British Execution of the Campaign of 1777

Burgoyne's Expedition Force

Major General John Burgoyne returned to Quebec 6 May 1777 to find that General Carleton had assembled the troops and logistic support necessary for the expedition. The table below outlines the organization of the regular units assembled for the expedition:

Burgoyne's Expeditionary Forces, Regular Units
RIGHT WING (British) LEFT WING (German)
Commander Major General Phillips Major General von Riedesel
Advance Corps BGN Fraser
24th Foot, flank companies of 29th, 31st, 34th foot
LTC Breymann
Grenadier BN, Light inf detachment, Jaegers, British marksmen
1st BDE BGN Powell
9th, 47th, 53rd regiments of foot
Brigadier Specht
Regiments Riedesel, Specht, Rhetz
2nd BDE BGN Hamilton
20th, 21st, 62nd regiments of foot
Brigadier Gall
Regiments Prince Frederick, Hesse-Hanau
Scouts 250 Loyalist scouts
(Canadian & American)
400 Indian Scouts
TOTAL 3,724 men 3,016 men
Artillery 42 Guns, divided equally between the wings
250 British Royal Artillerymen
78 German artillerymen from Hesse-Hanau artillery company
150 infantrymen serving as cannoneers (matrosses)
Reserve 250 Brunswick Dragoons, dismounted
Expedition Total 7,213 men, not including Indians and Loyalists

Burgoyne's regular forces assembled were well disciplined and his subordinate leaders were professionals. Also, the generals were skilled veterans. Unfortunately, Burgoyne's irregular forces numbered only 150 and the anticipated numbers were 2000 Canadian militia. Also, the expected Indian forces were 2000 and only 400 arrived. Finally, Burgoyne, like most British officers at the time, expected the Tory population to swell his ranks, but only 100 enlisted. The British did not realize the attitudes of the colonists at that point and still envisioned themselves as liberators for the loyal subjects of the crown remaining in America.

Burgoyne's Expedition Departs

Burgoyne lead the British flotilla from the Flagship Thunderer, departing Quebec 13 June 1777. The fleet landed at Crown Point on June 27th and remained there until re-embarking for Ticonderoga July 1st. From the 2nd to the 4th of July, Burgoyne emplaced artillery upon the high ground commanding Fort Ticonderoga. Observing this, Major General Arthur St. Clair, the American commander at Ticonderoga, ordered withdrawal in two echelons.

See Map of the British Expedition of 1777.

The American wounded and sick were to be transported along with as much artillery and stores as possible via the Hudson River. 200 bateaux and small craft along with the remaining five ships of the Valcour Island flotilla were assembled to transport these units and supplies to Skenesboro. The main forces were to move overland to Hubbardton and then further to Castleton, roughly 45 miles of marching in all.

To cover the retreat of his forces, St. Clair ordered four men to man the field pieces and defend the bridge between Ticonderoga and the East side of the Hudson. When British Brigadier General Simon Fraser sent his men into the battery which appeared to offer no resistance, they found the four men lying in a drunken sleep around an opened cask of Madeira. Fraser and the German Major General Baron von Riedesel pursued St. Clair's main body toward Hubbardton overland while Burgoyne and Brigadier General Hamilton pursued the American flotilla with their own ships.

The Battle of Hubbardton (7 July 1777)

American General St. Clair ordered Colonel Seth Warner to remain at Hubbardton with 150 men just long enough to link up with the rear guard of Colonel Turbott Francis. Once united, the two forces were to fall back to join the remaining forces at Castleton. However, the two leaders disobeyed their orders and allowed their men to sleep for the night, neglecting to provide security outposts as well.

Seizing the initiative, Fraser used Indian scouting reports to plan an attack on the morning of July 7th. He deployed 750 men at first light, taking the colonial forces by surprise during their breakfast. Even with surprise on his side, Fraser nearly lost the battle due to the forested terrain which favored the colonial fighting tactics. When the British forces under Fraser began to lose control of the situation, Riedesel assaulted the right flank of the Americans and their leader Colonel Francis was killed.

Realizing that they were being outflanked, the American forces attempted orderly retreat. Fraser then called for a bayonet attack, and Colonel Warner was forced to order the Americans to "scatter and meet me at Manchester." (Where Warner's unit later served the American cause at the Battle of Bennington)

It is also important to note that General St. Clair ordered two American militia regiments encamped roughly two miles from Hubbardton to reinforce Warner. However, being the free-minded revolutionaries that they were, they chose to retreat to Castleton instead.

At the close of the battle, American losses were 324 out of 600 men. Twelve guns were also captured by the British. The total losses of British and German forces were 35 killed and 148 wounded.

St. Clair Forced to Move to Fort Edward

American Colonel Pierce Long was charged by St. Clair with the responsibility of moving the supplies and artillery from Ticonderoga to Skenesboro. Arriving at Fort Anne, Long salvaged all he could before setting fire to the remaining stores. Lieutenant Colonel Hill of the British 9th Regiment used the time that Long spent at Fort Anne to close with Long's forces, about 500 colonials. After a brief skirmish, Long retreated to Fort Edward.

Having lost his chance to fortify Skenesboro with the men and supplies under Colonel Long, St. Clair was forced to surrender Skenesboro to the British forces and fortify Fort Edward, arriving July 12th.

General Schuyler's Defense

General Philip Schuyler, serving as commander of the Northern Department of the American forces, took advantage of Burgoyne's next decision - to advance toward the colonial forces at Fort Edward overland. He realized that the forested terrain would prove to be difficult for the British advance, so he ordered 1000 axmen to fell trees across the southward route and Wood Creek, destroy bridges, and dig ditches to drain rainfall and create quagmires. In addition, he rendered the river impassable by ordering large boulders rolled into the creek. Finally, he coerced farmers in the area to drive away their cattle and hide their foodstuffs to deny food to the advancing British as they traveled the harsh American countryside.

Realizing Schuyler's plan, Burgoyne sent Canadian woodsmen, sappers, and soldiers ahead of his expedition to clear the trails, rebuild the bridges, and drain the swamps. A causeway two miles long was also constructed to pass artillery and wagons. Moving slowly as a result of these obstacles, Burgoyne finally arrived near Fort Edward on July 29th.

Using the time allowed by the slow advance of the British forces, Schuyler improved the possibility of mounting an effective defense. As mentioned above, St. Clair arrived July 12th with his main force, followed by Colonel Long's detachment from Skenesboro. Brigadier General John Nixon also arrived with 600 Continental soldiers, bringing Schuyler's total forces to 2900 Continentals and 1600 militiamen.

Upon reaching a respectable number with which to stage a defense, Schuyler decided to abandon the dilapidated Fort Edward to fortify first at Saratoga, and finally at Stillwater on August 3rd. During the retreat to Stillwater, Major General Benedict Arnold arrived at Schuyler's headquarters. Schuyler assembled 950 volunteers under Arnold's command to relieve Fort Stanwix on the Mohawk River. Despite his brilliant leadership to this stage of the war, Schuyler was relieved of command upon arrival to Stillwater. This Congressional decision marked the end of the long debate over the command of the Northern Department.

Major General Horatio Gates arrived to replace Schuyler 19 August 1777 as the commander of the Northern American Army.

Burgoyne's Supply Lines

Due to his choice of the overland route in chasing the fleeing rebel forces, Burgoyne overextended his supply lines. As a result, his expedition suffered shortages of foodstuffs and ammunition.

To further complicate his situation, Burgoyne received correspondence on July 17th informing him that General Howe would soon depart on his campaign to take Philadelphia. Until this point, Burgoyne was unaware that General Howe had no intention of linking up with the expedition in Albany.

Desperate for supplies, Burgoyne accepted a proposal from the commander of his German wing, General von Riedesel, to send an expedition out to capture horses and supplies from the civilians in the area. On August 11th, Lieutenant Colonel Baum, a German, departed with a force of 800 men and two three-pound cannon to seize the rebel supplies reported to be guarded by less than 300 militia at Bennington, Vermont. They expected to capture horses for the dismounted dragoons en route as well as supplies from the civilians.

John Stark's New Hampshire Commission

Unfortunately for Burgoyne, the New Hampshire legislature had commissioned John Stark of Bunker Hill fame to collect a brigade of militia. Receiving his commission as a Brigadier General on 17 July 1777, Stark quickly assembled a brigade of militiamen by August 13th. However, his forces lacked uniforms and fought with family firearms as he did not have sufficient time to properly equip them.

He prepared for a march to Manchester to link up with Colonel Seth Warner's Vermonters, the same men who had been ordered to disperse from the Battle of Hubbardton and regroup in Manchester. Before both units were united in Manchester, Schuyler ordered that they join his forces in the defense against Burgoyne's advance. However, Stark still fostered a grudge against the Continental Congress for passing him over for promotion earlier in 1777. As a result, he placed his loyalty to Vermont and New Hampshire over that of the Continental Congress, and he disobeyed Schuyler's order, marching to Bennington to protect the supply depot defended by Colonel Gregg's few militiamen instead.

When Lieutenant Colonel Baum's column set out, his Indian scouts slaughtered cattle and destroyed property, causing the farmers in the area to flee with their cattle and horses. This proved costly for Baum, as it denied the civilian provisions desperately needed and also alerted Stark to the expedition.

Upon hearing of the disturbances of Baum's advance, Stark ordered Colonel Gregg to stop the raiding parties with 200 of his militia. This force encountered Baum's advance party at Sancoick's Mill on August 14th, fired a single volley, and then retreated, destroying a bridge along the way to slow Baum's pursuit.

The Battle of Bennington (16 August 1777)

Aware of the threat of Baum's advance, Stark sent orders to Colonel Warner in Manchester to join his forces at Bennington. At the same time, Baum sent word to Burgoyne that his party faced the opposition of 1800 militia rather than 400. Baum also began preparing breastworks to defend against American attack on the night of August 14th, scattering his forces into four separate fortified positions. His main force of 170 dragoons and half of Fraser's 50 marksmen occupied the high ground commanding the terrain of his defenses in the dragoon redoubt, where Baum sent a request for reinforcements and awaited the actions of Stark's forces.

Burgoyne answered the call for reinforcements by deploying Lieutenant Colonel Breymann and his entire advance corps to join Baum. This force of 642 men and two six-pounder cannons departed 8 AM on August 15th, but heavy rains soaked the terrain and the reinforcements were forced to halt that night 17 miles away from Baum's encampment.

The Americans, also delayed by the heavy rainfall, initiated their attack 12 noon on the following day. Stark executed a complicated plan of two flank attacks coordinated with an initial diversionary strike, a secondary strike on the Tory redoubt, and a main attack of his 1200 man force against the dragoon redoubt.

American militia Colonels Nichols and Herrick made wide circuitous marches to attack the dragoon redoubt from the North and South. In their advance they met no resistance, as Baum had mistook them in their civilian clothes to be Tories coming to join his forces, and their attacks initiated fires for the American forces at 3 PM. Colonels Hobart and Stickney moved next, quickly overrunning the Tory redoubt by enveloping it from the flanks and causing the encamped Indian and Tory forces nearby to retreat at the same time.

The main forces fortified in the dragoon redoubt faced the might of Stark's main body, which he led into battle with the oft quoted cry "We'll beat them before night, or Molly Stark will be a widow." A heated volley lasting 2 hours ensued, described by Stark as the worst he had seen. The breaking point of the firefight came with the depletion of the defenders' ammunition and the explosion of their ammunition wagon. At that point, the dragoons drew their great swords and charged, making headway through the Americans who lacked bayonets. Early in their charge, however, LTC Baum was mortally wounded and his disheartened men surrendered at approximately 5 PM, bringing a close to the First Battle of Bennington.

The Second Battle of Bennington

Lieutenant Colonel Breymann's relief column arrived at Bennington to find Stark's men dispersed, pursuing prisoners and loot from the first battle. Stark quickly rallied a few of his men into a firing line to face Breymann's advance, but had it not been for the arrival of Colonel Warner's men from Manchester, it would have been a grim stand.

Breymann's first tactic a flanking attempt at Stark's forces, but found his own unit outflanked by 150 of Warner's forces. At that point, another firefight ensued, lasting until nightfall. Near the close of the battle, Breymann's ammunition began to run short, and he ordered retreat. With the Americans closing on his forces, the retreat turned into a rout.

The German drums began to beat out a demand for parley, but the untrained Americans were oblivious to the request and continued to fight. At that, the German's broke morale and individuals began dropping their muskets while others simply ran. Already wounded in the leg, Breymann rallied a rear guard and managed to save two-thirds of his forces from annihilation as nightfall caused Stark to end his pursuit.

Between the two battles, the German and Tory forces lost 207 killed and wounded and 700 captured, along with hundreds of muskets and jaeger rifles, four ammunition wagons, 250 swords, and four cannon. It is also interesting to note that only nine of the 170 dragoons made it back to camp that day. The American losses out of their 2000 man forces were only 30 killed and 40 wounded.

Aftermath of the Expedition to Saratoga

Although Burgoyne's loss of over 900 men, four cannon, and supplies was significant, the battle presented other problems which weighed more heavily upon Burgoyne's mind. The objective of receiving more supplies for his forces had still not been met, and his Indian scouts had all deserted him save 80 or less. In addition, the expedition of Baum failed to provide any more Tory forces to swell the diminishing ranks of Burgoyne's army.

Overextended, cut off from supply routes, and with demoralized forces, Burgoyne had only the promise of his link-up with St. Leger's 350 regular and 300 Tory forces. On 23 August 1777, Major General Benedict Arnold robbed Burgoyne of that last hope by defeating St. Leger's forces at Fort Stanwix using his 950 militia and his cunning intellect.

St. Leger's Defeat at the Mohawk River (23 August 1777)

In command of British light infantry, Tory militia, and Indian scouts marching eastward along the Mohawk River from Canada, St. Leger faced defeat at the hands of Benedict Arnold and a simple half-wit named Hon Yost.

In this battle, Arnold capitalized on the Indians belief that a half-wit among his forces, Hon Yost, was a supernatural being. Yost told exaggerated stories of Benedict Arnold's strength, causing the Indians to fear the advancing American forces. In addition, many of the Indians present on the British expedition already wanted to leave. Having broken morale, the Indian scouts deserted. Many of the scouts massacred British stragglers and plundered supplies on their way.

The British, outnumbered without their native American counterparts, decided to flee before Arnold's forces arrived. On 23 August 1777 General Arnold received word that the forces of St. Leger had retreated. He arrived at Fort Stanwix the following day and he detached a pursuing force which was only able to catch a final glimpse of the enemy ships retreating back to Canada.

Burgoyne's Expedition at Saratoga

To reflect the casualties inflicted upon Burgoyne's army during their difficult advance to Saratoga, the chart below estimates his strength upon arrival at Sword's Farm:

Burgoyne's Expeditionary Forces, Estimated Losses
RIGHT WING (British) LEFT WING (German)
Commander Major General Phillips Major General von Riedesel
Advance Corps BGN Fraser
Near Full Strength
LTC Breymann (Wounded)
2/3 Strength
1st BDE BGN Powell
Near Full Strength
Brigadier Specht
Near Full Strength
2nd BDE BGN Hamilton
Near Full Strength
Brigadier Gall
Near Full Strength
Scouts Roughly 200 Loyalist Scouts Remained of 250 Initial Strength 80 Indian Scouts Remained of 400 Initial Strength
TOTAL Roughly 3,700 men Roughly 2,000 men
Artillery 50 Guns, of 42 Initial Strength
(12 Gained at Hubbardton and 4 Lost at Bennington)
Reserve Roughly 170 Brunswick Dragoons, of 250 Initial Strength
Expedition Total Estimated 6,000 men of 7,850 Initial Strength

Gates Position at Bemis Heights

In contrast to the mounting problems facing Burgoyne, Gates' situation at Stillwater was improving. After defeating General Barry St. Leger at Fort Stanwix, Benedict Arnold arrived during the first week of September with 1200 men, having garrisoned Fort Stanwix with 700. In addition, General Washington sent Colonel Daniel Morgan and his mighty corps of Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Maryland riflemen. Morgan's Corps were an elite force of riflemen respected for their superb marksmanship, numbering 367 men.

Gates combined Morgan's Corps with Major Henry Dearborn's men, 250 hand-picked light infantrymen equipped with muskets and bayonets. Dearborn was a seasoned veteran from the battles of Bunker Hill and Quebec, and the combined forces of the two units formed an elite corps of light infantry.

With roughly 7000 men to man his defense, Gates decided that the open terrain of Stillwater at the mouth of the Mohawk River was more suitable for the European tactics of Burgoyne than the unorthodox American tactics. In hopes of providing his forces an advantage in battle, he searched for better terrain on September 9th. Benedict Arnold and the Polish engineer Thaddeuz Kosciuszko found that terrain at Bemis Heights, and marked out the lines for the American occupation and defense. On 12 September Gates moved the army to Bemis Heights, where the densely forested terrain would favor the American style of fighting.

Gates' Bemis Heights Forces
Major General
Benedict Arnold
Brigadier General
Ebenezer Learned
Major General
Horatio Gates
Poor's Brigade :
Cilley, Hale, & Scammel
NH Cont'l Regiments
Van Cortlandt & Livingston NY militia
Lattimer & Cook CT militia
(roughly 1000 men)

Elite Light Infantry :
Morgan & Dearborn's light infantry corps
(roughly 600 men)

Learned Cont'l Brigade
Livingston NY Cont'l Regiment
Bailey, Jackson, & Wesson MA Cont'l Regiments
Glover Continentals
Patterson Continentals
Nixon Continentals
Approx. 1,600 men Total Total Unknown Total Unknown
Force Total Estimated 7,000 men
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