bemis Heights, fought within a few weeks of each other and generally over the same area of land, the British had taken over 1000 casualties, over 400 killed and nearly 700 wounded.  Several hundred more were taken prisoner.  With his dwindling force running out of food and supplies, General Burgoyne’s pulled back to a defensive area along the Hudson River.  Another attack was out of the question, and even the prospect of retreat seemed unlikely following the battle.

Burial of Simon Fraser 
(from National Army Museum)

The death of General Simon Fraser was an especially difficult blow to the British leadership.  Fraser died of his wounds early in the morning the day after the battle, while in the care of the Baroness von Riedesel.  He was buried along with Burgoyne’s aide de camp, Francis Clerke, who also fell victim to Morgan’s rifles, while delivering a message to field commanders.  The two officers’ graves went unmarked to prevent the enemy from finding them.

The Americans had lost far fewer casualties, less than 350 killed and wounded between both battles.  More militia reinforcements were arriving each day, swelling the American ranks.  

General Arnold was the most conspicuous injury.  One of Gates’ aides approached Arnold as stretcher bearers carried him back from the battlefield.  He asked “where are you hit?” Arnold responded “in the same leg” meaning the same one that had been shot at the Battle of Quebec a couple of years earlier.  Arnold then added “I wish it had been my heart.”  Arnold’s work that day in defiance of Gates’ orders had been critical to the victory.

Now, the British had no more real options to fight.  Burgoyne’s last hope was that a relief force under General Clinton might reach them from New York City.  His army hung on, refusing to surrender, with the hope of a relief column to save the army.

We’ll see how that goes next week when we cover the surrender at Saratoga.

Further Reading

Websites

Horatio Gates: https://www.mountvernon.org/library/digitalhistory/digital-encyclopedia/article/horatio-gates

Bemis Heights October 7, 1777 Battlemap: https://www.battlefields.org/learn/maps/saratoga-bemis-heights-october-7-1777

Battle of Saratoga: https://www.battlefields.org/learn/revolutionary-war/battles/saratoga

Brandow, John. H. “GUIDE TO THE SARATOGA BATTLEFIELD.” Proceedings of the New York State Historical Association, vol. 12, 1913, pp. 315–320. www.jstor.org/stable/42890016

Strach, Stephen G. “A MEMOIR OF THE EXPLOITS OF CAPTAIN ALEXANDER FRASER AND HIS COMPANY OF BRITISH MARKSMEN 1776-1777 (Continued).” Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research, vol. 63, no. 255, 1985, pp. 164–179, www.jstor.org/stable/44229658

Hargreaves, Reginald “Burgoyne and America's Destiny” American Heritage Magazine, Volume 7, Issue 4, June 1956: https://www.americanheritage.com/burgoyne-and-americas-destiny

Free eBooks
(from archive.org unless noted)

Anbury, Thomas Travel through Various Parts of North America, Vol. 1, William Lane, 1789.

Baster, James (ed) The British Invasion from the North: The Campaigns of Generals Carleton and Burgoyne from Canada, Joel Munsell’s Sons, 1887.

Bird, Harrison March To Saratoga General Burgoyne And The American Campaign 1777,
Oxford Univ. Press, 1963

Brandow, John H. The story of old Saratoga; the Burgoyne campaign, to which is added New York's share in the revolution, Brandow Printing, 1919.

Clay, Steven E. Staff Ride Handbook for the Saratoga Campaign, 13 June to 8 November 1777, Combat Studies Institute Press, 2018 (US Army Website):.

Eelking, Max von, (translated by Stone, William L.) Memoirs of Major General Riedesel, Vol. 1, J. Munsell, 1868.

Hadden, James Hadden's Journal and Orderly Books, Joel Munsell’s Sons, 1884.

Hudleston, Francis J. Gentleman Johnny Burgoyne : misadventures of an English general in the Revolution, Bobbs-Merrill Co. 1927.

Luzader, John Decision on the Hudson, National Park Service, 1975.

Moore, Howard P. A Life of General John Stark of New Hampshire, New York self-published, 1949.

Riedesel, Friederike Charlotte Luise, Freifrau von Letters and journals relating to the war of the American Revolution, and the capture of the German troops at Saratoga, Joel Munsell, 1867.

Stone, William Leete, The Campaign of Lieut. Gen. John Burgoyne  and the expedition of Lieut. Col. Barry St. Leger, Albany, NY: Joel Munsell, 1877.

Walworth, Ellen H. Battles of Saratoga, 1777; the Saratoga Monument Association, 1856-1891, Joel Munsell’s Sons, 1891.

Books Worth Buying
(links to Amazon.com unless otherwise noted)*

Furneaux, Rupert The Battle of Saratoga, Stein and Day 1971.

Gabriel, Michael P. The Battle of Bennington: Soldiers & Civilians, History Press, 2012.

Ketchum, Richard M. Saratoga, Turning Point of America’s Revolutionary War, Henry Holt & Co, 1997.

Logusz, Michael O. With Musket and Tomahawk, The Saratoga Campaign and the Wilderness War of 1777, Casemate Publishing, 2010

Luzader, John F. Saratoga: A Military History of the Decisive Campaign of the American Revolution, Casemate Publishers, 2008

Martin, James K. Benedict Arnold, Revolutionary Hero: An American Warrior Reconsidered, NYU Press, 1997.

Mintz, Max M. The Generals of Saratoga: John Burgoyne and Horatio Gates, Yale Univ. Press, 1990

Philbrick, Nathaniel Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution, Viking, 2016 (book recommendation of the week).

Randall, Willard Sterne Benedict Arnold: Patriot and Traitor, William Morrow & Co, 1990.

Schnitzer, Eric H. & Don Troiani, Don Troiani's Campaign to Saratoga - 1777: The Turning Point of the Revolutionary War in Paintings, Artifacts, and Historical Narrative, Stackpole Books, 2019

Snow, Dean 1777: Tipping Point at Saratoga, Oxford Univ. Press, 2016.

Ward, Christopher The War of the Revolution, Macmillan, 1952.

* As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.


Sunday, August 30, 2020

ARP164 Forts Clinton and Montgomery


I realize we seem to be jumping from place to place for the last few episodes.  But there are just too many things going on in too many parts of the country all at the same time.  In the fall of 1777 the British had four separate large commands in North America.  General William Howe had just settled into Philadelphia.  General John Burgoyne was trying to move south through the upper Hudson Valley of New York.  General Guy Carleton commanded a force in Canada - mostly around Quebec and Montreal, and General Henry Clinton commanded the base of operation in New York City.  There were some smaller detachments in Rhode Island, Florida, and elsewhere, but the bulk of the troops were in those four places.

At the beginning of the year, the ministry in London seemed focused on Burgoyne’s campaign being the primary effort for the year and thought that the other three armies would support the Burgoyne.  The three other commanders were all more senior to Burgoyne and, although they would not admit it publicly, were pretty irritated that this more junior officer had gone back to London and essentially told the King and the ministry that he was the only one up to the job and that the other generals were too timid to make the daring march through the Hudson valley to cut off New England from the rest of the colonies.

Hudson  Valley

General Howe, pretty much on his own, decided to attack Philadelphia from the south.  Early in the year.  In London Secretary of State Lord Germain, seemed to think that Howe would march his army across New Jersey and threaten Philadelphia from that direction, drawing Continental troops away from Burgoyne’s army to the north.  Germain also said he thought Howe would wrap up the campaign rather quickly and be in a position by mid to late summer to move some of his forces north to assist General Burgoyne.

Instead, Howe did not even leave New York until late July, 1777, after Burgoyne had already captured Fort Ticonderoga.  When Howe did depart, he boarded ships and slowly sailed down to Maryland.  He did not really begin his march on Philadelphia until September.  That left the Americans plenty of time to focus on Burgoyne, all summer.  Howe was still fighting with Washington’s Army at Germantown in October.  He still had not cleared the Delaware River, which he needed to do to open up supply lines for his army  So even by mid-October, Howe was in no position to provide any support for Burgoyne.

Months later, after all this blew up, many would accuse General Howe of leaving Burgoyne isolated.  Howe defended himself by saying that if he had just sat in New York for the whole summer, his detractors would have accused him of doing nothing with his large army while simply waiting for Burgoyne to do all the work that year.  Instead, he went out and captured the American capital.

The fact was that Howe viewed Burgoyne as a reckless upstart.  There were reasons why armies moved slowly and cautiously to avoid ambush and counter-attack, as well as maintain secure supply lines.  Burgoyne was brushing aside all that in his effort to win glory through a roll of the dice.  If Howe had just moved out of New York City and up the Hudson Valley, Burgoyne still would have received all the glory, even if Howe had to bail him out.  Similarly, Generals Carleton and Clinton had a selfish incentive to see Burgoyne fail for the same reasons.  A Burgoyne victory would make them all look like old ladies who were too afraid to engage in the necessary offensives to defeat the rebellion.

Even if the generals really felt that way, they could not let it show through words or deeds.  Letting a fellow officer fail for petty personal reasons would have been highly dishonorable and certainly would have ended your own career.  With Burgoyne’s army in trouble in upstate New York, his fellow generals had to do what they could to assist him.

As I said, Howe was still too engaged around Philadelphia.  As I covered last week, Carleton in Canada did not have enough forces to be of much help.  And besides, with the threats against Fort Ticonderoga, those reinforcements could not reach Burgoyne anyway.  That left General Clinton in New York, if anyone could help Burgoyne.

Henry Clinton

Henry Clinton has had a recurring role in our story so far.  Here’s a quick recap.  Henry Clinton was the son of Admiral George Clinton.  Henry spent much of his youth in New York while his father was royal governor.  As a teenager, Henry Clinton purchased a commission in the army.  His money and connection allowed him to rise to captain before the Seven Years War began.  Two years into the war, he had risen to lieutenant colonel.  Clinton fought multiple actions in the German states during the war,  He suffered a serious wound at the battle of Battle of Nauheim in 1762 while serving as aide-de-camp to Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick.

Sir Henry Clinton
(from Wikimedia)

During his service as a young officer at war, he got to know other officers serving beside him, including Charles Lee and William Alexander (aka Lord Stirling).  He would later face these two men as enemy commanders in the revolution.  Also during these early years, Clinton developed a relationship with Lord Cornwallis.

When the Seven Years War ended, Clinton found himself navigating the highly political world of British elites.  His father had died near the end of the war and Clinton spent years trying to settle the estate.  He also got married during this time, though his wife died from complications in childbirth several years later.  Clinton found a valuable patron in the Duke of Gloucester, brother of King George III.  He also got elected to the House of Commons.  Political power was important to his advancement as an officer.  His primary interest though, was the military.  This member of Parliament spent less time in London and more surveying the battlefields of Europe and studying the art of war under officers who had fought under Frederick the Great.

In 1772, Clinton received promotion to major general, and in 1775, he shipped out with two other major generals, William Howe and John Burgoyne, to Boston to assist General Thomas Gage with the rebellion that had recently broken out there.  When London recalled Gage a few months later, the more senior General Howe took command and Clinton became his second.

Howe and Clinton had seemed to get along well at first, mostly because they could both bash General Gage’s decisions.  Once Howe took command, the relationship quickly soured as Howe seemed to want to keep Clinton sidelined and was not interested in his advice.

Gov. George Clinton
(Tenn Virtual Archive)
In early 1776, Howe gave Clinton an independent command to go conquer the Carolinas.  Clinton met up again with General Cornwallis as the two failed to make any progress. There efforts culminated in the failed attempt to take Fort Sullivan in Charleston Harbor, thwarted by their old ally, Charles Lee (see Episode 96).  

The loss at Fort Sullivan hit Clinton hard.  He feared that it would tarnish his reputation forever.  Instead, he obsessed over it and grew paranoid over how the loss might be used against him.  It made him even more desperate for a military victory to put the loss behind him.

Clinton supported Howe’s invasion of New York, although he continually grew frustrated  that Howe would not give him a free hand to capture the enemy army.  In a pique of frustration Clinton told Cornwallis that he would rather have an independent command of only three companies than to continue as Howe’s second in command.  Cornwallis, of course, relayed these comments to Howe and the relationship between the Howe and Clinton was permanently broken.

Howe gave the more junior Cornwallis the lead role in chasing Washington’s Army across New Jersey.  In late 1776, Howe ordered Clinton to take Newport, Rhode Island.  Howe then reduced the number of soldiers under Clinton’s command so that he could not safely engage in offensive operations.  Then Howe started sending notes to Clinton asking why he was not operating more aggressively.  Clinton saw that he was being shoved onto the back-burner and that Howe was building a paper trail to show that Clinton was not an effective military leader.  In January 1777, Clinton took a ship back to London to resign his commission.

He arrived in time to learn that King had granted an independent command to the more junior General Burgoyne to invade upstate New York.  At the same time, London refused to accept Clinton’s resignation.  Instead they awarded him a knighthood and told him he was doing a simply wonderful job.  They then ordered him to return to New York and continue as Howe’s second in command.

Sir Henry Returns To New York

Clinton arrived in New York City in July, while General Howe was still preparing to launch his fleet for his eventual campaign to Philadelphia.  The two generals argued as Clinton said that his move against Philadelphia this late in the season would leave Burgoyne’s army without any support.  Clinton also complained that Howe was taking almost the entire army with him.  Although Clinton had several thousand soldiers under his command, most of them were either Hessian or local militia.  Howe was taking all the best combat units with the fleet.  Clinton, was responsible for defending more than a thousand square miles of territory, from Long Island to Staten Island.  H feared he could not withstand a serious attack, let alone engage in any offensive operations.  Howe told Clinton that he had no orders to assist Burgoyne and that Clinton was a big boy, capable of defending New York city against a few rebel militia.

Gen. James Clinton
(NY Cincinnati)
After Howe left, he sent a note to Clinton suggesting that Clinton make some diversion in the lower Hudson Valley to distract the enemy away from Burgoyne, provided he could do it while protecting Manhattan.  Clinton, of course, believed he had nowhere near the resources for this. Once again, Howe was creating a paper trail to cover himself.

Over the late summer and early fall, the Americans did conduct several raids against Long Island and Staten Island, always testing British defenses.  Clinton could do little but play defense and watch how things played out.  He communicated with General Robert Pigot in Rhode Island to see if troops in Newport could launch an action to distract the Continentals.  Pigot had taken over after the locals had kidnapped the previous commander, General Richard Prescott.  Howe had also left Pigot with too few troops to do much of anything.  Clinton did launch one small raid into North Jersey to capture some cattle, but that failed to elicit much of any response.

On September 11, the same day Howe was attacking at Brandywine, Clinton’s growing concerns about Burgoyne’s predicament prompted him to write to the general to see if a small incursion into Hudson Valley might help to distract the enemy.  Getting messages through enemy lines was difficult.  Burgoyne received the letter ten days later, just after he had fought the Americans at Freeman’s Farm. His response did not reach Clinton until September 29, saying that such an attack would prove helpful.  With that, Clinton prepared to launch an offensive with the hope of drawing off some of the Continental forces challenging Burgoyne.

Burgoyne did not describe exactly how desperate his situation had become, but the message did make clear that he had no intention to withdraw.  He would continue to press forward in hope of linking up with Clinton in New York City.  With that, Clinton felt obliged to try at least something with his limited resources to relieve the pressure on Burgoyne.

The Hudson Valley

North of New York City, the Americans retained control of the area.  Recall that General Howe had sent a raid to Peekskill in April 1777 to test American defenses (see Episode 133).  American resistance had been enough for the British to forget about any further raids.  Washington had given command of the area to General Israel Putnam, the old Connecticut officer who was third in command of the Continental Army, behind only Washington and the recently disgraced General Schuyler.  

Gen. Israel Putnam
(from Wikimedia)
Despite his rank, Putnam was pushing sixty and was not one of Washington’s favored field commanders.  He commanded only about 600 soldiers at Peekskill on the east bank of the river, with another 600 nearby at Forts Clinton and Montgomery on the west bank.  Those forts fell under the command of the Clinton Brothers (no close relation to Sir Henry). General George Clinton was Governor of New York and a militia general in charge of Fort Montgomery.  His brother James Clinton was a Continental brigadier and in command of Fort Clinton.  Both forts were next to each other, separated only by a small creek.  Washington had ordered all of these commanders to send all available soldiers either to support Washington’s army in the Philadelphia Campaign, or to General Gates who was facing down General Burgoyne.  As a result, the forts had minimal garrisons to defend the area.

The Offensive

In New York City, General Sir Henry Clinton packed nearly half of his available soldiers, about 3000 men, into ships on October 3rd.  To distract and confuse the enemy, Clinton first sailed his fleet toward Long Island Sound, as if they were moving toward Connecticut.  Then he doubled back and moved up the Hudson River toward Peekskill.  On the morning of October 5, the British  landed a force on the east bank of the river a few miles below Peekskill, capturing a small Continental artillery battery there.

The landing convinced General Putnam that the British would march north to Peekskill and take the town again, just as they had in the April raid.  He moved his 600 soldiers into the hills, and sent word to Forts Clinton and Montgomery to send whatever reinforcements they could spare.  That was exactly what the British general wanted.  With Forts Clinton and Montgomery even further weakened, the British re-boarded their ships, sailed up river and disembarked on the west bank of the Hudson at Stony Point, just below the forts.


Hudson Valley Campaign 1777 (from Wikipedia)
Clinton divided his army into two columns. The soldiers marched inland without any cannons or heavy baggage.  Although the British had no cannons, the American garrisons had been reduced to only skeleton crews before their arrival.  

The first column commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Mungo Campbell, with about 900 soldiers, including 400 loyalist militia, launched an attack against Fort Montgomery.  Fort Montgomery deployed about 100 defenders under the command of Captain John Lamb with a field cannon a little over a mile from the fort.  Lamb’s division halted the British column for a time, but had to retreat before the superior numbers.  The Americans had to abandon and spike their cannon before they left.  They then set up a second defensive line closer to the fort, leading to a second skirmish.  Again the defenders retreated.  However their actions delayed the British from reaching the fort until shortly before dusk.

The defenders managed to inflict a fair number of casualties as the British stormed the fort walls.  Once inside, according to American accusations, the attackers massacred part of the surrendering garrison.  The fort commander, James Clinton, with a portion of the garrison managed to escape into the woods north of the fort.

Fort Clinton similarly mounted a defense against the British column, under the direct command of Sir Henry Clinton.  The attackers far outnumbered the garrison and stormed the fort.  Like his brother, Governor Clinton managed to avoid capture.  He slipped down to the river and crossed on a gunboat as the fort fell.

Of the 600 defenders at both forts, the Americans suffered about 75 killed or wounded, with another 263 captured.  The attackers reported 41 killed and 142 wounded.

Aftermath

With the American defenders captured or disbursed, Sir Henry Clinton remained at the forts for several days, hoping to receive word from Burgoyne that he had pushed through and would be linking up with them soon.  

Clinton also sent another detachment upriver to force the surrender of Fort Constitution, just across the river from West Point.  The small garrison there abandoned the fort and fled inland.  Over the next week, the British cleared the river of obstructions, including the chain that the patriots had installed across the river to block the British Navy. 


Ruins of Fort Montgomery Magazine
(from Wikimedia)
Most of the Americans who had escaped the forts, made their way to link up with Israel Putnam’s small force.  Even so, the combined force was far smaller than the British contingent opposing them.  General Putnam and the Clinton brothers deployed further upriver in hopes of preventing further British advances

Sir Henry received a final message from General Burgoyne, which had been sent on September 28, informing him that Burgoyne’s army of 5000 was facing an American army twice their size, but that they still hoped to reach Albany, and could Clinton meet them there with supplies? Burgoyne also said that since he was nearly in New York, he awaited Clinton’s orders. Burgoyne’s message made clear that he could only hold out for a couple of weeks without support.  After that, he would be forced to withdraw.  

Clinton saw the note as a thinly veiled attempt for Burgoyne looking for political cover for his imminent loss.  He wanted to toss the command to Clinton before his army surrendered.  On October 7, having taken the forts, Clinton wrote a response to Burgoyne saying that he had made his move into the lower Hudson as a diversion, but there was no way he could make it to Albany.  He also made clear that he could not provide any orders since he had no idea what Burgoyne’s situation was on the ground.  Clinton sent the response via three messengers, but none of them ever made it back to Burgoyne.  

A few days later, Clinton returned to New York City, leaving General John Vaughan in charge of the force still occupying the lower Hudson Valley.  Clinton’s return was not simply that he had gotten tired of the fight or time in the field.  Two of his top officers had fallen ill and the next in command was a Hessian officer with a reputation for drunkenness.  Clinton’s primary responsibility was the defense of New York City.  His fear that Washington, having lost Philadelphia, might turn on the depleted defenders of New York led Clinton to return to shore up the city’s defenses.

By October 13, Clinton was back up in the Hudson Valley, hoping to make contact with Burgoyne.  However, he still had no intention of risking his force all the way to Albany.  Clinton was not going to make the same mistake that Burgoyne had made, by stretching his supply lines too far, and also risking his base in New York.

Clinton had hoped that once Howe secured Philadelphia, he would send reinforcements back to New York so that Clinton could then send a large force into the Hudson Valley.  It was clear, however, by that time that Howe was not going to be able to provide any reinforcements anytime soon.  In fact, Howe wanted the opposite.  On October 17, Clinton received a note from Howe ordering him to send 3000 of his soldiers to Philadelphia.  Howe likely sent this message shortly after the American attack at Germantown.

With the loss of nearly half of his command, Clinton could not hope to hold the forts in the Hudson Valley.  He burned Forts Clinton and Montgomery and withdrew his forces back to New York City.  With Howe’s demands for reinforcements, Clinton was left with only a few regiments of mostly Hessian soldiers under his command, along with about 3000 loyalist militia of dubious value.

Next week, with no rescue coming from Clinton, General Burgoyne prepares for battle at Bemis Heights.

- - -

Next  Episode 165 Bemis Heights (2nd Saratoga)

Previous Episode 163 Battle of Germantown


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Further Reading

Websites

Forts Clinton and Montgomery Taken: http://www.historycarper.com/1778/05/11/forts-clinton-and-montgomery-taken

The Battle of Fort's Montgomery and Clinton: https://revolutionarywar.us/year-1777/battle-forts-montgomery-clinton

Fort Montgomery: https://www.battlefields.org/learn/articles/fort-montgomery

Levine, David A 75-Ton Chain Once Stretched Across the Hudson River to Stop the British and Protect the Hudson Valley: https://hvmag.com/life-style/history/a-75-ton-chain-once-stretched-across-the-hudson-river-to-stop-the-british-and-protect-the-hudson-valley

Video: The Battle of Fort Montgomery: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0t9iXAVBrl0

Free eBooks
(from archive.org unless noted)

Anbury, Thomas Travel through Various Parts of North America, Vol. 1, William Lane, 1789.

Clay, Steven E. Staff Ride Handbook for the Saratoga Campaign, 13 June to 8 November 1777, Combat Studies Institute Press, 2018 (US Army Website).

Eelking, Max von, (translated by Stone, William L.) Memoirs of Major General Riedesel, Vol. 1, J. Munsell, 1868.

Hadden, James Hadden's Journal and Orderly Books, Joel Munsell’s Sons, 1884.

Hill, George Canning Gen. Israel Putnam, Boston, E. O. Libby and company, 1858

Hudleston, Francis J. Gentleman Johnny Burgoyne : misadventures of an English general in the Revolution, Bobbs-Merrill Co. 1927.

Nickerson, Hoffman The Turning Point of the Revolution; or, Burgoyne in America, (Houghton-Mifflin Co. 1928 (Hathitrust.org). 


Books Worth Buying
(links to Amazon.com unless otherwise noted)*

Furneaux, Rupert The Battle of Saratoga, Stein and Day 1971.

Ketchum, Richard M. Saratoga, Turning Point of America’s Revolutionary War, Henry Holt & Co, 1997.


Logusz, Michael O. With Musket & Tomahawk: The West Point-Hudson Valley Campaign in the Wilderness War of 1777, Carrell Books, 2016 (book recommendation of the week).

Ward, Christopher The War of the Revolution, Macmillan, 1952.

Willcox, William Bradford Portrait of a general; Sir Henry Clinton in the War of Independence, New York: Knopf, 1907.

* As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.