The substance of Burgoyne’s plan, Thoughts for Conducting War from the Side of Canada, was not really new, but the circumstances were right in 1777. At the outset of the American War for Independence, the rebels drove the British from Boston Harbor and nearly removed them from this part of the continent when they invaded Quebec. The British rallied by multiplying their force, taking control of New York City and securing Canada. Having gained a foothold in the New World, King George III wished to take swift and forceful action against the rebellious colonists.
Burgoyne’s plan was to sever New England from the remaining colonies by gaining control of the Hudson/ Champlain corridor using a three-prong strategy. Prong 1:Burgoyne, would lead one British army from Quebec to Albany along the Lake Champlain/ Upper Hudson River corridor. Prong 2: General Sir William Howe, Commander-in-Chief of the British forces in America, would lead his army up the Hudson River to Albany from New York City. Prong 3: Brevetted General Barry St. Leger would bring a third army from the west by way of the St. Lawrence and Mohawk Rivers. The three armies were to converge on Albany, where Burgoyne and St. Leger would relieve their commands to Howe. Burgoyne returned to Quebec in 1777 to assume command of the army in Canada.
Historians have called Burgoyne’s force “the best equipped army that had ever landed on the continent and with the finest train of artillery known to the times,” but what he had in material support he lacked in manpower. Burgoyne’s plan called for 14,000 men to depart from Quebec via Lake Champlain, but his command only consisted of 8,000 Regulars. Approximately half of Burgoyne’s force was made up of Germans from the Principality of Braunschweig – Wolfenbüttel, on loan from Prince Carl, under the command of General Baron Riedesel. It was up to the British Governor of Quebec, Sir Guy Carleton, to raise the remainder.
Carleton had his work cut out for him in raising that number among the Canadians, American loyalists and Indians, but they had a common enemy in the American rebels. Manifest Destiny, the American desire to expand its borders, was a real threat to the Indians and they had already invaded Quebec. Carleton offered soldiers pay, protection of their homelands and security for their families, but he was only able to supply 2,000 auxiliaries. In addition to the 10,000 soldiers, Burgoyne’s army was followed by an entourage of teamsters, engineers, bakers, even women and children. A fleet had been prepared for him from the previous campaign to transport this moving city, which made for a smooth procession up Lake Champlain.
Within a few weeks, Burgoyne had crossed Lake Champlain and overtook the rebels defensive position at Ticonderoga. His swift capture of the legendary fort was worth celebrating, but the rebels had escaped his grasp. They fled by road to Hubbardton and by ship to Whitehall; Burgoyne was obliged to pursue. Having proceeded past the carry to Lake George and not wanting to backtrack, Burgoyne chose to cross the 16 miles of wilderness that separated the narrows of Lake Champlain and the Hudson River. It is here where Burgoyne’s troubles really began.
Since several of the horses which the Savages had taken as booty or stolen had been bought by our regiment for transporting some of the baggage, the order came today that no one was to buy a horse from the Savages.
Julius Wasmus, August 2, 1777
In addition to the Indians stirring up trouble, constructing a road to the Hudson River took three weeks and as he proceeded further from Lake Champlain his supply line became dangerously over-extended. The carts used to haul supplies had been built that spring of fickle green wood and they lacked steel rims for their wheels, causing them to constantly break down. When they weren’t broken down, they were likely stuck in the mud. They called the area between Ticonderoga and Fort Ann the “Drowned Lands,” which made for slow movement and uncomfortable soldiers. Burgoyne later complains, “It is unfair to compare or judge an American Campaign according to European ideas…for one hour he can find to contemplate how he shall fight his army, he must allot twenty to contrive how to feed it.” It is the experienced Baron Riedesel that offers Burgoyne a plan.
While pursuing the rebels fleeing from Fort Ticonderoga, Riedesel had noticed an abundance of supplies to be had in the Connecticut River Valley. In a letter to General Burgoyne, he says “the country between here and the Connecticut [River] and even fifteen beyond that is destitute of troops and full of the best horses… if your excellency will detach to the Connecticut, the regiment of dragoons, the corps of Peters and Yessop, and an officer and thirty of each regiment, under the command of a good staff officer, I am convinced that this corps would procure the necessary number of horses for the army. The regiment of dragoons would thus be mounted, and do all that your excellency would expect from it.” It is when Burgoyne is most desperate that he reconsiders Riedesel’s plan.
On August 4, a letter from Howe finally breaks through the American lines. Hidden in a silver bullet and written on a silk cloth is a note from Burgoyne’s commanding officer informing him that he is not on his way to Albany. Instead, he decided to pursue George Washington to Philadelphia and attempt to put down the capitol of the Rebellion. St. Leger had also experienced delays at Fort Stanwix, so Burgoyne was now on his own and aware of a sizable enemy force between himself and the goal of his expedition. He gathered the Braunschweig Dragoons at his headquarters in Fort Edward on the 7th.
The Provincials [Tories] arriving here day after day assure us that the enemy is encamped 30 Engl. Miles from here and that the American army is assembled under the command of Maj. Gen. Gates in Stillwater and Halfmoon, where they are heavily entrenched. On account of our continual lack of provisions, we cannot continue our march as yet. Our Maj. Gen. von Riedesel has himself informed the regiment today that it is to be mount, that is to say, the regiment should mount itself and get the horses, but where?
Julius Wasmus, August 7, 1777
The Braunschweig Dragoons were a mounted infantry regiment under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Friedrich Baum. These were a elite group of mounted soldiers, trained to move and fire while on horseback. They were noted for their thigh-high riding boots, 12 pound broad swords and their handlebar mustaches, but they were dispatched here without horses and need to adapt to being on foot. Julius Wasmus, a Brunschweig surgeon in Baum’s regiment, is completely unaware of the present situation of the army when Burgoyne gathers them.
Burgoyne’s order was to dispatch a continent of troops under Lt. Col. Baum to Arlington and the Connecticut River by way of the Batten Kill and then to return by road to Albany within a fortnight. The goal was to determine if, in fact, there were Loyalists in the area, and to recruit them into the Loyalist Corps of John Peters of the Queen’s Loyal Rangers. Along the way, they were to gather whatever supplies they could, particularly horses, oxen and carts that could be used to reinforce the supply line. Burgoyne also wanted to direct the attention of the Americans, by making them think he was on his way to Boston, and Baum was directed to make the inhabitants believe that this contingent formed the tete, or head of Burgoyne’s main force. Before Baum departed, Burgoyne changed the plan. He had received intelligence that there was an abundance of goods to be had at Bennington that the Rebels had left poorly defended. Baum was directed to raid the depot there instead.
WHEN the last ships came from Quebec, a report prevailed in Canada, said to have been founded upon positive evidence, that the rebels had laid the keels of several large vessels at Skenesborough and Ticonderoga, and were resolved to exert their utmost powers, to construct a new and formidable fleet during the winter.
Sir: Your Excellency will remember that in the spring, on your arrival at Three Rivers, yon gave me permission always to express my opinion to you freely, whenever an opportunity for doing well to the regiments offered itself.
Contents of the instructions given to Lieut Col. Baum with regard to an Expedition which he is to command
The intention of this Expedition is to dive into the Sentiments of the Inhabitants, to remount the Regiment of Dragoons and attempt furnishing the Army with Horses, Cattle and Waggons. He was to take the Route of Arlington, Manchester and Rockingham.