Saratogo- British surrender
Journal of General Riedesel's wife for the month of October 1777.
Toward evening [of October 9], we at last came to Saratoga, which we only half an hour's march from the place where we had spent the whole day I was wet through and through by the frequent rains, and was obliged to remain in this condition the entire night, as I had no place whatever where I could change my linen. I, therefore, seated myself before a good fire, and undressed my children; after which, we laid ourselves down together upon some straw. I asked General Phillips, who came up to where we were, who we did not continue our retreat while there was yet time, as my husband hd I pledged himself to cover it and bring the army through. -
"Poor woman," answered he, "I am amazed at you! completely wet~ through, have you still the courage to wish to go further in this weather Would that you were only our commanding general! He halts because he tired, and intends to spend the night here and give us a supper." |
In this latter achievement, especially, General Burgoyne was very fond~of indulging. He spent half the nights in singing and drinking, and amusing himself with the wife of a commissary, who was his mistress, and who, as well he, loved champagne.
On the 10th, at seven o'clock in the morning, I drank some tea by way of refreshment; and we now hoped from one moment to another that at last we would again get under way. General Burgoyne, in order to cover our retreat, caused the beautiful houses and mills at Saratoga, belonging to General Schuyler, to be burned. An English officer brought some excellent broth, which he shared with me, as I was not able to refuse his urgent entreaties.
Thereupon we set out upon our march, but only as far as another place n`\t far from where we had started. The greatest misery and the utmost disorder prevailed in the army. The commissaries had forgotten to distribute provisions among the troops. There were cattle enough, but not one had been killed. More than thirty officers came to me, who could endure hunger no longer. I had coffee and tea made for them, and divided among them all the provisions with which my carriage was constantly filled; for we had a cook who, although an arrant knave, was fruitful in all expedients, and often in~the night crossed small rivers in order to steal from the country people sheep, poultry and pigs. He would then charge us a high price for them—a circumstance, however, that we only learned a long time afterward....
The whole army clamored for a retreat, and my husband promised to make it possible, provided only that no time was lost. But to General Burgoyne, an order had been promised if he brought about a junction with the army of General Howe, could not determine upon this course, and lost every thing by his loitering.
About two o'clock in the afternoon, the firing of cannon and small arms was again heard, and all was alarm and confusion. My husband sent me a message telling me to betake myself forthwith into a house which was not far from there. I seated myself in the calash with my children, and had scarcely driven up to the house when I saw on the opposite side of the Hudson River five or six men with guns, which were aimed at us. Almost involuntarily I threw the children on the bottom of the calash and myself over them. At the same Instant the churls fired, and shattered the arm of a poor English soldier behind us, who was already wounded, and was also on the point of retreating into the house.
Immediately after our arrival a frightful cannonade began, principally directed against the house in which we had sought shelter, probably because it s enemy believed, from seeing so many people flocking around it, that all t~ generals made it their headquarters. Alas! it harbored none but wounded soldiers, or women! We were finally obliged to take refuge in a cellar, in such I laid myself down in a corner not far from the door. My children lay down on the earth with their heads upon my lap, and in this manner we t ed the entire night. A horrible stench, the cries of the children, and yet more than all this, my own anguish, prevented me from closing my eyes. On the following morning the cannonade again began, but from a different side. I answered all to go out of the cellar for a little while, during which time I would have it cleaned, as otherwise we would all be sick. They followed my suggestion, and I at once set many hands to work, which was in the highest
degree necessary; for the women and children, being afraid to venture forth, and soiled the whole cellar.
After they had all gone out and left me alone, I for the first time surveyed our place of refuge. It consisted of three beautiful cellars, splendidly arched. I proposed that the most dangerously wounded of the officers should be brought into one of them; that the women should remain in another; and that all the rest should stay in the third, which was nearest the entrance. I had just given the cellars a good sweeping, and had fumigated them by sprinkling vinegar on burning coals, and each one had found his place prepared for him when a fresh and terrible cannonade threw us all once more into alarm. Many persons, who had no right to come in, threw themselves against the door. My children were already under the cellar steps, and we would all have been crushed, if God had not given me strength to place myself before the door, and with extended arms prevent all from coming in; otherwise every one of us would have been severely injured.
Eleven cannon balls went through the house, and we could plainly hear them rolling over our heads. One poor soldier, whose leg they were about to amputate, having been laid upon a table for this purpose, had the other leg taken off by another cannon ball, in the very middle of the operation. His comrades all ran off, and when they again came back they found him in one corner of the room, where he had rolled in his anguish, scarcely breathing. I was more dead than alive, though not so much on account of our own danger as for that which enveloped my husband, who, however, frequently sent to see how I was getting along, and to tell me that he was still safe....
Our cook saw to our meals, but we were in want of water; and in order to quench thirst, I was often obliged to drink wine and give it, also, to the children. It was, moreover, the only thing that my husband could take, which fact so worked upon our faithful Rockel that he said to me one day, "I fear that the general drinks so much wine because he dreads failing into captivity, and is therefore weary of life." The continual danger in which my husband was encompassed w as a constant source of anxiety to me. I was the only one of all the women whose husband had not been killed or wounded, and I often said to myself—especially since my husband was placed in such great danger day and night—"Shall I be the only fortunate one?" He never can;e into the tent at night, but lay outside by the watch fires. This alone was sufficient to have caused his death, as the nights were damp and cold.
As the great scarcity of water continued, we at last found a soldier's wife who had the courage to bring water from the river, for no one else would undertake it, as the enemy shot at the head of every man who approached the river. This woman, however, they never molested; and they told us afterward that they spared her on account of her sex.
I endeavored to divert my mind from my troubles by constantly busying myself with the wounded. I made them tea and coffee, and received in return a thousand benedictions. Often, also, I shared my noonday meal with them, One day a Canadian officer came into our cellar who could scarcely stand up. We at last got it out of him that he was almost dead with hunger. I considered myself very fortunate to have it in my power to offer him my mess. This gave him renewed strength, and gained for me his friendship. Afterward, upon our return to Canada, I learned to know his family. One of our greatest annoyances was the stench of the wounds when they began to suppurate....
In this horrible situation we remained six days. Finally, they spoke of capitulating, as by temporizing for so long a time our retreat had been cut off.cessation of hostilities took place, and my husband, who was thoroughly worn out, was able, for the first time in a long while, to lie down upon a bed. In order that his rest might not be in the least disemered, I had a good bed made up for him in a little room; while I, with my children and both my maids, lay down in a little parlor close by. But about one o'clock in the night some one came and asked to speak to him. It was with the greatest reluctance that I found myself obliged to awaken him. I observed that the message did not please him, as he immediately sent the man back to headquarters and laid himself down again considerably out of humor.
Soon after this General Burgoyne requested the presence of all the generals and staff officers at a council of war, which was to be held early the nest morning; in which he proposed to break the capitulation, already made to the enemy, in consequence of some false information just received. It was, however, finally decided that this was neither practicable nor advisable; and this was fortunate for us, as the Americans said to us afterwards that had the capitulation been broken we all would have been massacred; which they could have done the more easily as we were not over four or five thousand men strong, and had given them time to bring together more than twenty thousand....
At last my husband sent to me a groom with a message that I should come to,him with our children. I, therefore, again seated myself in my dear calash; and in the passage through the American camp I observed with great satisfaction that no one cast at us scornful glances. On the contrary, they all greeted me, even showing compassion on their countenances at seeing a mother with her little children in such a situation. I confess that I feared to come into the enemy's camp, as the thing was so entirely new to me.
When I approached the tents, a noble-looking man came toward me, took the children out of the wagon, embraced and kissed them, and then with tears in his eyes helped me also to alight. "You tremble," said he to me. "Fear nothing."
"No," replied I, "for you are so kind, and have been so tender toward my children, that it has inspired me with courage."
He then led me to the tent of General Gates, with whom I found Generals Bugoyne and Phillips, who were upon an extremely friendly footing with him.
Burgoyne said to me, "You may now dismiss all your apprehensions, for your sufferings are at an end."
I answered him that I should certainly be acting very wrongly to have any more anxiety when our chief had none, and especially when I saw him on such friendly footing with General Gates. All the generals remained to dine with General Gates.
The man who had received me so kindly came up and said to me, "It may be embarrassing to you to dine with all these gentlemen; come now with your
children into my tent, where I will give you, it is true, a frugal meal, but one that will be accompanied by the best of wishes."
"You are certainly," answered I, "a husband and a father, since you show me so much kindness."
I then learned that he was the American General Schuyler. He entertained me with excellent smoked tongue, beefsteaks, potatoes, good butter and bread. Never have I eaten a better meal. I was content. I saw that all around me were so likewise; but that which rejoiced me more than every thing else was that my husband was out of all danger. As soon as we had finished dinner, he invited me to take up my residence at his house, which was situated in Albany, and told me that General Burgoyne would, also, be there. I sent and asked my husband what I should do. He sent me word to accept the invitation; and as it was two days' journey from where we were, and already five o'clock in the afternoon, he advised me to set out in advance, and to stay over night at a place distant about three hours' ride. General Schuyler was so obliging as to send with me a French officer, who was a very agreeable man and commanded those troops who composed the reconnoitering party of which I have before made mention. As soon as he had escorted me to the house where we were to remain, he went back....
The day after this we arrived at Albany, where we had so often longed to be. But we came not, as we supposed we should, as victors! We were, nevertheless, received in the most friendly manner by the good General Schuyler, and by his wife and daughters, who showed us the most marked courtesy, as, also, General Burgoyne, although he had—without any necessity it was said caused their magnificently built houses to be burned. But they treated us as people who knew how to forget their own losses in the misfortunes of others.
Even General Burgoyne was deeply moved at their magnanimity and said to General Schuyler, "Is it to me, who have done you so much injury, that you show so much kindness!"
"That is the fate of war," replied the brave man; "let us say no more about it."
We remained three days with them, and they acted as if they were vert reluctant to let us go.