Letter from Riedesel to Burgoyne with Tactical Suggestions

Baron Riedesel remained in and around Hubbardton and reported to General Burgoyne that he had a better plan for facilitating the movement of the troops

Baron Friedrich Adolf Riedesel, ca 1790. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

General Riedesel to General Burgoyne, Skenesborough July 22, 1777:

“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. The position in which the army is at present induces me to take this freedom, with the firm confidence that the kindness of heart, and the friendship of your Excellency will pardon it.

Great and rapid successes have at once placed the army in such a position that we will often be forced to be, either with the whole or part of the army, far away from the rivers and our bateaux. The equipment of the army is of such a nature that our bateaux arc very necessary, if we would not find ourselves short of everything. This makes trouble. One-half of a regiment runs around to procure the necessaries for the soldier. The men are weary from toil, and the battalion grows so weak that they look more like slim companies than heavy masses of men. The movements of the army can only be carried out slowly and by piece-meal, lacking, as it does, the means to transport that which is most necessary.

I, therefore, give it as my opinion that there are only two ways for us to do. We must with the army always remain near a river, and not leave it until means offer themselves for transporting the bateaux to another river- the time for their transportation not being more than eight clays. This proceeding, however, in my opinion, is attended with the following disadvantages:

1st. The army are able to move but very slowly; and the advantages which offer themselves upon the sudden retreat of the enemy cannot be availed of in time. Consequently, the consternation which might perhaps be produced among the rebels by the presence of the royal army would not be increased.

2d. The inhabitants of the country, who are at present extremely frightened, will voluntarily submit, and the army in a short time be provided with everything, provided we now and then appear with detachments. The latter, however, must not be allowed to go too great a distance from the main body. The enemy has small parties everywhere, and these keep the people in subjection. Therefore, confiscate all the teams, and make a desert of the whole country. Thus your excellency will be able to gain a much wider field for the operations of your army than at present.

3d. The country, which our army has just left, has taken fresh courage; a new militia has been organized; small detachments once more, roam through these districts; and each partisan cart operate against our communications. This latter circumstance may in future be even more detrimental to us than at present.

To avoid all these evils, our army must be brought into a condition in which it can move with much more celerity than it has been accustomed to. That is, the requisite number of horses must be procured to carry the necessary baggage of the officers, the tents, ammunition, artillery and provisions. It is, in my opinion, very disadvantageous to transport the baggage and tents on Canadian carts. They spoil the good roads, and can get along only with the utmost difficulty on good roads. The column is, therefore, lengthened too much, and the men are very often without tents, the carts not being able to keep up. But a pack horse goes everywhere. It can walk on the flanks of the regiment, and thus always provide the army “with necessaries. Pack horses, therefore, would in my humble opinion, do away entirely with the carts. I would, also, keep no more teams than were absolutely necessary for the transportation of the provisions of the artillery.

When the regiments have a sufficient number of pack horses collected, and when the transportation of the artillery is safely provided for, then your excellency can send out detachments at pleasure; keep a check upon the main body of the enemy; and thus keep the inhabitants in subjection- yea, even break up their militia, and procure the necessary support for the army. You can, also, extend or contract the army as you see fit, and thus freely operate independently of the bateaux and a. thousand other contingencies.

I believe that the army may easily be placed in this independent position in three or four weeks at the furthest.

The country between here and the Connecticut and even fifteen miles beyond that river is destitute of troops and full of the best horses. In fact, there is not an inhabitant who does not possess three or four horses.

If your excellency will detach to the Connecticut, the regiment of dragoons, the corps of Peters and of Yessop, and an officer and thirty of each regiment, under the command of a good stall 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.

Your excellency might determine upon a proportionate tax of about five to six guineas for each horse. A commissary might go with this corps and give a receipt for each horse to the owner, who, upon producing it, could be paid by the general cashier. The officers who received horses might then have the money for them, gradually deducted from their pay, while the horses for the dragoons would be paid for by the king. This detachment, also, could, at the same time, gather up all the ox teams to be used in transporting the provisions. This plan, if carried out, would pit the army in the most flourishing condition, and your excellency would no longer have any difficulty in carrying out each movement, either in detail or otherwise according to your own plan.

Your Excellency might, perhaps, think it mean to take all the horses from the inhabitants, but it must be considered: 1st. That the chief work here is done by oxen, and that horses are only made use of either for carrying grain to the mill, or for riding. 2d. the horses could be bought at a price much above their value. 3d. If there was a want of horses, they would not be able to convey the news to the enemy so rapidly or so often. 4th. their little bloodletting would, at least, be a just punishment for their treason and bad conduct toward their king. I am convinced that this course can be justified before God, the king and parliament, it being to the material advantage of the army and his majesty.

Having thus communicated my ideas candidly and confidentially to the friendship of your excellency, I rely on your forbearance and pardon for my freedom.

I have the honor etc.,

Riedesel.”

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