Burgoyne's Plan for the Campaign of 1777

Burgoyne's Plan

Major General John Burgoyne first served in the colonies under Major Generals Howe and Clinton in Boston for five months before returning to London. During that time he served a subordinate role during the Battle of Bunker Hill.

He returned in May of 1777 with reinforcements for Quebec intended to deny American occupation of Canada, but again he found himself in a subordinate leadership role, this time below governor and commander in chief of Canada, the British General Sir Guy Carleton. So, in what appeared to be an effort to gain greater independence of command, Burgoyne again returned to Britain to prepare a proposal for the King. This proposal outlined his vision for defeating the rebellion in the colonies by gaining control of the Hudson River and thus severing New England, "the head of the rebellion," from the rest of the colonies.

His paper, "My Thoughts for Conducting the War from the Side of Canada," was approved by the King and the Prime Minister, and was to be put into execution by Lord George Germain. Lord Germain served as secretary of state for the colonies from 1775 to 1782, a position which controlled the operations of all British forces in the colonies. In this capacity, the responsibility of presenting the orders to the key leaders involved in the campaign fell on the shoulders of Lord Germain.

Lord Germain's Order

In keeping with his responsibilities, Lord Germain presented written orders to General Carleton, the governor and commander in chief of the British forces in Canada. The orders were presented in a letter written 26 March 1777, and they detailed the roles of Burgoyne and St. Leger in the British Expedition. Of the regular forces present in Canada, Lord Germain ordered General Carleton to maintain 3000 men and provide 7000 men to General Burgoyne for a southward expedition down the Hudson River to seize Ft. Ticonderoga and advance to also take Albany, New York. The same order also outlined the role of General St. Leger, who would lead a diversionary force of 2000 men eastward from Canada along the Mohawk River to link up with Burgoyne's expedition in Albany. In closing, the letter stated that St. Leger and Burgoyne "must never lose view of their intended junctions with Sir William Howe..."

Unfortunately for the British, Lord Germain overlooked his duty to provide a direct order to Howe requiring his coordination with the maneuvers of Burgoyne and St. Leger.

Howe's Plan

Howe had outlined through correspondence with Germain that his main effort in 1777 was the capture of Philadelphia, the capitol of the rebel government. He wrote Germain on two occasions, December 1776 and 20 January 1776 before receiving written approval from Germain in a letter dated 3 March 1777.

Although Germain had incorporated Howe into his order for the British Campaign of 1777, he had somehow overlooked the necessity to provide orders for Howe outlining his new role in serving the British cause. Upon realizing his oversight, Germain directed his secretaries to draft an order to be sent to Howe to correct the situation. Following the example of their leader, the secretaries never sent the order. As a result, Howe never received a direct order to link up with Burgoyne in Albany. This error thus marked the first in a series of mistakes and misfortunes for the British which ultimately caused the surrender of Burgoyne's forces at Saratoga.

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