The Saratoga Campaign and Battle of Saratoga sit near the top of numerous “Turning Points of the Revolutionary War” lists. It is a story that has been told many times. New research has shed additional light on the campaign’s well-known and trivial parts.
Join Saratoga National Historical Park interpreter and historian Eric Schnitzer for Emerging Revolutionary War’s Revelry on October 2, 2022, at 7 pm to learn about new research being conducted about the campaign.
We hope you can join us on Sunday at 7 p.m EDT on our Facebook page for this historian happy hour.
On October 17, 1777, British General John Burgoyne surrendered his joint British, Canadian, and Hessian and Brunswicker forces to patriot General Horatio Gates near Saratoga, New York. Over 6,000 soldiers, the number placed by one historian is 6,222, became captives of war. Under the terms of the convention agreed upon by Burgoyne and Gates, the vanquished army was to march to Boston, Massachusetts, board British ships, and sail to England, to await formal exchange and to not participate in the war in America further.
When news reached the Continental Congress of this concession, that political body demanded a complete list of the troops surrendered to ensure the terms of the convention was to be upheld. When this was not forthcoming by the British, Congress reacted by vowing to not adhere to the stipulations of the convention. Burgoyne’s forces would not head back to Great Britain to await an exchange that year. Instead, these men were to be confined in camps both in New England and Virginia for the duration of the war. This force came to be called the Convention Army.
This Sunday, March 6, at 7 p.m. EDT, join Emerging Revolutionary War on our Facebook page for the next historian happy hour, as Dan Welch and Phillip S. Greenwalt discuss the Convention Army and what happened after the pivotal battle of Saratoga in October 1777.
On October 4, 1777, General George Washington’s Continental Army struck the British outpost at Germantown, Pennsylvania. Less than a month after the Battle of Brandywine and approximately a week after the loss of their capital, Philadelphia.
Initially successful, Washington’s forces got bogged down by fog and British holdouts in a stone structure called Cliveden. What started so promising did end in a tactical defeat for the Americans. Yet, coming days before the climatic battle in New York, dubbed Saratoga collectively, the cause of American independence was buoyed.
Although outshone in the annals of history by Saratoga, the setback at Germantown proved decisive in the French court, especially with the French foreign minister, who saw that the simple fact that Washington could regroup following Brandywine and come within some bad luck and fog of defeating the British was testament to resolve of the American effort for independence.
To cut through the fog and discuss the campaign, engagement, and repercussions of the Battle of Germantown, Emerging Revolutionary War invites back historian and author Michael C. Harris this Sunday for the next installment of “Rev War Revelry” at 7pm EST on our Facebook page.
He will join a duo of ERW historians. In addition, his publication, Germantown: A Military History of the Battle of Philadelphia, October 4, 1777, is now available through the publisher, Savas Beatie, LLC. Click here to order.
We look forward to hearing your comments, questions, and/or opinions this Sunday. So, set a side an hour-ish–as you know historians can get to talking and lose track of time easily, especially when books are also involved–for this historian happy hour.
Benedict Arnold, the mere mention of the name seems permanently intertwined with the word “treason.” His name has even made it into popular vernacular, being called a “Benedict Arnold” as an insult. Yet, there is more to the man than just that infamous moment along the banks of the Hudson River in West Point, New York in 1780.
Prior to that turning point, Arnold was one of the greatest battlefield leaders the Americans had at that rank. His inspiring leadership on the field of battle at Saratoga led to a climactic charge and one of the greatest monuments to a leader on any hallowed ground. He survived the cold and assaults in Canada in the winter of 1776 as well.
After being a turncoat he was a menace in Virginia in 1781, raiding in Richmond and the Tidewater of Virginia. One of ERW’s historians will discuss Arnold’s role in the state capital of Virginia.
A lot to unpack and that is why this Sunday, at 7pm, live on our Facebook page, Emerging Revolutionary War historians will be joined by Dr. Powell, who spoke on the French and Indian War with us back in June, to discuss Benedict Arnold. So, bring those pre-conceived notions but an open mind to fully appreciate Arnold. This “Rev War Revelry” will discuss the before reasons for, and the after of his switching allegiances.
Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes guest historian Kevin Pawlak. A short bio follows the post below.
On May 25, 1775, the 62nd Regiment of Foot stood for review. The line of men, clad in their redcoats with buff facings, did not impress the reviewing officer. He called the regiment “very much drafted” and “very indifferent.” Despite the disparaging grade, in just over two years, the 62nd Foot commendably fought in one of the fiercest actions of the War for Independence.
Scottish military man Lt. Col. John Anstruther led the 62nd Foot in the campaign of 1777. Anstruther faced no easy task; the 62nd was the junior British regiment in John Burgoyne’s army and most of its men were inexperienced in campaigning and battle. To make the situation even worse, roughly one-quarter of the 62nd Foot’s soldiers were German. Language barriers likely prevented complete cohesion within the unit. However, with a war on, nothing could be done to rectify the regiment’s defects as it marched south into New York.
Anstruther’s regiment was present for the operations around Fort Ticonderoga in early July 1777. After American forces abandoned the fort, the conglomerate and inexperienced 62nd remained behind to man Mount Independence overlooking Lake Champlain. As the rest of Burgoyne’s army continued campaigning, the men of the 62nd Foot spent time guarding themselves against rattlesnakes rather than the enemy. Their time came to rejoin the main army before the Battle of Saratoga commenced.
From our friends at American Battlefield Trust (ABT), for more information about the ABT click here.
Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam veterans have returned to the battlefield. But instead of the Middle East or Southeast Asia, they are mustering at Saratoga National Historical Park where they will be applying their military knowledge and newly learnt archaeological skills to conduct a field survey at the famous Revolutionary War battlefield.
Approximately 33 veterans will participate in the project created by the American Veterans Archaeological Recovery (AVAR) in cooperation with the American Battlefield Trust and the National Park Service (NPS). Working together, they will attempt to verify revolutionary-era troop locations during the 1777 battle while aiding participants’ transition back to civilian life. AVAR recruits veteran participants through social media, and specifically targets those who feel isolated and disconnected after leaving service; the organization predominantly recruits veterans from recent conflicts, such as Iraq and Afghanistan, with a young average participant age of 35. Continue reading “Press Release: Veterans Dig History in Groundbreaking Project at Saratoga Battlefield”→
On this date in 1777, British General John Burgoyne surrendered to American General Horatio Gates around Saratoga, New York. This victory solidified French support for the fledgling American nation and became one of the turning points in the road to independence.
Out of this momentous occasion came an anecdote about the British general officer. The short story has some truth in it, yet, whether the entire tale is accurate, well, I’ll leave that for you to decide!
Two years prior to the Battles of Saratoga and upon arriving in Boston, Massachusetts, General Burgoyne remarked “Well, let us get in, and we’ll soon find elbow-room” when he was told the numbers of militia besieging British regulars around the town.
After his capitulation, Burgoyne and his forces were marched toward Albany, New York, and multitudes of people turned out to see the vanquished British and German soldiery along the route. One resident supposedly yelled from her homestead doorway;
“Make elbow room for General Burgoyne.”
Not what he had envisioned in 1775 upon disembarking in North America. Yet, history does not relate what “Gentleman Johnny” Burgoyne thought exactly about the elbow room he received in the countryside of upstate New York!*
*“Gentleman Johnny” was a nickname acquired by Burgoyne was stationed in London with the Horse Guards, a fashionable cavalry regiment.”
**Information gathered from A.J. Langguth’s “Patriots” and The Patriot Resource, which can be found here.
I grew up in a suburb of Reading, Pennsylvania. Reading is the county seat of Berks County, and is located about sixty miles northwest of Philadelphia. Reading is an old town; Richard and Thomas Penn, the sons of William Penn, founded the town in 1743. It is situated on the banks of the Schuylkill River, and has always been an important logistics center as a result. German immigrants settled much of Berks County, and many in the area spoke the language. Today, Reading remains the gateway to the so-called Pennsylvania Dutch region.
There’s a part of the east side of the city, situated at the base of Mt. Penn, the dominating high ground that overlooks the city, called Hessian Camp. This is what a local newspaper writer said about that part of town a few years ago: “Reading’s Hessian Camp section is arguably the city’s finest neighborhood. Mansions line the curvy, hilly streets…The neighborhood, tucked into the side of Mount Penn, is hidden from the hustle and bustle of the downtown.” My mother’s favorite aunt and uncle lived in Hessian Camp.
A historical marker erected by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in Hessian Camp stands out. As a child, I thought it an odd name, so I started asking questions. I eventually learned that it was the site of a Hessian prisoner of war camp during the Revolutionary War. That satisfied my youthful curiosity, but as an adult who has traveled back to Reading regularly since moving away in 1983, I retained my interest in it and remained curious about it. Consequently, I decided to tackle it and see what I could learn of it. Eventually, the story took shape.
After George Washington crossed the Delaware River and surprised Hessian mercenaries at the Battle of Trenton, the Hessian prisoners of war were take inland for detention. Due to the heavy German presence in Reading, it was a perfect place to house these men because so many of the locals spoke the language and could converse with these men. They also hoped that the Hessians would desert and take up residence—and perhaps their loyalty—with the Patriot cause. Further, as a result of Reading’s location, it would require a determined campaign to free the prisoners of war.
The initial prisoners of war were housed in a temporary prison along the banks of the Schuylkill River. They spent a cold, rough winter, and many died of disease and/or cold. After the Battle of Saratoga, when it became obvious that more Hessian prisoners of war would be heading to Reading for detention, the local citizenry demanded that the POW’s be moved to a more remote location. The original campsite was about 12 acres in size, and housed about 1,000 detainees—about the same as the permanent population of Reading. There was plenty of fresh water from a spring and plenty of lumber to construct huts, so the site was chosen.
There are two surviving accounts from German POW’s housed in Reading. Johann Bense, from the Duchy of Brunswick, arrived in Reading on June 16, 1781:
On the bank of the Schuylkill, we had been camping on a meadow in the open air for 8 weeks and were plagued by the great heat during the day and by rain and cold during the night. On August 9, we marched from the Schuylkill via Reading onto a high, rocky mountain.
We were supposed to build barracks there. But because we did not want to agree to that right away, but rather made ourselves straw huts, we were treated very severely. A sharp command from the corporal forced us to build the barracks and it was our good fortune because all our straw huts were consumed by fire on October 21, 1781.
Therefore, those who had not yet completed their barracks, had to do more now to get them ready. Through that, the men got some freedom to go into the country and work and so they kept their supplies. They are read out twice a month [report for roll call twice a month].
On April 26, 1782, we received money, linen trousers, shirts, and 1 pair of shoes from Lieutenant du Roi [of the Regiment Prinz Friederich]. Now, our situation was pretty good.
It did not last long, however, that they locked us up and all who were in the country and worked there, had to come in [to the city].
In the month of July, they read us an order from Congress. Any one of us wanting to be free, and that immediately, should give 80 silver talers [one British pound was worth 5 5/6 talers] as ransom and if he did not have that much money, a citizen should pay it for him with whom he should work in bondage for 3 years.
But if we wished to enter service with them [in the American army], each would get 8 silver talers as gratuity and after the end of the war, he would be given 100 acres of land. This now was voluntary, to be sure, but because our men did not want to agree to that, we were treated very harshly.
Since a few of us deserted, 356 men [of ours] were suddenly taken to the Reading jail and because there was not enough room, they had to lie in the court yard in the rain and the cold. They had to buy wood and water.
Two hundred of our men were sent to the prison in Lancaster; the artisans were also taken there. Afterwards another 100 men were taken into prison, among them was myself. Because a few non-commissioned officers deserted, 42 sergeants and non-commissioned officers were also taken to jail. These had to lie in the cellar and below in the dungeon [at Lancaster]. Many of our men who could not stand it entered [American] service or sold themselves as indentured slaves for 3 years. The rest, who had been prisoners since September 11, were let out on December 16 but each had to give 1 taler.
The non-commissioned officers were let out after 17 days but because some deserted right away again, those having been in jail before were quickly taken back to prison and had to remain there up to the exchange.
Some of our men took up service on a pirate ship which was captured immediately at its departure from Philadelphia, and taken to New York. In the last year of our captivity, we thus were the most wretched and most miserable men. None of us could go out and none of the inhabitants were allowed to see us…
On February 13, we had our first news of peace [from a Hessian Quartermaster]. We continued being in doubt until finally in March a French ship arrived in Philadelphia with the same message. It was made known to us at the barracks on the 26th that there was peace with France, Spain, Holland, and England and now we were daily hoping for our release. . . On April 16 in the afternoon, the non-commissioned officers came out of the city jail and [returned] to the barracks.
On April 21, which was also the second day of Easter, at 12 Noon, 13 cannon shots were fired for the 13 free colonies. The whole city was illuminated in the evening and fires were made on April 24. In the morning the English Commissary Maclean came to give us each a blanket. Other staff officers came and we prisoners found out we would march to New York.
Bense departed Reading on May 3, 1783, and by May 10, had arrived in New York City. He eventually returned home to the Duchy of Brunswick,
The second account comes from a letter by Sgt.-Maj. Samuel Vaupel, who served in the Leib Company, Erbprinz Regiment of Hessen-Hanau. He reported to his commanding officer, Lt. Col. Lentz, in New York:
Your Excellency, I have a report to humbly send you, also a resolution from the Board of War of Congress and the address of Captain Thomas Bowen. From these, your Excellency will see in what a depressing situation we are in….We were told everyone must choose to either buy himself free or join the American service. The king would not help us, and our prince did not want us… Nobody [from the ranks] responded to this reading and speech. It was immediately ordered that now nobody could leave camp and the proclamation read three times daily. But our people pretty much stuck together.
On August 7, 1782, we were visited by Major-General [Benjamin] Lincoln and Brigadier-General [Moses] Hazen from Lancaster. The Corps had to form up and we were reviewed but they didn’t speak. They rode our regimental street and around the barracks, then went on to Reading.
On the morning of the 10th instant, Brigadier-General Hazen returned with a German Captain [Anthony] Selin from his regiment. The troops had to turn out again and form a circle. The General spoke, which was translated by the above mentioned captain. We should choose to either make ourselves free by paying 80 Dollars or join the American army; the King of England did not care enough about us to exchange us or pay for our provisions; they cannot provide for us any longer when they have problems feeding their own men; and if we continue refusing to make our decision, serious measures will be taken.
After the speech we NCOs said that we could not agree to these conditions, and asked if he would allow two NCOs from our Corps to go to New York to report these conditions to our commanding officer. If he says all hope is gone and doesn’t need us any longer, then every man can do as he wishes. The general’s answer was: He wanted to report it to Congress, but we have not heard anything as of now and don’t expect to.
The above mentioned Captain Selin is Swiss-born and cannot be described badly enough; he was introduced to us as our commander. The new captain called together all the NCOs and gave orders that nobody will dare go 10 paces beyond the post without being termed a deserter and when the provost guard calls and they don’t stop, the guard should fire on them
The water is located just outside the post, but nobody may go for it alone. The NCO of the guard has to call for water and one of his armed guards goes along to the well. This captain has ordered the guard to allow nobody out of camp, not even a woman or child, without permission. [Some of for-hire soldiers were allowed to have wives and children with them.]
He also said he has forbidden the local residents into the camp. It is not permitted to openly bring us an apple. Since all this did not help, the above mentioned captain announced the NCOs were to blame for the lack of enlistments – that they discouraged the men from enlisting.
This lasted until September 7, when he unexpectedly came to the barracks at daybreak and gave the order to march; our people were to go to the mountain with sack and pack. We all packed our things and when we were formed up on the barracks mountain, the captain went from right to left without saying anything. Finally, with the Brunswickers, he began pulling young people from the ranks.
When he came to our regiment he only said the married men and NCOs should step forward. The remainder dressed ranks, were turned right and joined up with the Brunswickers to march to the jail in Reading.
There were 142 men of our regiments and 158 Brunswickers, 300 in all. They filled up the jail and the remainder had to camp in the jail yard. The first day these people had to pay 2 pence for a pail of water and also had to pay for firewood to cook with. They were in this jail through the 10th instant.
On the 11th instant 102 men from the regiment and 84 Brunswickers were taken to the jail in Lancaster.
On the 24th instant, 21 men from the regiment and 25 Brunswickers were again taken to the jail in Lancaster. There is now nobody from the regiment in the Reading jail except the baker Muller from the Lt. Colonel’s Company.
Private Wiskermann of the Leib Company was employed in Reading by a rich widow. On September 2, the captain had him brought in from the widow and asked him to enlist, buy himself free, or be sent to an underground prison or dungeon as the English call it. He decided he would rather be free and the above mentioned madam, named Mifflin, ransomed him.
Fourteen men from the regiment who were employed at an iron smelter, have returned to the barracks. On September 23, 10 of these men were taken to the Reading jail. The other 4 men remained sick in the barracks; the other 10 men were taken, with others, on September 24 to Lancaster. They also had to each pay the jail keeper in Reading 1/4 Dollar for the one night lodging.
Concerning us here in the barracks, we expect daily and hourly to go to the jail. Captain Selin indicated, when the others went to jail, that at the slightest incident or attempt at desertion, the others would also go into the jail. We have to hear daily from this captain how our tyrannical prince no longer needs us and that we will not get any more clothing or money from him. We collectively humbly beg your Excellency to have mercy on us and rescue us from this unhappy and depressing situation.
Should this be impossible, we beg you to have the grace to send us uniforms, blankets, and money. Otherwise it will be impossible to withstand the coming winter as our blankets are torn and so little firewood is issued that we can’t make the fires small enough. . . nobody is allowed out to gather firewood.
Sergeant-Major Vaupel ransomed himself on or about December 8, 1782. His fate is unknown. The fates of the poor German soldiers sent to fight in North America remains a fascinating mystery.
Other than large, handsome houses, there is nothing left of the Hessian campsite in Reading. The historical marker and the name of the neighborhood are the only reflection of the former occupants of the area. However, the presence of those prisoners of war was among the earliest things to draw my interest in the Revolutionary War.
When a historian, author, or student of the American Revolutionary War mentions the following three words, “Green Mountain Boys” there is usually one name that comes to the forefront.
Seth Warner is usually not that name. Yet, he is one of the two names that should be forever linked with the great history of the “Green Mountain Boys.”
For those that are drawing a blank, the other name usually associated with this famous unit is Ethan Allen.
Warner, born in hilly Woodbury, Connecticut on May 17, 1743, the fourth of ten children to Dr. Benjamin Warner and Silence Hurd Warner. The young Seth was a product of the western frontier, growing up on the fringes of the English world, and thus learning from an early age to live and survive in the woods, rivers, and hills of Connecticut and what would become Vermont.
He did attend what limited schooling was available and from his father, rudimentary medical practice. In an 18th century biography, Warner was remembered to have vast information on the nature and uses of indigenous plants.
During the French and Indian War, Warner served two summers fighting in the cause of the British and would serve as a captain in the “Green Mountain Boys” following the French and Indian War. One biography states that Warner was part of the famous ranger outfit known as Major Roger’s Rangers, yet there is no primary evidence that supports this biographical claim.
With war on the horizon following the action at Lexington and Concord, Warner was elected third in command, with Ethan Allen being elected in top command, on May 8, 1775 for the task of capturing Fort Ticonderoga in western New York.
Born where Native American still threatened the westward-minded colonists, with the training during two summers in the last major war on the American Continent, Warner would now play a major role in the upcoming American Revolution.
With that, Seth Warner and the “Green Mountain Boys” marched off to help make the dream of American independence a reality. Following Ethan Allen, Warner found himself embroiled in the first campaign outside the environs of Boston when on May 10, 1775 he took part in the American capture of Fort Ticonderoga in western New York. Following up the next day, Warner, serving as second-in-command, attacked and captured the British garrison at Crown Point, approximately 13 miles away from Fort Ticonderoga. When news broke of the exploit, the “Green Mountain Boys” and subsequently Warner quickly became a household name for the patriot cause.
With the turn of the season to summer, Allen and Warner appeared in Philadelphia to appeal directly to the Continental Congress. Their aim was to achieve recognition as a regiment for the “Green Mountain Boys.” On June 23, 1775, the day the two men appeared in front of the governing body of the American cause, the Congress agreed and sent the endorsement to the state of New York. After some debate in provincial Congress of the Empire State, the endorsement was finally agreed upon.
With the ensuing vote of officers, surprisingly, Allen was not elected as commander, but Warner survived in an officer capacity, garnering 41 of 46 votes for lieutenant colonel. No reason or notes from this convention, held on July 6, 1775 has ever surfaced.
Before 1775 was out, Warner, who would lead the command, found themselves on the way to Canada. Initially stationed along the St. Lawrence River on the way to Montreal and near the end of October, Warner’s men repulsed an amphibious landing and attack by Sir Guy Carleton, the British Governor-General of Canada. With the repulse, at the Battle of Longeuill led to the surrender of Fort St. John on November 3, 1775.
Ten days later Montreal fell to the American forces and Warner and his “Green Mountain Boys” entered the fallen city later that same day. The American commander, General Richard Montgomery wanted this crack unit to continue with him by canoe to Quebec but because of the lack of winter clothing, the command was forced to head south, for supplies.
Not to stay in a support role for long, Warner’s men marched north shortly after the turn of the year in January 1776 to reinforce the Americans laying siege to Quebec. While there Warner showed the depth of his concern for the welfare of his men. With the smallpox epidemic ravaging the American ranks–in fact more American soldiers would die of that disease than any single other cause–Warner allowed his men to be inoculated, which was not not akin to what inoculations are like today.
Click this link, courtesy of Mount Vernon, on what smallpox inoculation was like in Colonial America.
After the return from Canada, on July 5, 1776, Warner was elevated to the rank of colonel and tasked with raising another regiment from the New Hampshire Grants (the area now comprising Vermont). Yet, it was one year and one day later that Warner showed how valuable his role as a general officer was.
During the Battle of Hubbardton, Warner oversaw the rearguard of General Arthur St. Clair’s retreating American forces. Outside this frontier settlement, Warner’s men suffered more casualties and eventually yielded the field to the British, but the toll extracted from the British (over 200 killed, wounded, and captured) was high enough to cause the British to stop their pursuit of the retreating American army.
A month later, on August 16, 1777, Warner played another critical role in the American victory at Bennington. Under the overall command of General John Stark–another of the fiery, yet competent, and overlooked American general officers–Warner provided invaluable assistance because of his familiarity with the region. His home was a scant few miles from where the engagement would unfold.
Warner would oversee the left wing of the American assault and have as his goal the “Tory Redoubt” that fell on the east side of the Walloomsac River, which would be a dominant feature in the ensuing battle.
The Americans routed the German, British, and Loyalist forces, even halting a 600-man reinforcement column under German Lieutenant Colonel Heinrich Breymann who arrived on the field in the latter stages.
Stark reported to Congress that Warner showed “superior skill in the action.”
Unbeknownst to Warner at the time, the campaign that culminated with British General John Burgoyne’s surrender at Saratoga, was the defining moment in Warner’s American Revolutionary War career. Warner would stay in the service, reaching the rank of brigadier general, bestowed upon him in 1778 by the new state of Vermont courtesy of the state legislature. That made him the only brigadier general in the newly formed state. On September 6, 1780 Warner received his only wound of the war, in an ambush by Native Americans outside Fort George in New York.
Unfortunately for the old “Green Mountain Boys” commander, the years after his retirement in 1780 were not kind. He fell out of favor with his former commander, Ethan Allen which led Warner to confront him in 1781 about contact with the British when Allen was a prisoner-of-war. This was all in conjunction with some contact Vermont had with British Canada about possible negotiations in reunifying Vermont with the British Empire. The extent of the negotiations and the seriousness of the idea has been in question by historians ever since.
Regardless, Warner, in failing health in 1784, returned to Woodbury, where he died on December 26, 1784, at the age of 41. Warner’s remains lay in Roxbury, Connecticut.
*For more information on the campaigns of New York in which Warner played a role in, consult Michael O. Logusz’s two-volume “With Musket and Tomahawk” series published by Savas Beatie LLC. at http://www.savasbeatie.com*