History of the Loyalists: Burgoyne Advances and Captures Ticonderoga

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History of the Loyalists: Burgoyne Advances and Captures Ticonderoga
James Hannay
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HISTORY OF THE LOYALISTS BURGOYNE ADVANCES AND CAPTURES TICONDEROGA. Plight of the Americans-They Are Defeated at Hubbardtown — Burgoyne's First Great Blunder. BY JAMES HANNAY. CHAPTER XX III. —Continued. THE DESPISED COLONIST. It is a singular feature of the English character that a native born Englishman can hardly be got to believe that a person who is born in the colonies can be his equal in ability or understanding. It was this contempt for the opinions of colonists which ruined Braddock's campaign in the old French war, and brought about the greatest disaster in the history of British arms. Up to the date of the Afghan war in 1842 when one man returned the solitary survivor, of a British and native force of 20,000 men, which had marched to Kabul. This was the most striking lesson perhaps that a nation ever received of employing mediocrity to do the work of genius; yet it did not prevent the sacrifice of another army from the same cause in the Crimea, and the still more striking disaster of Insomdula, a quarter of a century later. This feeling of contempt for the opinions of colonists was in its fullest vigor in the days of Braddook and Burgoyne, but there is plenty of evidence that it survives to the present day. Every raw Scotch or English school boy, who obtains a professorship in a Canadian college, although so newly hatched in learning that the shell still clings to his back, immediately becomes possessed of the idea that he is a great teacher of morals, and that he has a mission to harangue and lecture and teach the heathen world, as he considers it, in which he has been placed. This insufferable conceit would provoke the indignation and resentment of men of ability in Canada, were it not to utterly absurd, and the manifest result of utter ignorance of the conditions of life, and of the possession of a head unduly swelled by a little leaven of learning. BURGOYNE TAKES TICONDEROGA. I do not intend to linger long over the operations of Burgoyne, because, although they profoundly affected the result of the war in America, the loyalists had but a small share in them. The objective point, which seems to be the key to the whole campaign, was Ticonderoga, a fortress which lies at the junction of Lake Champlain and Lake George. Ticonderoga was garrisoned by an American force of about 3,500 men, under the command of General St. Clair. This force had successfully resisted an attack by a large British army under General Abercromby, during the French war. Ticonderoga had been greatly strengthened and extended in the interval, but Burgoyne succeeded in capturing it without the slightest difficulty, because with respect to the operations necessary for that purpose he was willing to listen to the advice of Major General Phillips, the able artillery officer who was with him. Ticonderoga was commanded by a high elevation known as Mount Defiance, which was supposed to be inaccessible. But in the night of the 4th of July the British succeeded in placing cannon on Mount Defiance. In the morning St. Clair saw that he was at their mercy. From Mount Defiance the British could look right into Ticonderoga, and destroy its armament and garrison without the possibility of being injured in return. The American general took the wise resolve of evacuating the fortress that night, and this was accomplished in the darkness without much loss. If Burgoyne, as a preliminary to taking possession of Mount Defiance, had invested Ticonderoga properly, the escape of the American army would not have been possible. As it was, they fled down the lake towards Skenesborough, now known as White Hall. The possession of 200 bateau and a number of armed galleys made this operation possible. The British discovered the flight of the Americans before daylight, and General Fraser with a small body of light troops went in pursuit. General Ridesel with their Brunswickers and other German troops followed to sustain Fraser, while Burgoyne, who had a small flotilla followed. A strong boom had been erected by the Americans across this branch of the lake, but this was speedily penetrated and the British vessels passed through, the American flotilla was overtaken on the afternoon of the 7th, and attacked near Skenesborough. All the American galleys were captured and destroyed, and their bateau captured and burnt. The American detachment which had them in charge flying to Fort Ann, 11 miles from the foot of the lake. After burning this fort Colonel Long, who had charge of the American detachment, continued his flight to Fort Edward on the Hudson, a further distance of 16 miles. There he met General Schuyler, who was advancing towards Ticonderoga with a small reinforcement. The capture of Ticonderoga so easily seemed to open the way to Burgoyne’s success, for it contained a large quantity of cannon, ammunition and supplies of all kinds. AMERICANS DEFEATED AT HUBBARDSTOWN. The main body of the American army under St. Clair had no better fortune than the force under Colonel Long. There line of retreat was through the wilderness towards Castleton. General Fraser who commanded the pursuit discovered that a portion of the American army was at Hubbardstown, and on the morning of the 7th July came suddenly upon this detachment while they were at breakfast. The American force which numbered about 1,300 men, consisted of the three regiments of Warner, Francis, and Hale, and such stragglers from the main body as had been picked up on the way. General Fraser had about 800 British with him, but notwithstanding the inferiority of his force he made an immediate attack. Hale’s regiment soon gave way and fled, but in its flight fell in with a small body of British soldiers and surrendered. The remaining Americans made a bitter resistance, their position being desperate, but finally were compelled to give way, and the arrival of a small body of Germans, under Ridesel, completed their discomfiture. The British loss was 183, while the Americans had about 600 killed and wounded or taken prisoners. In addition to this 200 stand of arms were captured. The loss of the Americans by the evacuation of Ticonderoga amounted to 128 pieces of cannon, so that the blow was a most severe one, and if properly followed up would have been fatal. So low was the American cause at this time, that on the 20th of July General Schuyley could only muster 4,467 men fit for duty at Fort Edward, where all that remained of St. Clair’s army and of Schuyler's reinforcements were gathered, and it is said that a considerable portion of this force deserted to their homes before the end of the month. BURGOYNE'S FIRST BLUNDER It was at this point that Burgoyne committed the fearful blunder which resulted in the capture of his army, and the ruin of his reputation as a general. A glance at the map will show that the portion of Lake Champlain to the south of Ticonderoga is about 25 miles in length, and that it runs parallel for that distance to Lake George, and between five and 10 miles distant from it. As Lake George at its southern end approached the Hudson within 14 miles, and was connected with Fort Edward by an excellent road, it was clearly Burgoyne's correct policy to have returned to Ticonderoga, carried his army down Lake George and advanced at once to the Hudson. That was the advice which Burgoyne received from the provincial officers who knew the country, but there was another advisor at his elbow whose words were of more weight with the British general than anything the provincials could suggest. This evil counsellor was Philip Skene, a retired officer, who had come to America in 1756, and who was left in command of Ticonderoga, when it was captured by Lord Amherst. He undertook to found a settlement at the southern end of Lake Champlain, where he had a grant of 25,000 acres, embracing the town ship now known as Whitehall. He had been settled at Skonesborough for some years when the revolution broke out, after which he went to England and volunteered to take part in Burgoyne's expedition. We are all aware what an extremely knowing person the British officer who has lived in America is, and how little the knowledge of anyone else, especially a colonist, would count in comparison with his in the view of a British general. Skene advised Burgoyne to advance to Fort Edward direct instead of returning to Tisconderoga, and the adoption of this advice which was evidently dictated by selfishness on the part of Skene, resulted in the ruin of Burgoyne’s campaign. Skene wanted a road built for his own accommodation from Skenesborough to the Hudson, and what could be more proper than that this should be done by the British army. What this involved may be guessed from the fact that it took Burgoyne's army 24 days to advance through the trackless wilderness from Skenesborough to the Hudson, although the distance was only 26 miles. To make this road good for Colonel Skene’s use at the public expense countless obstacles had to be moved, and 40 bridges had to be built, one of them, which was over a swamp, being two miles in length. Thus three precious weeks were lost, and the British force was worn out by incessant labor, and its supplies, which had to be brought from England, waited, all to accommodate a glib tongued intriguer who had the ear of the commander-in-chief. (To be continued.)