History of the Loyalists: British Generals Supplied with Food and Ammunition

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History of the Loyalists: British Generals Supplied with Food and Ammunition
James Hannay
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HISTORY OF THE LOYALISTS BRITISH GENERALS SUPPLIED WITH FOOD AND AMMUNITION Carried Through an Enemy’s Country— Crossing the West Bank of the Hudson—Burgoyne’s Central Division Attacked by the Americans—The Americans Erect Two Forts. BY JAMES HANNAY. CHAPTER XXIV. It will be observed that General Burgoyne like General Howe was fond of operating by detachments; as witness the sending of St. Ledger to Fort Stanwix, and of Baum to Bennington. There was no good military reason why he should thus have separated his forces, thus rendering them liable to be cut off in an enemy's country, where not an ounce of food could be obtained except upon compulsion. A distinguished French marshal once said of warfare in Spain. "In Spain large armies starve and small armies are beaten," and this was essentially the case with respect to the campaigns in America, where similar conditions prevailed. Even it St. Ledger had been successful in capturing Fort Stanwix the British cause would not have been advanced one whit thereby, as long as the American armies remained untouched in the field. The object of the British generals should have been, not to occupy detached and isolated posts, which became merely a burden to those who held them, because they had to be supplied with food and ammunition carried long distances through an enemy’s country, but to have destroyed the rebel armies in the field, retaining a hold of the principle sea ports, so as to cut off the rebels from all commerce, except among themselves. But it appeared that in America throughout the whole war the British generals adopted the means least likely to bring the rebellion to an end. AFTER THE DEFEAT AT BENNINGTON Burgoyne remained for nearly a month in the vicinity of Fort Edward, and it was not until the 13th of September that he made a move crossing to the west bank of the Hudson, the time was occupied in bringing up stores, artillery and boats from Lake Champlain and Lake George; and however necessary this may have been, it was precisely the policy which an American general planning the British campaign, so that it would end in disaster, would have asked Burgoyne to adopt. For in the meantime the American army had been reinforced from all quarters, so great was the zeal which their success at Bennington had inspired in the rebels. Gen. Schuyler who had been in command up to this time was super ceded by General Horatio Gates, who, as already stated, had been an English officer. The fact that Gates was an Englishman and not a native of America, has been the cause of every American writer who has written in regard to the campaign on the Hudson, to endeavor to deprive him of whatever credit he was entitled to for the success of his operations. GATES TOOK COMMAND OF THE AMERICAN army on the 19th of August, and after some delay moved from the mouth of the Mohawk river to Bernis’s heights, a commanding position on the west bank of the Hudson, which had been fortified by Koscliuke, a Pole, who was serving as an engineer in the American army. The principle hill was occupied on three sides by extensive entrenchments and redoubts within a buttress. A line of breast works on the east, extended from the hill to the Hudson, to guard a floating bridge across the river, and to sweep the plain in front, and on the west was a lower hill which was only partially fortified. The whole position was covered by a ravine in front, through which flowed a branch of Mill Creek. While this formidable force was gathering in front of Burgoyne, its rear was threatened by a force of 2,000 militia under General Lincoln, which cut off his communications with Ticonderoga. A detachment of this force under Colonel Browne surprised some of the British outposts of Ticonderoga, captured 200 batteau, and a number of prisoners, but failed to capture the fortress itself. This however was of the less consequence because, by the operation, Burgoyne was effectually cut off from his sources of supply. BURGOYNE'S ARMY ADVANCED SOUTHWARD in three columns, the right under Brigadier General Fraser, the center commanded by General Burgoyne himself, and the left which was next the Hudson, by General Ridesel. The advance was very slow, barely averaging two miles a day, so difficult was the country, and so much work had to be done in repairing roads and bridges. On the afternoon of the 19th September Burgoyne's central division was attacked by the Americans on Freeman’s farm north of Stillwater, and a sharp conflict was maintained for several hours. The Americans were finally driven off, but owing to the nature of the ground the British loss was considerable, amounting to nearly 500. The Americans admit a loss of 319, but whether this was their actual loss or not is difficult to say; their historians of the revolution are so much in the habit of underrating their losses. A curious circumstance connected with this battle is the dispute as to whether Arnold was engaged in it or not. As the matter is one between AMERICAN HISTORIANS and of no interest to anyone else, it is simply mentioned here for the purpose of showing how little American histories of the war are to be relied on. On the day after this battle Burgoyne began to entrench his position, it being evident that he could not advance much further without cooperating from the south, and it was equally clear that his stay at that point would largely depend on his ability to obtain supplies. Provisions about this time had begun to grow very scarce. On the 21st of September a letter written in cipher arrived from Sir Harry Clinton dated Sept. 10, announcing his intention of attacking Fort Montgomery on the Hudson in 10 days. The messenger who brought this letter was immediately sent back by Burgoyne with a latter enclosed in a silver bullet, but he fell into the hands of the Americans, and was hanged as a spy. Owing to this fact Clinton was left in total ignorance of Burgoyne’s situation. It appeals that of 10 messengers lent by Burgoyne to Howe and Clinton from the beginning of the campaign, not one returned to him. Paragraph Campbell’s Journal written at New York at this period details the rumors of Burgoyne’s movements which reached that city, from the time BURGOYNE'S ADVANCE COMMENCED. Most of these stories were either exaggerated or false, and were calculated to induce Clinton to believe that Burgoyne was marching victoriously to Albany, instead of being in distress and difficulty from lack of provisions as was really the case. On Sunday September the 28th Kemble's journal has the following entry: "Certain accounts that General Burgoyne has beaten the rebels near Stillwater, who have left 700 upon the field." Two days before that General Robertson, Sir Thomas S. Wilson and General Pattison of the artillery arrived at New York from England with 1,100 British, and 700 German recruits, and 170 artillerymen. This reinforcement, for the first time enabled Clinton to do something to assist Burgoyne in opening up the Hudson, which was obstructed by the rebels at several points. About five miles below Westpoint on the Hudson the Americans had erected two forts on the west tide of the river which were named FORT CLINTON AND FORT MONTGOMERY. These forts had been built in 1775-6, by Bernard Romans, who had been an engineer in the British army. Fort Montgomery was of sufficient size to accommodate a garrison of about 800 men, while Fort Clinton which was the furthest down river had accommodations for about 500. The forts which were about two miles apart were completed in the spring of 1776, and in the following year obstructions were placed across the river opposite to them. The obstructions consisted of a very strong boom and heavy iron chain, the latter which was 1,800 feet in length, was buoyed up by heavy spars, connected by iron links, and also by large rafts of timber. The Americans confidently believed that these obstructions could not be passed under the guns of the two forts.