Memoirs of the War in the Southern Department, Volume One
Henry Lee


THE campaign projected by the British for seventy-seven, announced, in its commencement, a system portentous of much evil to the United States. It contemplated the annihilation of resistance in all the country between the lakes and Albany, undisturbed possession of the Hudson river, (thus severing the union) and the conquest of Pennsylvania, whose capital (Philadelphia) was the metropolis of the American states. This extensive plan of operations was supported by coextensive means.[note 2]

Lieutenant general Burgoyne, a leader of renown, conducting the British army in the north, undertook his part with zeal and gallantry. Entering from Canada he pressed forward with impetuosity. Ticonderoga, with its various dependencies, fell without a blow; and the victorious army, pursuing its success with ardor, gained repeated advantages over our broken and dispirited troops, commanded by major general St. Clair. This promising beginning did not long continue. Major general Gates, bred to arms in the British school, and much respected by congress, was appointed to the chief command in the northern department. His reputation produced confidence; our vanquished army was reanimated; the east poured forth her hardy sons; and chosen troops were detached by the commander in chief from the main body. Gates soon found himself at the head of a sufficient force to face his enemy, whose advance had been fortunately retarded by the usual incumbrances of European armies, increased by the uncommon difficulties, which the face of the country presented, improved as they had been by the skill, diligence, and zeal of major general Schuyler, then commanding in that quarter. This delay reduced the provisions of the enemy; and the first attempt to replenish them terminated in the destruction of a considerable body of Germans, detached on that service, under lieutenant colonel Baum.[note 3] Brigadier Starke, at the head of a force, mostly militia, attacked this corps on the heights of Walloomsack, and destroyed it: a dreadful blow to the assailing army, and the mirror of its future fall. Burgoyne, however, persuaded that victory alone could retrieve him, sought for battle with pertinacity and keenness. The American leader was not disinclined to the appeal, apprehending a serious movement[note 4] from New York to dislodge him from his posts on the Hudson, and occupy Albany his place of deposit. Two actions were fought, in which great courage was displayed. Both armies felt the magnitude of the stake; every officer, and every soldier acted, as if on his single arm the fate of the day depended. The slaughter was great, especially of the British; the glory was equal: to the enemy, for having sustained himself through two long and sternly contested battles against superior numbers; to America, for having with raw troops, chiefly undisciplined militia, checked a veteran army, conducted by a gallant and experienced chief, seconded with skill and ardor by his officers, and heroically supported by his soldiers. The second action was speedily followed by the surrender of the British force.[note 5] Conditions more favorable than the relative situation of the armies authorized were granted by the conqueror; who in this act, as in all its appurtenances, manifested an immutable attachment to the claims of humanity. Conduct so estimable gave new lustre to the splendid victory, where heroism was adorned by clemency; illustrating the edifying truth, that glory is inseparable from virtue.

General Burgoyne in his official report bestowed great praise on his troops; but especially on the able and active support derived from the generals Philips, Reidezel and Frazier, the last of whom fell in the second action, lamented and admired. Brigadier Arnold and colonel Morgan, among a host of distinguished associates, took the lead on the side of America, and were particularly regarded by congress, and the nation, in the burst of applause which resounded throughout the United States, on the happy conclusion of the northern campaign.

The reception of the rival leaders, by their respective governments, was as different as had been their fate in battle. Gates was enrolled among the most celebrated heroes of the world, by congress, country, and army; while Burgoyne was not permitted to present himself to his sovereign, but, by the injustice of the very cabinet to whose former preference he owed his elevation, was deprived of all the rewards of his long service, and died in disgrace at court, adored by his gallant troops, the companions, the witnesses of his toil and peril; and esteemed by those of his countrymen, who would sensibly discriminate between incidental misfortune and deserved infamy.

Where is the general who ever more prodigally risked his life in his country’s cause, than did the unfortunate Burgoyne? where the army which more bravely executed its leader’s will, than did that which he conducted? what danger was avoided? what effort unessayed? what privation not submitted to? what difficulties not encountered? But all terminated in disaster; and the army, from whose prowess so much was expected, yielded to its equal in courage, to its superior in number.

To be unfortunate is to be disgraced: imperfect man! infatuated government! The Roman senate did not thus think: that illustrious body of sages examined the intention; the exertion, in conjunction with the issue, and made up their decision accordingly. Vanquished generals have been reanimated by their unvanquished senate, who, ever true to itself, was just to others. See Varro thanked after the loss of the battle of Cannæ, for not having despaired of the commonwealth. See the great Fabius, although for a time obscured by the machinations of detractors, hailed, in a long succession of the highest confidence, “the shield of his country.” But a Roman senate is too rarely to be found in the annals of power.

Return to Memoirs of the War in the Southern Department