Builders of our Country Vol. II - G. Southworth

Philip Schuyler and Burgoyne's Campaign


While Washington and his army were encamped in the hills about Morristown, the English were laying plans which promised quick success.

Their scheme was to gain control of New York State, thus completely separating New England from the other colonies. As New England was Washington's chief source of men and supplies, such a step would be full of danger to him and would surely prove a tremendous stride toward final victory for old England.

The English had good reason to expect this plan to succeed. Not only was New York City already in their hands, but Canada was theirs as well. They were in a position to invade New York State from the north, south, or west; and they concluded to attack from all three directions.

One army under General Burgoyne was to enter New York State from Canada, by way of Lake Champlain. General Howe, with a second army, was to move up the Hudson from New York City. Colonel St. Leger, with still another army, was to land at Oswego and, conquering as he came, march through the Mohawk Valley. With their work done, all three armies were to meet at Albany.

The summer of 1777 saw this plan set in motion, and down from the North came General Burgoyne with a force of nearly eight thousand soldiers and Indians.

English Route from Canada


The Americans had placed General Philip Schuyler in command of the Northern Department of the army, and so it fell to his lot to defend New York State against the three English armies.

Knowing that General Burgoyne would aim his first blow at Fort Ticonderoga, General Schuyler started for that place to reinforce its garrison. On the way he stopped at Fort Edward, where, to his great disappointment, he met the very troops that were supposed to be protecting Ticonderoga. An unexpected thing had happened, and Ticonderoga was lost.

It seems that to the south of Ticonderoga there towered a crag so steep that the Americans had not thought it possible to fortify it. But what the Americans had not thought possible to do, the English had done. "Where a goat can go, a man may go; and where a man can go, he can haul up a gun," one of Burgoyne's generals had said. And so it proved; for great cannon had been dragged up the side of the crag and placed so as to fire directly into the American fort.

It was the morning of July 5th when the Americans discovered this appalling fact. They waited only for the darkness to hide their movements, and then slipped away from Ticonderoga that same night, abandoning the fort to the English.

This was bad. General Schuyler saw that in some way time must be gained. If Burgoyne were allowed to advance before more troops were recruited, the result would be disastrous. Something must be done to check him, and that at once.

Hurrying to the head of Lake Champlain, Schuyler's men fell to work with a will. Guns were laid aside, and axes took their place. Hundreds of trees were chopped down and left to block the roads. Bridge after bridge was burned; the streams themselves were choked until they overflowed, and all the country for twenty miles was laid waste.

Philip Schuyler

Then, while General Schuyler retreated to Stillwater, the English tried to advance. But their path was so obstructed that a mile a day was the best they could do.

Meanwhile, men from all the country round were rushing to enlist in Schuyler's army. With each day's delay the American force was growing and threatening more and more to cut Burgoyne from his source of supplies.

At last the English neared the deserted post of Fort Edward. While they were still a little way from the fort, Burgoyne's Indians indulged in a piece of cruelty which, though not unusual in itself, proved the cause of serious trouble to him. This was the murder of Jane McCrea.

The poor girl was visiting at the home of a Mrs. McNeil, probably in the hope of meeting her lover, who was an officer in Burgoyne's army. The story goes that this officer promised a party of Indians a barrel of rum if they would bring Aliss McCrea to him, so that they might be married in the English camp. Be that as it may, a band of savages seized both the girl and her hostess and carried them off into the woods. Mrs. McNeil managed to reach the British lines, but she came without her friend. The next day a gigantic Indian strode into the camp, bringing a scalp from which hung tresses over a yard long. It was the scalp of Jane McCrea, whose lifeless body was soon found pierced by three bullets.

Burgoyne was horrified. To put an end to such bloody acts, he ordered that no party of Indians be allowed to cross the British lines without an English officer. This was more than the Indians would endure. So, deserting the camp, they skulked off and left the English to fight alone. Nor was the loss of the Indians the only way in which Jane McCrea's murder hurt Burgoyne's cause. Her story was told far and near, and her fate roused many a man to join the American army and march against the invaders that had employed such cruel allies.


Burgoyne's hard and tedious march from Lake Champlain had been severe on his horses and had nearly exhausted his provisions. By the time he had been a few days at Fort Edward, he began to feel the want of fresh horses, and the need of new supplies. It was a long way to Canada. Therefore the General decided to get them from Bennington, Vermont, where the New England militia kept their stores.

In August Burgoyne sent out a detachment to capture the Bennington supplies. But he was doomed to disappointment. Before his men even reached Bennington, they were met by Colonel John Stark at the head of a force of trained militia.

Battle of Bennington


As the Americans were about to attack the English, John Stark shouted to his men, "There they are, boys! We beat them to-day, or Mollie Stark's a widow!" Mollie Stark was not made a widow by the battle of Bennington. Neither did the English get the New England stores. When the battle was over the Americans had seven hundred prisoners, one thousand stand of small arms, and all the detachment's artillery to show for their pains.

Imagine General Schuyler's joy on hearing of this victory! These were anxious times with him. Not only was he trying to keep posted on Burgoyne's movements, but also he was trying to prevent Colonel St. Leger from carrying out his part of the English scheme.

St. Leger, according to the arrangement, had sailed up the Ft. Lawrence to Lake Ontario and had landed at Oswego. Here he had been joined by friendly Indian tribes and certain of the colonists who had remained loyal to their King.

Marching east from Oswego, this combined army had appeared before the American post of Fort Stanwix within a few days after Burgoyne had taken possession of Fort Edward. As St. Leger's army numbered more than twice the force that garrisoned the American fort, he confidently demanded that the Americans surrender. A prompt refusal was his answer. Very well, then, he would lay siege to the fort and force the soldiers to surrender.

And it is quite likely that the Colonel would have succeeded in starving out the plucky little garrison, had it not been for a stalwart German patriot named Nicholas Herkimer.

By dint of great perseverance, Nicholas Herkimer rallied eight hundred men to follow him to the relief of Fort Stanwix. On the morning of August 6, 1777, they left Oriskany to march to the fort, less than eight miles ahead. In their path lay a ravine. Suspecting nothing they pushed eagerly forward. But hardly had they entered the ravine when bang! bang! resounded from every side, and a deadly fire was poured from all around.

Colonel St. Leger had been warned of Herkimer's approach and had sent his Indian and loyalist allies to entrap the patriots. Volley followed volley. Turning back to back, the Americans fought like mad. For five hours they battled hand to hand with their foe. It was a desperate fight. Early in the struggle Herkimer was shot through the leg. Still he was undaunted. Asking his men to place him at the foot of a beech tree, he lit his pipe and coolly went on directing the battle.

Herkimer wounded


All at once the crack of muskets sounded in the distance. The Indians took to their heels in terror. And after them went the loyalists, leaving the ravine to Nicholas Herkimer and the remnant of his courageous followers.

Herkimer had not succeeded in reaching Fort Stanwix; but in spite of that fact, he had rendered its commander an immense service. By merely being in the neighborhood he had induced Colonel St. Leger to send a detach ment to attack him, thus dividing the besieging army. And seizing the opportunity, the Americans had made a sortie; had driven away what was left of St. Leger's force, and held possession of the English camp until they had captured blankets, food, clothes, ammunition, and five British flags.

Then, with all these needed supplies and their trophies, the soldiers had retreated to their post. And the five British flags soon appeared floating from the fort, while over them waved the first American flag with stars and stripes. Made from an old blue coat, a white shirt, and a red flannel petticoat, it must have looked pretty rough compared with the beautiful English banners. But it unconsciously foretold how these thirteen states, newly joined together, were soon to triumph over proud old England.

[Illustration] from Builders of Our Country - II by G. Southworth


[Illustration] from Builders of Our Country - II by G. Southworth



When the Americans had withdrawn from the English camp, Colonel St. Leger returned to the siege of Fort Stanwix.

The gallant commander of the Fort needed help, and General Schuyler called a council of war to decide what was to be done. At this council General Schuyler stated that he thought it was of the utmost importance to destroy St. Leger's army, and that he favored the prompt sending of a strong detachment to Fort Stanwix. Several officers disagreed, some perhaps honestly, but others because they were opposed to whatever General Schuyler might desire.

Pacing anxiously up and down, Schuyler overheard one of these unfriendly officers say, "He only wants to weaken the army."

He turned like a flash, and said, "Enough! I assume the whole responsibility. "Where's the brigadier who will take command of the relief?"

"Washington sent me here to make myself useful. I will go," spoke up Benedict Arnold. Yet this was the man who so soon proved himself a traitor to his country!

Twelve hundred men volunteered to follow Arnold to the relief of Fort Stanwix, and the next day saw the expedition on its way.

When they were still about twenty miles from the Fort, two captured boys were brought before Arnold. As they were known to belong to the Loyalist party, Arnold threatened to have them killed. Soon, however, he changed his mind and offered to spare the lives of both if the elder one would do as he was bid. The boy agreed. His coat was then shot full of bullet holes. And in this same coat, he was sent rushing into St. Leger's lines to tell of an approaching American army as numerous as the leaves on the trees.

The story was believed, and panic reigned in the English camp. St. Leger lost all control. The Indians fled; and by noon the next day even St. Leger himself had given up the siege, deserted his camp, and taken to the woods. With all haste he headed for Oswego, and from there embarked for Montreal.

Arnold's trick had saved not only Fort Stanwix, but the Mohawk Valley. His services were no longer needed in that section, so he went back to General Schuyler.

Let us see in what condition he found this noble hearted commander. You remember how Schuyler's officers behaved when he suggested sending aid to Fort, Stanwix. That was only one of the many times when his motives and acts were misinterpreted. Again and again he had been unjustly accused of being in sympathy with the English, and unjustly blamed for losses which he had been powerless to prevent.

[Illustration] from Builders of Our Country - II by G. Southworth


All this was due to the fact that he had a rival for the command he held. General Gates was an officer who desired much, while deserving little. And General Gates so strongly desired General Sclluyler's position that he was willing to go great lengths to get it. With the help of his friends he so misrepresented General Schuyler's every move, that finally Congress was deceived. General Schuyler was removed, and General Gates was appointed to succeed him.

On August 19, 1777, General Gates arrived and took command, just in time to claim the credit for the happy turn affairs were taking. It must have been a bitter thing for General Schuyler to be obliged to step aside thus for Gates. However, when Gates appeared, General Schuyler received him with great politeness, gave him all the information he could about the enemy, and offered to help him in every way possible.


What of General Burgoyne all this time? He had started out confident of success, but he now found himself in a grave predicament. Colonel St. Leger had been defeated and had fled. No help had come from General Howe, who had gone off south instead of ascending the Hudson, as Burgoyne had fully expected him to do. The Americans had sent a force to cut off his retreat, should he attempt to return to Canada. Moreover, his orders were positive and left him no choice. He was to march through to Albany, nothing more nor less.

Therefore, in the middle of September, Burgoyne left Fort Edward and once more began his advance. On the 19th, he reached Bemis Heights, where he found Gates and the American army encamped. During the morning Burgoyne attacked the Americans. All afternoon the battle waged with fury. Then darkness came to put an end to the fighting. Neither side had lost or won. The Americans fell back to their fortifications, and the English camped on the battlefield.

Here they stayed for over two weeks, watching each other's every move. At last, on October 7th, Burgoyne determined to see what another attack would do toward opening the way to Albany.

The Americans came forward to meet their foe. This time there was no drawn battle. When night came on October 7th, the English had been utterly defeated.

Burgoyne now fell back to Saratoga. He no longer had any hope of reaching Albany. American troops surrounded him on every side. No supplies were to be had; starvation stared his army in the face.

He laid the case before his officers. Forced to it, they advised surrender. Hence a flag of truce was sent to General Gates. Details were arranged, and on October 17, 1777, General Burgoyne and his army surrendered to the Americans.

This surrender proved a turning point in the Revolution. In it, England saw the failure of her cherished plan to divide the colonies. By it, the Americans gained great stores of arms and ammunnition. And because of it,—so pleased was she to see her old enemy defeated,—France decided to give us the aid we sorely needed.

It was to General Gates that Burgoyne gave up his sword. But it was to General Schuyler that he and his friends owed their thanks for endless kindness in their misfortune.

The surrender complete, Burgoyne was at last to go to Albany. Schuyler sent his aid-de-camp to act as Burgoyne's guide in the strange city. And to Burgoyne's surprise the aid-de-camp led him direct to Schuyler's own home, where he and those with him were made cordially welcome and were shown every courtesy as long as they were in Albany.

[Illustration] from Builders of Our Country - II by G. Southworth


You will be glad to know that even before the close of the Revolution, General Philip Schuyler's disinterested services were recognized. His noble generosity to Gates was appreciated, and Congress acquitted him of all charges against his loyalty, "with the highest honor."