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Fortifications of both Camps. Junction of Lincoln with the Army at Bemis's. Relative Position of the Armies.
of the dwelling of Mr. Neilson. From this point they were extended south and southwest to a large ravine, now on the south side of the road leading to Saratoga Springs. At the northwest angle, near Mr. Neilson's, stood the log barn before alluded to. This was strengthened by a double tier of logs on three sides. Strong batteries, in circular form, extended about one hundred and fifty feet south. The whole was encircled by a deep trench and a row of strong palisades. The area within was about half an acre. When completed, it formed quite a strong bulwark, and was named Fort Neilson. About fifty rods south of the fort was a strong battery; and in the rear, near the center of the encampment, stood the magazine, made bomb-proof. The front of the camp was covered by a deep ravine skirted by a dense forest, running nearly parallel with the lines, from the river hills westward. For some distance west of the fort, large trees were felled, and presented a strong abatis toward the enemy." Burgoyne was equally busy in strengthening his position. His camp was pitched within cannon-shot of the American lines. Across the plain to the river hills a line of intrenchments, with batteries, was thrown up, crossing the north ravine not far from its junction with the Middle Ravine or Mill Creek. The intrenchments extended northward on the west side of Freeman's farm. The Hessian camp was pitched upon an eminence about half a mile northwest of Freeman's farm, where a strong redoubt was reared, and a line of intrenchments of a horse-shoe form was thrown up. Intrenchments were also made along the hills fronting the river; and four redoubts, upon four hills or huge knolls, were erected, two above and two below Wilbur's Basin. A short line of intrenchments, with a battery, extended across the flats to the river, and covered their magazine and hospital in the rear. These composed the principal defenses of the enemy. In many places these works may still be traced, especially by mounds and shallow ditches in the woods. As soon as the works were completed, General Gates moved his quarters from Bemis's house to the one delineated in the second picture from the top, among the group of localities on page 46. The house belonged to Captain Ephraim Woodworth. A barn, which stood about fifteen rods east of the house, was used for a hospital. september, General Lincoln, with two thousand New England troops, joined the main army ” on the 29th. Gates at once gave up the right wing to him, and assumed the command of the left, which was composed of two brigades under Generals Poor and Learned, Colonel Morgan's rifle corps, and a part of the fresh New England militia. Morgan occupied the heights immediately south of the fort; Learned's brigade the plain on the east, and General Poor's brigade the heights south of Morgan, between him and Gates's headquarters.” In fact, the position of the American army was about the same as at the time of the battle of the 19th. Burgoyne disposed his troops to the best advantage. The Hessians, under Colonel Breyman, occupied a height on the extreme right, and formed a flank defense rather than a wing of the main army. The light infantry, under Earl Balcarras, with the choicest portion of Fraser's corps, flanked on the left by the grenadiers and Hamilton's brigade, occupied the vicinity of Freeman's farm ; the remainder of the army, including the artillery under Phillips and Reidesel, occupied the plain and the high ground north of Wilbur's Basin; and the Hessians of Hanau, the forty-seventh regiment, and some loyalists, were situated upon the flats near the river, for the protection of the bateaux, hospital, and magazine. Thus in parallel lines to each other, and within cannon-shot, the two armies lay in menacing attitude from the 20th of September until the 7th of October. Each exercised the utmost vigilance, expecting the other to fall upon them in full power, or entangle them by strategy. There were constant skirmishes between small detachments, sometimes foraging parties, and at others a few pickets; and not a night passed without the per
"...Abatis is a French word signifying trees cut down. It is a phrase used in fortifications; and an abatis which is composed of trees felled, so as to present their branches to the enemy, is frequently found in a woody country one of the most available and efficient kinds of defense.
* Neilson, p. 15, 35.
Effect of the Battle on the People. Diminution of Burgoyne's Army, and Increase of Gates's. Condition of the Enemy.
formance of some daring exploit, either for the sake of adventure, or to annoy each other. The Americans were constantly gaining strength, and their superiority of numbers enabled them to form expeditions to harass the British, without weakening their lines by fatigue or endangering the safety of the camp. The success of the Americans in the late battle, and the rapid increment of the army, almost annihilated loyalty in the neighborhood, and made every republican, whether soldier or citizen, bold and adventurous. At one time about twenty young Americans, farmers residing in the vicinity, not belonging to the camp, and intent on having a frolic, resolved to capture an advance picket-guard of the enemy, stationed on the north bank of the middle ravine. They selected their officers, and each being armed with a fowling-piece and plenty of powder and shot, they marched silently through the woods in the evening, until they got within a few yards of the picket. The captain of the party then gave a tremendous blast upon an old horse-trumpet which he carried, and, with yells and the noise of a whole regiment, they rushed through the bushes upon the frightened enemy. No time was given for the sentinel's hail, for, simultaneously with their furious onset, the captain of the frolickers cried out lustily, “Ground your arms, or you are all dead men'" Supposing half the American army was upon them, the astonished pickets obeyed, and thirty British soldiers were taken by the jolly young farmers into the republican camp with all the parade of regular prisoners of war. This was one of many similar instances, and thus the British camp was kept in a state of constant alarm." Burgoyne saw, with deep anxiety, the rapid increase of the American forces, while his own were daily diminishing by desertion. Nearly one hundred and fifty Indian warriors, from the tribes of the Oneidas, Tuscaroras, Onondagas, and Mohawks, accepted the warbelt, partook of the feast, and joined the republican army within three days after the battle of the 19th. The Indians with Burgoyne were so dissatisfied with the results of that battle, and so disappointed in their hopes of blood and plunder, that they deserted him in large numbers in that hour of his greatest peril. It was their hunting season, too, and this was another strong inducement to return to their wives and children, to keep starvation from their wigwams. . The Canadians and loyalists were not much more faithful.” Burgoyne used every means in his power to transmit intelligence of his situation to Howe, and to implore his assistance either by co-operation or a diversion in his favor. But the American pickets, vigilant and wary, were planted in all directions; and it was by the merest chance that the British commander received a letter from Sir Henry Clinton, at New York,” written in cipher on the 10th, informing him that he should make a diversion in his favor by attacking Forts Clinton and Montgomery, in the Hudson Highlands, on the 20th. This information raised the hopes of Burgoyne, for he supposed that the attack at those points would draw off large detachments from Gates for their defense, and render the belligerent forces at Stillwater nearly equal in numbers. He immediately dispatched two officers in disguise, and several other persons in different directions, to Sir Henry Clinton, with a letter, urging him to make the diversion without fail, and saying that he had provisions enough to hold out until the 12th of October. Time rolled on, and Burgoyne heard nothing further from Clinton. His provisions began to fail, and on the 1st of October he was obliged to put his troops on short allowance. Not a man or a biscuit was allowed to reach him from any quarter. The militia were flocking into Gates's camp from all directions, and perils of every kind were weaving their web around the proud Briton. At last he was reduced to the alternative to fight or fly.
* “I do not believe either officer or soldier ever slept during that interval without his clothes, or that any general officer or commander of a regiment passed a single night without being upon his legs occasionally at different hours, and constantly an hour before daylight.”—Burgoyne’s “Review of the Evidence,” p. 166.
* Marshall's Life of Washington.
* General Howe had left Clinton in command at New York, and was then engaged against Washington on the Delaware, for the purpose of making a conquest of Philadelphia.
Hostile Movements of the British. Preparations of the Americans for Battle. Second Battle of Stillwater.
The latter was both impracticable and inglorious, and at a council of officers it was resolved to fight. On the morning of the 7th of October, Burgoyne, at the head of fifteen hundred regular troops, with two twelve pounders, two howitzers, and six six pounders, moved toward the American left, to the northern part of a low ridge of land about three fourths of a mile northwest from the American camp, where they formed a line in double ranks. He was seconded by Phillips, Reidesel, and Fraser. The guard of the camp upon the high grounds was committed to Brigadiers Hamilton and Specht, and that of the redoubts and plain near the river to Brigadier-general Gall. This movement was for a two-fold purpose, to cover a foraging party sent out to supply the pressing wants of the camp, and, if the prospect was favorable, to turn the left of the American army, and fall upon its flank and rear. Small parties of loyalists and Indians were sent around through by-paths, to hang upon the American rear and keep them in check. Before this movement was known to General Gates, he had ordered out a detachment of three hundred men under Colonel Brooks, to gain the rear of the enemy and fall upon his outposts. While Brooks was at headquarters, receiving his instructions, a sergeant arrived with intelligence of the movement of the British army. The order to Colonel Brooks was revoked, the officers in camp were summoned to their posts, and an aid was sent out by the commander-in-chief to ascertain the exact position and probable intentions of the enemy. He proceeded to a rise of ground covered with woods, half a mile from Fort Neilson (near the house of Asa Chatfield), where he discovered the British in a wheat field cutting straw, and several officers on the top of a cabin (Joseph Munger's) with a spy-glass, endeavoring to ascertain the condition of the American left. The aid returned, and had just reached headquarters with his intelligence, when a party of Canadians, Indians, and loyalists, who had been sent forward to scour the woods, attacked the American pickets near the middle ravine. They were soon joined by a detachment of grenadiers, drove the Americans before them, and pressed forward until within musket-shot of the republican lines. For half an hour a hot engagement ensued at the breast-work, a little south of the fort. Morgan, with his riflemen, supported by a corps of infantry, at length charged the assailants with such deadly effect, that they retreated in confusion to the British line, which was forming upon a newly-cleared field, preparatory to marching into action. It was now two o'clock, about the same hour at which the two armies summoned their strength for combat on the 19th of September. The grenadiers, under Major Ackland, and the artillery, under Major Williams, were stationed on the left, upon a gentle eminence on the borders of a wood, and covered in front by Mill Creek or Middle Ravine. The light infantry, under Earl Balcarras, were placed on the extreme right, and the center was composed of British and German troops, under Generals Phillips and Reidesel. Near the cabin of Mr. Munger, and in advance of the right wing, General Fraser had command of a detachment of five hundred picked men, destined to fall upon the American flank as soon as the action in front should commence. This design was at once perceived, and, at the suggestion of Morgan, Gates dispatched that sagacious officer, with his rifle corps and other troops amounting to fifteen hundred men, in a circuitous route to some high ground on the extreme right of the enemy, thence to fall upon the flanking party under Fraser at the same moment when an attack should be made upon the British left. For the latter service the brigade of General Poor, composed of New York and New Hampshire troops, and a part of Learned's brigade, were detached. About half past two the conflict began. The troops of Poor and Learned marched steadily up the gentle slope of the eminence on which the British grenadiers, and part of the artillery under Ackland and Williams, were stationed, and, true to their orders not to fire until after the first discharge of the enemy, pressed on in awful silence toward the battalions and batteries above them. Suddenly a terrible discharge of musket-balls and grapeshot made great havoc among the branches of the trees over their heads, but scarcely a shot took effect among the men. This was the signal to break the silence of our troops, and,
Bravery of both Armies. Quick and bold Movements of Morgan. Impetuosity and Bravery of Arnold. General Fraser
with a loud shout, they sprang forward, delivered their fire in rapid volleys, and opened right and left to avail themselves of the covering of the trees on the margin of the ridge on which the artillery was posted. The contest now became fierce and destructive. The Americans rushed up to the very mouths of the cannon, and amid the carriages of the heavy field-pieces they struggled for victory. Valor of the highest order on both sides marked the conflict, and for a time the scale seemed equipoised. Five times one of the cannon was taken and retaken, but at last it remained in possession of the republicans as the British fell back. Colonel Cilley, who, during the whole contest, had fought at the head of his troops, leaped upon the captured piece, waved his sword high in air, dedicated the brazen engine of death to “the American cause,” wheeled its muzzle toward the enemy, and with their own ammunition opened its thunder upon them. It was all the work of a moment of exultation when the enemy fell back from their vantage ground. The effect was electrical, and seemed to give the republicans stronger sinews and fiercer courage. The contest was long and obstinate, for the enemy were brave and skillful. Major Ackland, who was foremost in the conflict, was at last severely wounded, and Major Williams was taken prisoner. Suddenly deprived of their superior officers, the grenadiers and artillery-men fled in confusion, and left the field in possession of the Americans. Almost simultaneously with the attack on the British left, Morgan with his corps rushed down the hills that skirted the flanking party of Fraser in advance of the enemy's right, and opened upon them such a destructive storm of well-aimed bullets, that they were driven hastily back to their lines. Then, with the speed of the wind, Morgan wheeled and fell upon the British right flank with such appalling force and impetuosity, that their ranks were at once thrown into confusion. The mode and power of attack were both unexpected to the enemy, and they were greatly alarmed. While thus in confusion, Major Dearborn, with some fresh troops, came up and attacked them in front. Thus assailed, they broke and fled in terror, but were rallied by Earl Balcarras, and again led into action. The shock on right and left shook the British center, which was composed chiefly of Germans and Hessians, yet it stood firm. General Arnold had watched with eager eye and excited spirit the course of the battle thus far. Deprived of all command, he had no authority even to fight, much less to order. Smarting under the indignity heaped upon him by his commander; thirsting for that glory which beckoned him to the field; burning with a patriotic desire to serve his country, now bleeding at every pore; and stirred by the din of battle around him, the brave soldier became fairly maddened by his emotions, and, leaping upon his large brown horse, he started off on a full gallop for the field of conflict. Gates immediately sent Major Armstrong" after him to order him back. Arnold saw him approaching, and, anticipating his errand, spurred his horse and left his pursuer far behind, while he placed himself at the head of three regiments of Learned's brigade, who received their former commander with loud huzzas. He immediately led them against the British center, and, with the desperation of a madman, rushed into the thickest of the fight, or rode along the lines in rapid and erratic movements, brandishing his broadsword above his head, and delivering his orders every where in person. Armstrong kept up the chase for half an hour, but Arnold's course was so varied and perilous that he gave it up. The Hessians received the first assault of Arnold's troops upon the British center with a brave resistance; but when, upon a second charge, he dashed furiously among them at the head of his men, they broke and fled in dismay. And now the battle became general along the whole lines. Arnold and Morgan were the ruling spirits that controlled the storm on the part of the Americans, and the gallant General Fraser was the directing soul of the British troops in action. His skill and courage were every where conspicuous. When the
* The author of the celebrated “Newburgh letters,” written in the spring of 1783. I shall have occasion hereafter to give a full account of that affair.
Death of General Fraser. Censure of Morgan. Panic in the British Line. Timothy Murphy.
lines gave way, he brought order out of confusion; when regiments began to waver, he infused courage into them by voice and example. He was mounted upon a splendid irongray gelding; and, dressed in the full uniform of a field officer, he was a conspicuous object for the Americans. It was evident that the fate of the battle rested upon him, and this the keen eye and sure judgment of Morgan perceived." In an instant his purpose was conceived, and, calling a file of his best men around him, he said, as he pointed toward the British right, “That gallant officer is General Fraser. I admire and honor him, but it is necessary he should die; victory for the enemy depends upon him. Take your stations in that clump of bushes, and do your duty.” Within five minutes Fraser fell mortally wounded, and was carried to the camp by two grenadiers. Just previous to being hit by the fatal bullet, the crupper of his horse was cut by a rifle-ball, and immediately afterward another passed through the horse's mane, a little back of his ears. The aid of Fraser noticed this, and said, “It is evident that you are marked out for particular aim ; would it not be prudent for you to retire from this place 7" Fraser replied, “My duty forbids me to fly from danger,” and the next moment he fell.” Morgan has been censured for this order, by those who profess to understand the rules of war, as guilty of a highly dishonorable act; and others, who gloat over the horrid details of the slaying of thousands of humble rank-and-file men as deeds worthy of a shout for glory, and drop no tear for the slaughtered ones, affect to shudder at such a cold-blooded murder of an officer upon the battle-field. War is a monstrous wrong and cruel injustice at all times; but if it is right to kill at all upon the field of battle, I can perceive no greater wrong in slaying a general than a private. True, he wears the badge of distinction, and the trumpet of Renown speaks his name to the world, but his life is no dearer to himself. and wife, and children, and friends, than that of the humblest private who obeys his commands. If Daniel Morgan was guilty of no sin, no dishonor, in ordering his men to fall upon and slay those under the command of Fraser, he was also guiltless of sin and dishouor in ordering the sacrifice of their chief Indeed, it is probable that the sacrifice of his life saved that of hundreds, for the slaughter was stayed. As soon as Fraser fell, a panic spread along the British line. It was increased by the appearance, at that moment, of three thousand New York troops, under General Tenbroeck. Burgoyne, who now took command in person, could not keep up the sinking courage of his men. The whole line gave way, and fled precipitately within the intrenchments of the
'Samuel Woodruff, Esq., of Connecticut, a volunteer in the army at the time, visited Bemis's Heights some years since, and wrote an interesting account of some of the transactions of the day. He says the importance of the death of Fraser was suggested to Morgan by Arnold.
* The name of the rifleman who killed General Fraser was Timothy Murphy. He took sure aim from a small tree in which he was posted, and saw Fraser fall on the discharge of his rifle. Fraser told his friends before he died that he saw the man who shot him, and that he was in a tree. Murphy afterward accompanied General Sullivan in his expedition against the Indians in Central and western New York, where he had a narrow escape from death. In the fall of 1778 he was stationed in Schoharie county, where he became enamored of a young girl of sixteen, named Margaret Feeck. He was twelve years her senior, yet his love was reciprocated. Her parents “denied the bans,” and attempted to break off the engagement by a forcible confinement. But “love laughs at locksmiths,” and, under pretense of going after a cow some distance from home to milk her, she stole away one evening barefooted, to meet her lover, according to an appointment through a trusty young friend, upon the bank of the Schoharie Creek. He was not there, and she forded the stream, determined to go to the fort where Murphy was stationed. She found him, however, upon the opposite side of the stream, and, mounting his horse behind him, they entered the fort amid the cheering of the inmates. The young females there fitted her up with comfortable attire, and the next day they set out for Schenectady. There the soldier purchased for his intended bride silk for a gown, and several dress-makers soon completed it. They repaired to the house of Rev. Mr. Johnson, where they were married, and then returned to Schoharie. The parents became reconciled, and they lived happily together many years. Murphy was an uneducated man, but was possessed of a strong intellect, and had a good deal of influence over a certain class. He was an early friend of the Hon. William C. Bouck, late governor of New York, and was among the most active in bringing him forward in public life. He lost his Margaret in 1807, and in 1812 married Mary Robertson. He died of a cancer in his throat in 1818–See Simm’s “History of Schoharie County.”