History of Warren County, H. P. Smith
Chapter XIII: Close of 1776
This transcription was produced through the use of Readiris Pro 11 OCR software. Contributed by Tim Varney.
The Canadian Mission - Its Failure - Hostilities near New York - Battle of Long Island - Small-pox at Crown Point - Carleton's Pursuit of the Americans - Dr. Thacher's Journal - Building a British Fleet for Lake Champlain - Counter-Action by Arnold - Sailing of the British Fleet - Respective Positions of the American and British Vessels - The Engagement - Retirement of the Americans - Rapid Pursuit - Arnold's Bravery - Burning of a Portion of the Fleet - Escape of the Remainder to Crown Point - The British Retire to Canada for the Winter - Campaign of 1777 - Burgoyne's Operations - Assault upon and Evacuation of Ticonderoga - The Jane McCrea Incident - Burgoyne's Surrender.
The Page 149 country was now fully ablaze with the Revolution, and the remainder of the year 1776 witnessed some important occurrences. The month of March, while Arnold was yet in command at Montreal, had witnessed the failure of the commission appointed by Congress, consisting of Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Chase and Charles Carroll, to proceed to Canada and induce the people to establish a free government and join the confederated colonies. Hostilities were for the time being transferred to New York and vicinity and the battle of Long Island, disastrous to the Americans, was fought and New York was evacuated in September, while other occurrences of moment were taking place in the northern department, with which we are more directly interested.
When the retreating army had reached Crown Point, as detailed at the close of the preceding chapter, it mustered about five thousand men; but more than half of these were helpless in sickness, chiefly from the terrible scourge, smallpox. For ten days the troops remained there, suffering much from exposure, during which brief period three hundred deaths occurred. What would have happened had not Sullivan, in his wisdom, destroyed everything in his track that could have aided the British in their pursuit, may be imagined. When they arrived at Champlain their progress was stayed for want of shipping. The naval supremacy of the lake now became of perhaps greater moment than ever Page 150 before. Carleton immediately began the construction of boats in the Sorel, and six large vessels, which had been built in England, were taken apart below the Chambly Rapids and conveyed to St. Johns, where they were again rebuilt in the utmost haste. The 1st of October found him with a fleet of thirty-one vessels all armed with from one to eighteen guns and manned by several hundred seamen and a corps of artillery.
Congress had not been idle. Here Arnold found a field for the exercise of his indomitable energy, and he saw the construction, directly from the forest trees, and equipment of fifteen vessels, armed in the aggregate with fifty-five guns and manned by three hundred and fifty men; men, however, with little experience in naval affairs.
A short period of repose followed, but neither antagonist was idle. Carleton strengthened the forts at St. Johns and Isle aux Noix and gathered a land force of seven thousand troops to march against his enemy when the lake was conquered; and Arnold cruised the lake in defiance of the foe, perfected his plans for the expected contest, and drilled his men.
Meanwhile General Gates had, through intrigue, displaced General Schuyler in command of the northern army, and concentrated his forces at Ticonderoga. (1)
1. Gates at first established his headquarters at Crown Point, but soon afterward withdrew his forces from that post and fell back upon Ticonderoga. This step was taken by the advice and concurrence of a board of general officers but contrary to the wishes of the field officers. The commander-in-chief was exceedingly dissatisfied with this movement of Gates, believing that the relinquishment of that post in its consequences would be equivalent to an abandonment of Lakes George and Champlain, and all advantages to be derived there rom. - Stone's Life of Brant, with reference to Washington's letter to Gates.
Dr. James Thacher joined the American forces that marched to Ticonderoga from Boston. He was an intelligent man and kept a journal from 1775 to 1783, which proved of great historic value. He writes of Ticonderoga and the events about to occur in that vicinity with such clearness and evident sincerity and judgment, that we are fully justified in quoting as follows: -
August 20th, 1776. - "Having recovered my health and being prepared to follow my regiment, I am this day to bid adieu to the town of Boston, where I have resided very pleasantly for the last five months. I am destined to a distant part of our country, and know not what sufferings and hazards I shall be called to encounter, while in the discharge of my military duty. I shall commence my journey in company with Lieutenant Whiting and fourteen men who were left here as invalids.
"September. - We took our route through Worcester, Springfield, Charlestown, in New Hampshire, and over the Green Mountains to Skeensboro; which is the place of rendezvous for the continental troops and militia destined to Ticonderoga. Here boats are provided at the entrance of Lake Champlain, which are continually passing to and from this place. We embarked on the Page 151 6th instant, and with good oarsmen and sails we arrived the same day, and joined our regiment here, a distance of thirty miles.
"10th. - Ticonderoga is situated on an angle of land forming the western shore of Lake Champlain, or rather what is called South Bay; being the inlet into the lake. It is about twelve miles south of the old fortress at Crown Point, and about one hundred and ten miles north of Albany. This point of land is surrounded on three sides by water, and on the northwest side it is well defended by the old French lines and several block-houses. . . . On the east side of South Bay, directly opposite to Ticonderoga, is a high circular hill, on the summit of which our army has erected a strong fort, within which is a square of barracks. This is called Mt. Independence. A communication is maintained between the two places by a floating bridge thrown across the lake, which is about four hundred yards wide. The army stationed at this post at present is supposed to consist of about eight to ten thousand men, and Major General Gates is commander-in-chief. We have a naval armament (1) on Lake Champlain, below this garrison, which is commanded by the intrepid General Arnold; General Waterbury is second in command. The British have also a naval armament (2) of superior force, at the head of which is the celebrated Sir Guy Carleton."
1. Built and equipped by Arnold at Ticonderoga and Crown Point, as already described.
2. Built at St. Johns and navigated by seven hundred veteran seamen.
Carleton and Arnold's Naval Battle. - "Preparations are making on both sides for a vigorous combat to decide which power shall have dominion on the lake. Should Sir Guy Carleton be able to defeat our fleet, it is supposed that he will pursue his victorious career by an attempt to possess himself of this garrison; and our troops are making the utmost exertion to put our works in the best possible defense. Each regiment has its alarm post assigned, and they are ordered to repair to it, and to man the lines at day light every morning. Among our defensive weapons are poles, about twelve feet long, armed with sharp iron points, which each soldier is to employ against the assailants when mounting the breast works.
"10th. (3) - By intelligence from our fleet, on the lake, we are in daily expectation of a decisive naval action, as the British are known to have a superior force; our officers here, I understand, are full of anxiety respecting the important event. Great confidence is reposed in the judgment of General Arnold, whom General Gates has appointed to command our fleet.
3. Without doubt, October 10th.
"15th. - I have now to recount an account of a naval engagement between the two fleets on Lake Champlain. (4) The British under command of Sir Guy Carleton, advanced on the 11th instant, and found our fleet in a line of Page 152 battle prepared for the attack. A warm action soon ensued, and became extremely close and severe, with round and grape shot, which continued about four hours. Brigadier-General Waterbury, in the Washington Galley, fought with undaunted bravery, till nearly all his officers were killed and wounded, and his vessel greatly injured; when General Arnold ordered the remaining shattered vessels to retire up the lake, towards Crown Point, in order to refit. On the 13th they were overtaken by the enemy, and the action was renewed, in which was displayed the greatest intrepidity on both sides. The Washington Galley being crippled in the first action, was soon obliged to strike and surrender. General Arnold conducted during the action with great judgment, firmness, and gallantry, obstinately defending himself against a superior force, both in numbers or weight of metal. At length, however, he was so closely pressed that his situation became desperate and he run his own vessel, the Congress Galley, on shore, which with five gondolas were abandoned and blown up. Out of sixteen of our vessels, eleven were taken or destroyed, five only arrived safely at this place. Two of the enemy's gondolas were sunk by our fleet, and one blown up with sixty men. Their loss in men is supposed to be equal to our own, which is estimated at about one hundred."
4. This engagement occurred in the strait between Valcour Island and the western shore, just north of the mouth of the Ausable. Its history cannot be omitted in the sketch of Fort Ticonderoga, because the American vessels were built and manned there.
Preparations to Receive an Attack. - "A large number of troops were on board the British fleet, consisting of regulars, Canadians and savages, which have been landed on each side of the lake, and it is now expected that Sir Guy Carleton, at the head of his army, reported to be about ten thousand strong, will soon invest this post. By order of General Gates, our commander, the greatest exertions are constantly making, by strengthening our works, to enable us to give them a warm reception; and our soldiery express a strong desire to have an opportunity of displaying their courage and prowess; both officers and men are full of activity and vigilance.
"18th. - It is now ascertained that the British army and fleet have established themselves at Crown Point, and are strengthening the old fortifications at that place. Some of their vessels have approached within a few miles of our garrison, and one boat came within cannon shot distance of our lower battery, in order to reconnoitre and sound the channel; but a few shot having killed two men, and wounded another, soon obliged her to retire. All of our troops are to repair to their alarm posts, and man the lines and works; every morning our continental troops are advantageously displayed on the ramparts, and our cannon and spears are in readiness for action.
"18th. - Ever since the defeat of our fleet we have been providentially favored with a strong southerly wind, which has prevented the enemy's advancing to attack our lines, and afforded us time to receive some reinforcements of militia, and to prepare for a more vigorous defense. It seems now to be the opinion of many of our most judicious officers, that had Sir Guy Carleton approached with his army immediately after his victory on the lake, Page 153 the struggle must have been most desperate, and the result precarious; but we now feel more confidence in our strength."
Carleton Retires to Canada. - "November 1st. - The enemy remain at Crown Point, and evince no disposition to molest our garrison, having probably discovered that our means of defense are too formidable for them to encounter. General Gates has now ordered a detachment of troops to march towards Crown Point, to reconnoitre their position, or to attack them. A report was soon returned that the whole fleet and army have abandoned Crown Point, and retired into Canada, where they will probably occupy their winter quarters in peace, and it is not probable that Sir Guy Carleton intends to invest our garrison, at this advanced season, unless, however, he should attempt it by marching his army over the ice when the lake is frozen, which will probably be very practicable."
Winter Life in the Barracks. - "15th. - Ticonderoga is in about latitude forty-four degrees. I have no means in possession of ascertaining the precise degrees of cold; but we all agree that it is colder here than in Massachusetts at the same season. The earth has not yet been covered with snow, but the frost is so considerable that the water of the lake is congealed, and the earth is frozen. We are comfortably situated in our barracks; our provisions are now good, and having no enemy near enough to alarm and disturb us, we have nothing of importance to engage our attention. Our troops are quite healthy, a few cases of rheumatism and pleurisy comprise our sick list, and it is seldom that any fatal cases occur."
Such was the sagacious physician's description of the most important naval engagement on Lake Champlain and other contemporaneous events. General Carleton was harshly and unjustly censured for his retirement to Canada. He realized the strength of the garrison at that time and properly estimated the hazards of an approaching winter which would cut him off from rapid transportation to Canada.
While the garrison was "comfortably situated" in the barracks as chronicled by Thacher, Washington was retreating in gloom across the Jerseys, closely pursued by Cornwalis; Forts Washington and Lee had fallen into the hands of the enemy; the militia had shown little of that heroism that was expected of them, and the tory spirit was rife in N ew York and New Jersey; the American cause seemed in desperate straits. But the spirits of Washington rose to the emergency and before the close of the year he won the battle of Trenton (December 26), which, with Carleton's departure from Lake Champlain, revived the depressed spirits of the colonists.
For the campaign of 1777 the English made the most thorough preparation in the north, where General Burgoyne had succeeded Carleton. A large and fully equipped army was gathered in Canada and placed under his command, with which it was intended to crush the insurgent colonies. The force Page 154 designed for the enterprise numbered more than "even thousand men, besides about two hundred and fifty Canadians, to which were added some four hundred Indians and a large park of artillery. The forces, with the exception of the Indians, assembled at St. Johns and Isle aux Noix. Its command, under Burgoyne, was entrusted to such brave and skillful officers as Generals Phillips, Frazer, Powell and Hamilton, of the British troops, and Riedesel and Specht of the hired Germans. Early in June this splendid army left St. Johns in boats and reached the banks of the Boquet, where it halted ten days, to enable the commander to make a reconnaissance of Ticonderoga, drill his boatmen and hold his notorious conference with the Indians, in which they were deliberately employed to glut their savage passions upon the Americans. This conference was held on the 21st. Burgoyne made a stirring speech to the Indians who pledged themselves to carry out his behests against the colonists. There will always, doubtless, be differences of opinion as to how far Burgoyne went in this bargain and to what extent he inflamed the savages; but the fact must remain that he knew the character of the Indians and their mode of warfare; he knew also, that the Americans had not sought their alliance, desiring only their neutrality; hence the bloody scenes that followed directly upon this bargain between him and the six nations must, in a measure, be accredited to him. (1)
1. "It is but just to this gallant but unfortunate officer, however, to state, that he did all in his power to restrain the excesses and barbarities of the Indians. At the council and war feast, which he gave them near Crown Point, he endeavored to explain to them the laws of civilized war; and charged them that they must only kill those opposing them in arms; that old men, women and children, and prisoners, must be held sacred from the knife or hatchet, even in the heat of battle. But it did no good." - Stone's Life of Brant. The question will, doubtless, be asked whether Burgoyne should not have known, or did not know, at the time that it would "do no good."
The plans of the English for the campaign embraced the cutting off of New England from the Middle States by the opening of communication between New York and Canada. This was to be accomplished by Burgoyne, in co-operation with General Clinton, whose operations were to be carried on down the Hudson. At the same time Sir Wm. Howe, with an army of 16,000 men, was to withdraw from New Jersey and move simultaneously around to the Chesapeake and take possession of the Middle States.
Unfortunately for the Americans, these plans were hidden and mystified to such an extent that the commanding officers were in great perplexity in devising measures of opposition. It was the general impression that Burgoyne contemplated a movement against Boston and that Sir Wm. Howe was to cooperate in the subjugation of the hot-bed of rebellion, New England. Even after Burgoyne descended from the north, General Howe's movements were misunderstood by Washington, his uncertainty being strengthened by a feigned dispatch sent by Howe to Burgoyne upon the subject of ascending the Hudson; this dispatch was purposely allowed to fall into the hands of the American Page 155 commander, who was thereby impelled to remain inactive and to withhold reinforcements from the northern department. As late as July 2d, Washington wrote the Congress, "If we were certain General Burgoyne were approaching Ticonderoga with his whole army, I should not hesitate a moment in concluding that it is in consequence of a preconcerted plan with General Howe, and that the latter is to co-operate with him by pushing his whole force up the North River." And July 22d he wrote, "I cannot give you any certain account of General Howe's operations. His conduct is puzzling and embarrassing beyond measure; so are the informations I get. At one time the ships are standing up toward the North River; in a little while they are going up the sound; and in one hour after they are going out of the hook." This to General Schuyler. In reality the fleet sailed for the Virginia capes on the 23d of July.
The command of the northern department was again, by the vacillation of Congress, placed in the hands of General Schuyler, only to deprive him of it the second time on the first of the following August. The immediate command of Ticonderoga and its dependencies was given to General Arthur St. Clair, an officer of ability and experience, but destined to misfortune. Here should have been concentrated an army of ten thousand men; yet Schuyler could muster but half that number in his whole department, while but three thousand were given to St. Clair. But the works were vastly stronger than when they were so heroically defended by Montcalm. The old lines had been fortified by the erection of a block-house, and new works erected at the saw-mills and the Lake George landing, all of which were, however, only occupied by feeble detachments. A small fort was erected on Mount Hope, while Mount Independence, on the eastern shore of the lake, directly opposite the main fort, was effectively fortified by a star fort enclosing barracks; the base of the hill and its sides were entrenched and supplied with artillery. Ticonderoga and Mount Independence are about fifteen hundred yards apart. Let us quote a little further from the journal of Dr. Thacher: -
"According to authentic reports, the plan of the British government for the present campaign is that General Burgoyne's army shall take possession of Ticonderoga, and force his way through the country to Albany; to facilitate this event, Colonel St. Leger is to March with a party of British, Germans, Canadians and Indians, to the Mohawk River, and make a diversion in that quarter. The royal army at New York, under command of General Howe, is to pass up the Hudson River, and calculating on success in all quarters, the three armies are to form a junction at Albany. Here, probably, the three commanders are to congratulate each other on their mighty achievements, and the flattering prospects of crushing the rebellion. This being accomplished, the communication between the Southern and Eastern States will be interrupted, and New England, as they suppose, may become an easy prey.Page 156
"Judging from the foregoing detail, a very active campaign is to be expected, and events of the greatest magnitude are undoubtedly to be unfolded.
"The utmost exertions are now making to strengthen our works at Ticonderoga, and, if possible, to render the post invulnerable. Mt, Independence, directly opposite to Ticonderoga, is strongly fortified and well supplied with artillery. On the summit of the mount, which is table land, is erected a strong fort, in the center of which is a convenient square of barracks, a part of which are occupied for our hospital. The communication between these two places is maintained by a floating bridge, which is supported on twenty-two sunken piers of very large timber. The spaces between these are filled with separate floats, each about fifty feet long and twelve feet wide, strongly fastened together with iron chains and rivets. A boom composed of large pieces of timber, well secured together by riveted bolts, is placed on the north side of the bridge, and by the side of this is placed a double iron chain, the links of which are one and a half inch square. The construction of this bridge, boom and chain, of four hundred yards in length, has proved a most laborious undertaking, and the expense must have been immense. It is, however, supposed to be admirably adapted to the double purpose of a communication and an impenetrable barrier to any vessels that might attempt to pass our works.
"July 1st. - We are now assailed by a proclamation of a very extraordinary nature, from General Burgoyne. (1) The militia of New England are daily coming in to increase our strength; the number of our troops and our ability to defend the works against the approaching enemy, are considerations which belong to our commanding officers. One fact, however, is notorious, that when the troops are directed to man the lines, there is not a sufficient number to occupy the whole extent. It appears, nevertheless, so far as I can learn, to be the prevalent opinion, that we shall be able to repel the meditated attack and defeat the views of the royal commander; both officers and men are in high spirits and prepared for the contest."
1. Let not people consider their distance from my camp; I have but to give stretch to the Indian forces under my direction - and they amount to thousands - to overtake the handed enemies of Great Britain. If the frenzy of hostility should remain, I trust I shall stand acquitted in the eyes of God and man in executing the vengeance of the State against the wilful outcasts. - From Burgoyne's Proclamation.
In spite of the conclusions of this eye witness, it is clear that St. Clair was in no condition to repel an assault from such a force as that under command of Burgoyne. He knew this to be the fact. On the 25th of June he communicated to Schuyler the perilous circumstances by which he was surrounded and the inadequacy of his resources; but he was given no alternative other than to hold the position to the last, when an early evacuation might have averted the misfortune that overtook him. The commander-in-chief and Congress were still clinging to the belief and hope that Burgoyne's movements were pretexts Page 157 to cover other operations. Mt. Defiance, the real key to success in operations against Ticonderoga, was still unfortified and unoccupied. (1)
1. The imagined impregnability of these works would at once fail, in the event of this eminence being occupied by a hostile battery, St. Clair had been apprised of this momentous fact by the examination of the preceding year. Pont Le Roy, the engineer of Montcalm, evidently referred to it. And we cannot doubt that the possession of Ticonderoga during more than eighteen years, had disclosed the military value of this position to the British commanders. - Watson.
On the first of July Burgoyne's army appeared before Ticonderoga. The small garrison at Crown Point had fallen back to this point, and Burgoyne established there a hospital, magazine, store-house and base of supplies. He disposed his forces with light infantry, grenadiers, Canadians, Indians and ten pieces of artillery, under command of General Frazer, on the west side of the lake at Putnam's Creek. This force was moved up to Five Mile Point. On the east side of the lake were the Germans, under Riedesel and Breyman; they were moved up to a point nearly opposite, while the remainder of the army were on board of the gunboats and the frigates Royal George and Inflexible, under the immediate command of Burgoyne himself This fleet was anchored between the wings of the army and just out of cannon shot from the fort.
On the second the right wing of the British was extended on the flank, threatening St. Clair's outposts, whereupon the small force on Mt. Hope and at the landing was ordered to burn the mills and the public property and fall back within the American lines. Mt. Hope was immediately seized by the British and, it is said, received its name from General Phillips, as expressive of his feelings at that time. St. Clair's communications with Lake George were now severed and the eminence was at once further fortified and artillery conveyed to its summit by almost incredible toil, which operations were carried on under a cannonade from St. Clair's guns. During these operations Burgoyne's engineer, Lieutenant Twiss, reconnoitered what was then called "Sugar Loaf Hill," the lofty eminence rising seven hundred and fifty feet from the confluence of Lake Champlain and the outlet and directly commanding both Ticonderoga and Mt. Independence. The engineer reported, in accordance with his belief, that the eminence was not only unoccupied, but could be reached by a road for transportation of cannon in twenty-four hours. This road was cut out during the night of the fourth, the sound of the choppers' axes being drowned by a cannonade from Mt. Hope, the Americans remaining in blissful ignorance of the operation. Before morning several pieces of artillery, which had been landed from the Thunderer, were transported to the top of the mountain. Holes were drilled directly into the rocks to which the guns were chained; (2) they comprised eight pieces, twelve pounders and eight-inch howitzers. When the sun rose on the fifth, the British looked down on the strongest fortress of the Americans, confident that they could destroy its garrison and demolish its walls with the plunging shots from their guns. They thereupon, as it is said, called the eminence Mt. Defiance, the name it still bears.
2. These holes are still visible.Page 158
The astonishment and anxiety of the Americans when the morning mists swept back from the mountain and revealed the battery almost over their heads, may be imagined. St. Clair saw that the position was doomed. A council of officers was called; but there could be but one decision, if the army was to be saved - evacuation.
Even this alternative was threatened with disaster, as General Riedesel was menacing the only avenue of escape by stretching his force around Mount Independence to command the narrow water passage towards Skenesborough. Situated, as they were, in full view of the British on Mount Defiance, it was clear that the retreat must be made in the night, and preparations were at once begun. At dusk a heavy cannonade was opened from the outer lines to cover their movements while the garrison gathered stores of all kinds, which, with the sick and wounded, Were placed in two hundred boats, with a guard of six hundred men and embarked for Skenesborough, in charge of Colonel Long and accompanied by five armed vessels. At three o'clock on the morning of the 6th the troops began to cross the bridge. At this juncture, and in contradiction of express orders, a building was set on fire on Mount Independence by General De Fermoy. The brilliant illumination spread over the entire scene, the British were aroused and preparations for immediate pursuit begun. St. Clair had not the time to destroy the bridge which had cost so much money and labor, and Frazer hurried across it with a strong detachment in pursuit of the fleeing Americans. Within the next few hours Burgoyne so broke up the bridge as to admit the passage of two ships and several of his gunboats, which were crowded on after the American flotilla. Of the moonlight voyage of the latter, Dr. Thacher vividly wrote as follows: -
"At about twelve o'clock on the night of 5th instant I was urgently called from sleep, and informed that our army was in motion, and was instantly to abandon Ticonderoga and Mount Independence. I could scarcely believe that my informant was in earnest, but the confusion and bustle soon convinced me that it was really true, and that the short time allowed demanded my utmost industry. It was enjoined on me immediately to collect the sick and wounded and as much of the hospital stores as possible, and assist in embarking them on board the bateaux and boats at the shore. Having with all possible dispatch completed our embarkation, at three o'clock in the morning of the 6th, we commenced our voyage up the South Bay to Skeensboro, about thirty miles. Our fleet consisted of five armed galleys and two hundred bateaux and boats, deeply laden with cannon, tents, provisions, invalids and women. We were accompanied by a guard of 600 men, commanded by Colonel Long, of New Hampshire.
"The night was moonlight and pleasant, the sun burst forth in the morning with uncommon lustre, the day was fine, the water's surface serene and Page 159 unruffled. The shore on each side exhibited a variegated view of huge rocks, caverns and cliffs, and the whole was bounded by a thick, impenetrable wilderness. My pen would fail in the attempt to describe a scene so enchantingly sublime. The occasion was peculiarly interesting, and we could but look back with regret and forward with apprehension. We availed ourselves, however, of the means of enlivening our spirits. The drum and fife afforded us a favorite music; among the hospital stores we found many dozen bottles of choice wine, and, breaking off their necks, we cheered our hearts with the nectarous contents.
"At three o'clock in the afternoon we reached our destined post at Skeensboro, being the head of navigation for our galleys. Here we were unsuspicious of danger; but, behold! Burgoyne himself was at our heels. In less than two hours we were struck with surprise and consternation by a discharge of cannon from the enemy's fleet, on our galleys and bateaux lying at the wharf. By uncommon efforts and industry they had broken through the bridge, boom and chain, which cost our people such immense labor, and had almost overtaken us on the lake, and horribly disastrous indeed would have been our fate. It was not long before it was perceived that a number of their troops and savages had landed, and were rapidly advancing towards our little party. The officers of our guard now attempted to rally the men and form them in battle array; but this was found impossible; every effort proved unavailing; and in the utmost panic they were seen to fly in every direction for personal safety. In this desperate condition, I perceived our officers scampering for their baggage; I ran to the bateaux, seized my chest, carried it a short distance, took from it a few articles, and instantly followed in the train of our retreating party. We took the route to Fort Anne, through a narrow defile in the woods, and were so closely pressed by the pursuing enemy, that we frequently heard calls from the rear to 'March on, the Indians are at our heels.'
"Having marched all night we reached Fort Anne at five o'clock in the morning, where we found provisions for our refreshment. A small rivulet called Wood Creek is navigable for boats from Skeensboro to Fort Anne, by which means some of our invalids and baggage made their escape; but all our cannon, provisions, and the bulk of our baggage, with several invalids, fell into the enemy's hands."
While Burgoyne was engaged in these successful operations St. Clair pursued a forced and disorderly march towards Castleton, which he reached in the following night. The three regiments constituting the rear guard of the Americans, under Warner, Francis and Hale, halted at Hubbardton to reorganize and collect the stragglers who had fallen out on the hurried retreat. They occupied a favorable position and there awaited an expected attack. Frazer was near at hand, having lain on his arms the preceding night, and, without waiting for the expected arrival of Riedesel, attacked the American Page 160 lines with vigor. Frazer had but eight hundred and fifty regulars, while the opposing force numbered about thirteen hundred; but this disparity was soon equalized by the retreat of Hale's regiment. (1) A long and bloody engagement followed, in which victory seemed alternately to belong to either side. Francis fell at the head of his regiment. Warner succeeded in joining Schuyler at Fort Edward. Six miles from this battle-field lay St. Clair with his detachment, the co-operation of which might have turned defeat into victory. That he did not move for that purpose is attributed by his apologists to the fact that his militia refused to march.
1. Hale's regiment was largely composed of sick and convalescent soldiers, and after a sharp skirmish continued the retreat to Castleton; but he was intercepted by a British detachment and himself and nearly his whole regiment captured. Hale has been charged with misconduct on this occasion, but the testimony of those who were present in the engagement and of other patient investigators is to the effect that his action was justified by the circumstances by which he was surrounded.
The capture of Ticonderoga caused deep consternation and regret throughout the colonies and general rejoicing in England. It had been looked upon as an impregnable stronghold, and to see it fall without a battle filled the Americans with despondency and gloom. Charges of baseness and treachery were freely indulged in towards St. Clair and Schuyler, and the latter was again superseded. Even the serene mind and cool judgment of Washington was disturbed. (2) The truth is, the actual force and condition of St. Clair's army had been over-estimated, both by army officers at a distance and the general public.
2. The evacuation of Ticonderoga and Mt. Independence is an event of chagrin and surprise, not apprehended nor within the compass of my reasoning. I know not upon what principle it was founded, and I should suppose it still more difficult to he accounted for, if the garrison amounted to five thousand men, in high spirits, healthy, well supplied with provisions and ammunition, and the eastern militia marching to their succor, as you mentioned in your letter on the 9th to the council of safety of New York. - Washington to General Schuyler, July 15, 1777.
Burgoyne's advance was temporarily checked at Fort Anne by Colonel Long, but the latter was forced to retreat; setting fire to the fort, he fled to Fort Edward. Here was General Schuyler, his provisions nearly exhausted and with little ammunition. Being in no condition to offer effective resistance, the whole force was compelled to fall back to Albany. It was in this crisis that the soul of Washington arose to that height of hopefulness, patience and calm strength so seldom reached. Said he in a letter to Schuyler, "This stroke is severe indeed, and has distressed us much. But, notwithstanding things at present have a dark and gloomy aspect, I hope a spirited opposition will check the progress of General Burgoyne's army, and that the confidence derived from his success will lead him into measures that will, in their consequences be favorable to us. We should never despair, our position has before been unpromising, and has changed for the better; so, I trust, it will again."
It is not out of place here to digress from our general subject to mention an incident that occurred about this time - an incident whose terrible details Page 161 carried a shock of horror to the hearts of all men, whether royal or provincial, while on the part of the latter a feeling of indignation was engendered that no excuses could calm. While Burgoyne was slowly making his way to the Hudson, Jane McCrea, an attractive young woman, was visiting friends at Fort Edward. While her friends were staunch defenders of freedom, she was so much of a royalist as to have become the betrothed of a young tory whose home was in the vicinity of Fort Edward, but who, at this time, was with Burgoyne's forces. When the army of Burgoyne had reached a point near Fort Edward, a squad of Indians, who were scouting in advance of the troops, entered the house of her friends and seized Miss McCrea, and, placing her on a horse, attempted to take her to Burgoyne's camp. As soon as information of the abduction reached the fort, a detachment was started off to rescue her. The Indians with their captive were soon overtaken, but instead of turning to fight, they made the best speed possible to escape. This brought a volley of bullets from their pursuers, one of which struck the poor girl and she fell dead to the ground. Before the Americans could reach them, the Indians, seeing that she was killed, scalped her and bore her sunny lock to the British camp as a trophy. Her lover was so shocked by the deed that for a time his reason tottered; he finally, after securing by purchase the mournful relic of her death, went to Canada, where he lived alone, a melancholy man, to his death at an advanced age. Miss McCrea's body was buried near Fort Edward, whence, a few years since, it was removed to a cemetery between Fort Edward and Sandy Hill. Many wild and romantic versions of the atrocious deed have been written, but this is the true one. At the time the story, being repeated from mouth to mouth, became enlarged and distorted to one of abduction and cold murder and raised in the bosoms of hundreds of young men a burning indignation against the British, and Burgoyne in particular, for employing the merciless savages to fight against their countrymen, and caused many to join the army with a determination to avenge the bitter wrong.
Contemporaneously with Burgoyne's operations thus far described, was Colonel Barry St. Leger's march from Montreal to Oswego, to form a junction with the Indians and tories collected under Johnson and Brant, whence they hoped to penetrate to the Mohawk River by way of Oneida Lake and Wood Creek, with the ultimate view of joining Burgoyne at Albany. To the office of general history must be resigned the details of this unsuccessful campaign, the failure of which formed a part of the general calamity that was to overtake Burgoyne.
Gates was now again at the head of the northern military department. General Stark was at Bennington, with part of a brigade. At this point the Americans had collected a large quantity of stores, which Burgoyne, finding himself short of provisions, determined to capture, and at the same time secure loyalist volunteers. An expedition was fitted out for this purpose, under command Page 162 of Colonel Baume, about the middle of August. On the 14th they approached the American position and entrenched. Stark had collected a large number of fugitives from the Hubbardton disaster and Warner joined him on the 15th. The next day Stark made a brilliant attack on the British and the ensuing battle of Bennington ended with a loss of less than one hundred Americans, while the Hessians lost in killed, wounded and prisoners nearly a thousand.
Burgoyne's progress was slow, harassed as he was by the desolation Schuyler had wisely left in his way and continued attacks by the Americans. Gates formed a fortified camp on Bemis's Heights, on the Hudson, where he was attacked by Burgoyne September 19th. The battle was indecisive, the British retiring to their camp on Saratoga Heights (now Schuylerville), to await the hoped for approach of Sir Henry Clinton from the south. The latter captured the fortifications on the Hudson Highlands and burned Kingston. Burgoyne now again attacked Gates at Bemis's Heights, but was defeated and again retired to his camp. Here, harassed by defeat on all sides, his supplies failing and finding it impossible to move forward and equally impossible to make a successful retreat, he surrendered his entire army on the 17th of October. At the opening of the campaign Burgoyne's army numbered nine thousand two hundred and thirteen men. When he laid down his arms, his Indians having already abandoned him, he surrendered five thousand, seven hundred and fifty-two. (1)
1. "It was, perhaps, no fault of General Gate, that he had been placed in command at the north just at the auspicious moment (August 1st, joining the army the 19th) when the discomfiture of Burgoyne was no longer problematical. He was ordered by Congress to the station, and performed his duty well. But it is no less true that the laurels won by him ought to have been harvested by Schuyler."
While Burgoyne was proceeding southward, as detailed, Lincoln was engaged in collecting a force of four thousand militia at Manchester, Vt., by which the flank of the British army was seriously menaced. A portion of this force was then detailed for an important movement which was intended should sever Burgoyne's communications and possibly seize Ticonderoga. Colonel Johnson, with a party of about five hundred men was detached and sent against Skenesborough and Fort Edward, and with the special object of covering the retreat of the other detachments. One of these was commanded by Brown (about the same strength as the first named), and was ordered to proceed to the landing on Lake George and rescue the prisoners held there, which accomplished he was to act upon his best judgment. Crossing Lake Champlain at the narrows above Ticonderoga, his band marched all night, kept together by signals imitating the hooting of owls and after severe toil among the rugged fastnesses of the mountains that separate the two lakes for a distance of fourteen miles, he fell upon the enemy by a complete surprise just as day was breaking. Three hundred British troops were captured without resistance, with the works on Mount Hope and at the landing, two hundred bateaux, an armed Page 163 sloop and a number of gunboats stationed here to protect the landing. One hundred American prisoners were liberated, which was the primary object of the expedition. Captain Ebenezer Allen was detached by Brown with a small force to assail the works on Mount Defiance. The precipitous acclivity was scaled and the battery captured without firing a gun. Early the following morning Colonel Johnson joined Brown before Ticonderoga. These united forces invested the fortress and called on the commander, General Powell, to surrender. A defiant reply was returned and after cannonading the works for four days, the attack was abandoned, the walls being impregnable to the small guns in possession of the Americans. At the landing Brown embarked a body of troops in the captured boats and ascended Lake George, with the design of seizing Diamond Island, where Burgoyne had deposited a quantity of stores.
When the tidings of Burgoyne's surrender reached Ticonderoga the small garrison dismantled and evacuated the works and started upon a stealthy flight down the lake; but they were not permitted to escape unscathed, for Allen intercepted them near the site of the village of Essex, cut off and captured several of the rear boats and seized about fifty prisoners, with stores, cattle, etc.