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 

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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


Horatio Gates:

Bemis Heights October 7, 1777 Battlemap:

Battle of Saratoga:

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

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,

Kelly, Jack Terror on the Hudson: The Burning of Kingston, 2018:

Hargreaves, Reginald “Burgoyne and America's Destiny” American Heritage Magazine, Volume 7, Issue 4, June 1956:

Reynolds, William W. “Demise of the Albamarle Barracks: A report to the Quarermaster General” Journal of the American Revolution, May 31, 2018:

Free eBooks
(from 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 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.

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