how the british went camping and never returned

Bergoin’s plan

The British campaign of 1777 was a clear example of how wars should not be organized. In the thirteen American colonies, it was not just English armies isolated from each other that operated. All their efforts, thoughts and ideas about the result were in no way linked to each other. The heavy burden of the rebellion was pulled by the swan, cancer and pike, and this approach allowed even inexperienced and by no means monolithic Americans to drag out the war.

One of these armies was commanded by British General John Burgoyne. He had quite a representative contingent, exceeding 8 thousand people. A core of 3,700 British soldiers, 3,000 mercenaries from the German principalities, as well as the adventurous Canadians and allied British Indians. The latter had already managed to experience the greed and energy of the colonists who were hungry for the land, and understood that only the British administration planted from distant London could systematically protect them.

Bergoyne also had an impressive artillery park of 138 guns – a formidable force in the field. But there was also a minus – a gigantic train of cannonballs, gunpowder and cannon attendants stretched behind the army. Added to this was the abundant luggage of British officers, which included not only exquisite services and other luxury items. So, Bergoyn himself dragged his mistress with him to the war, and Baron von Riedzel, who commanded the German mercenaries, took three daughters and a wife.

John Bergoyne


Therefore, the maneuverability of the British army was quite limited. Defeating the Americans was usually not a problem, but it was almost impossible to pursue and destroy them with such a rear.

Nevertheless, Burgoyne, setting out on a campaign from Canada, had a very ambitious plan. Go down south along Lake Champlain, and sit firmly on the Hudson River, controlling key points. Below, New York, already in British hands, would complete the chain. As a result, New England – one of the most “rebellious” regions among the colonists – would be cut off from the rest. And isolated from each other Americans could be smashed in parts.

Everything is going well

The first tangible obstacle to these plans was the Ticonderoga Fort, located south of Lake Champlain. The Americans took it back in May 1775, and mainly due to surprise. In the latter, they succeeded so much that the commander of the fort was caught at the door of his bedroom in only his pajamas.

The fort’s walls, which had managed to dilapidate considerably, were not of particular value, and most of the artillery was soon taken out by the new owners. And by June 1777, when Bergoyne reached Ticonderoga, the fort was not a tough nut to crack. The British set to work for fortification – they had to cut a clearing for guns. Managed to manage by July 5.

Fort Ticonderoga today


When the British guns rumbled, the garrison washed away on the very first night it came across. A pursuit was sent after him – a rather stubborn rearguard battle followed, the outcome of which was predetermined by reinforcements sent by Bergoin from von Riedzel’s mercenaries.

Meanwhile, the Americans were doing their usual business – retreating, trying to maintain order and cling to every fort convenient for defense along the way. Unlike previous times, they were quite successful in this, and as a result, the troops not only did not scatter, but were replenished with the sent reinforcements and the forces of the surrounding militias.

The first swallow

On July 30, Burgoyne took possession of Fort Edward. The situation was twofold. On the one hand, the Americans are still regularly retreating and are not creating any particular problems. On the other hand, stocks are clearly coming to an end, and, of course, not today, but in a few months they will run out. And go on like this – people will start starving.

Therefore, the general tried to send out foraging squads. But since the Americans retained control over the situation, and did not scatter anywhere, the foragers had a hard time – most of the troops were surrounded by superior forces and destroyed.

Burgoyne was faced with a choice – to throw away the services and other nonsense and run back to Canada or continue moving forward in the hope of getting some food somewhere. It was somehow embarrassing to do the first, and on September 13 the army moved on.

Caution or assertiveness?

The main forces of the Americans, meanwhile, were waiting in full readiness for the British to the south, on the heights of Bemis Heights. The only thing that could confuse their actions was the conflict that arose on September 19 between the army commander Horatio Gates and Brigadier General Benedict Arnold.

Horatio Gates


The plan of the first was to give the enemy the initiative, but to meet him, dug in, in strong positions and in perfect order. Arnold believed that it was better to attack the British, making their way through the forest – there they would not have time to line up normally, and they would not use artillery. That, in general, will skew the odds in favor of the Americans even more.

As a result, Gates still “broke down” and attacked the British with part of his forces. A chaotic forest battle began to boil. But in the end, the parties still stumbled upon a place where it was possible to engage in an organized battle according to the canons of the 18th century. It turned out to be a farm field – a small square of 300×300 meters.

Benedict Arnold


On it, the opposing detachments fought for as much as half a day – and the fact that the colonists did not scatter at the first bayonet attack, as it often happened before, became an unexpected nuisance for the British. As a result, the British threw the Americans into the forest, but paid for it with more than five hundred killed and wounded.

Tactically, the result of the forest battle was plus or minus a draw. Strategically, however, she finally broke the balance of power in favor of the colonists.

The latter had not only the Continental Army, but also an armed people – the militia. And the number of this very militia strongly depended on how good or bad things were going. As soon as the militias from the surrounding towns and villages realized that the Americans had not been defeated in the first clash, they were immediately inspired and began to flock to Gates. As a result, the number of the Americans’ bayonets grew, while that of the British fell. Which inevitably led to an unpleasant ending for the latter.

Lost game

As a result, Burgoyne found himself in a situation where the enemy grew to the point that outnumbered him by almost 2 times – 6.5 thousand people against 12.

This did not happen in the blink of an eye – the sides stood opposite each other right up to October 7. It was on this day that Burgoyne tried to find a weak spot in the positions of the Americans. From now on, he was satisfied with only a combination solution leading to the defeat of the enemy – everything else meant defeat.

But the attempt was unsuccessful. Moreover, on the same day, the colonists launched an offensive, and it was led by the indefatigable Arnold, who had recently been removed from command by Gates altogether. But the brigadier general did not give a damn about this order from the high bell tower and fearlessly rushed into the epicenter of the battle.

Surrender of the British


As a result, the British were strongly pressed, although, of course, there was no talk of defeat. He, however, was not required: Bergoyne has exhausted both the strike potential and reserves. The British tried to retreat to the north, but this attempt was a failure. Bergoyne managed to get to Saratoga and tried to cross the Hudson, but due to the presence of the enemy, the idea was not successful.

As a result, on October 16, 1777, the Englishman surrendered, as did the 6 thousand people he commanded. All of them were expected to be sent to Virginia and taken prisoner until the end of the war. Only very small detachments managed to get to Canada. When they reached their own, they looked unimportant.

One of the two stories throughout the war, when a rather large British army went on a campaign and did not return in the end, is over.

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