19. Driving to Kingsbury: The Trying Journey by Land

Perception was important. Burgoyne didn’t want to give the appearance of a retreat, so he decided to advance south by land.

Burgoyne’s route through the wilderness by Benson Lossing.

Before the construction of the Champlain Canal, you needed to cross land to reach the Hudson River from Lake Champlain. There were two options that took travelers from Fort Ticonderoga on Lake Champlain to Fort Edward, which sat at the head of the navigable Hudson River. The first route required a carry from the Fort Ticonderoga to Lake George, sailing south Lake George, and then another carry from the southern end of the lake to Fort Edward. The second route took travelers by boat through the Narrows of Lake Champlain to Whitehall, which then required a short carry around Skenesborough Falls to Wood Creek. From there you had to travel by land—a 21-mile trek through boggy lowland to Fort Edward. The former was considered the less challenging route because much of it could be accomplished by water.

When British General John Burgoyne changed his route and decided to pursue the Rebels fleeing from Ticonderoga down to Whitehall—and then by land from Whitehall to Fort Edward, he knew there would be challenges taking such a long land route. He determined that the artillery and supplies would go by way of Lake George, while the main body of the army proceeded by land from Whitehall to Fort Edward. This re-routing dramatically changed the logistical needs of the campaign. He would need additional horses and carts to facilitate the movement of the army from two directions.

Nevertheless, he didn’t want to backtrack in order to take the less challenging route to Albany via Lake George. Perception was important and Burgoyne was concerned that backtracking would give the appearance of a retreat.

Yet it was no easy passage. The troops would need to trek 21 miles through a wilderness lowland in the heat, humidity, and frequent storms of July. There were dense woods, dozens of meandering creeks, and narrow ravines. The road was little more than a wide trail. Some men marched, but others were hauling artillery, munitions, and supplies on carts. The stops were constant as the carts would break down or get stuck. His troops spent three weeks constructing some 40 bridges—including a bridge nearly two miles long—in order to reach Fort Edward. They trudged along at the painfully slow rate of one mile a day.

The physical strain was enormous. The British encountered poisonous timber rattlesnakes and were so plagued by flies, mosquitoes, and gnats that they had to sleep fully clothed to minimize bites. In addition, impact of going through a forest that the enemy had just abandoned created huge anxiety. One British officer reported that they feared the Rebels had poisoned the water in a well near Fort Ann, but it was just a rumor. The Rebels sabotaged the narrow path that the British carved through the wilderness. Rebel General Philip Schuyler cleverly ordered the route to be sabotaged. They felled trees with intertwining branches to block the roadway and fired on the passing troops while hiding in the dense wilderness.

Learn More:

First-Hand Accounts

Before the British could make the long journey by land, they needed more supplies:

 –Lieutenant William Digby

Because of the marshy nature of the land, soldiers had to build more than 40 bridges so they could pass:

—Lt. Thomas Anburey, serving with the 24th Regiment of Foot

Psychologically and physically, the journey by land was taxing—and included the threats of poisonous snakes:

—Surgeon Julius Wasmus

 

Burgoyne acknowledged that the trek across land was difficult:

–Burgoyne to Germaine, July 30, 1777

 

The psychological impact of stumbling through a forest that the enemy had just abandoned was huge:

–Lieutenant William Digby

 

Many soldiers believed that Burgoyne shouldn’t have taken them this way:

–Lieutenant William Digby

Burgoyne believed he had a good reason for not following his original plan of going by way of Lake George:

–Burgoyne to Germaine, July 30, 1777

 

 

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