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.

Listen to the Turning Point Trail Site 3 Audio Narration:

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.

Travel Tools

Start Track 19 after leaving the Fort Ann Pocket Park.



First-Hand Accounts

Before the British could make the long journey by land, they needed more supplies:
“We were obliged to remain a long time at Skeenesborough on account of getting horses and wagons from Canada… Our heavy baggage etc. was mostly then sent to stores appointed at Ticonderoga as there was no longer any water carriage.”

–Lieutenant William Digby

Because of the marshy nature of the land, soldiers had to build more than 40 bridges so they could pass:
“Camp at Fort Edward, August 6, 1777… The country between our late encampment at Skeenesborough and this place, was a continuation of woods and creeks, interspersed with deep morasses; and to add to these natural impediments, the enemy had very industriously augmented them, by felling immense trees, and various other modes that it was with the utmost pains and fatigue we could work our way through them. Exclusive of these the watery grounds and marshes were so numerous, that we were under the necessity of constructing no less than forty bridges to pass them and over one morass there was a bridge of near two miles in length.”

—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:
“The first rattlesnake was killed in front of our line today; it was almost 4 feet long and had 7 bells at its tail. Before biting, it first makes a noise with the bells so that everyone coming too close can take heed. It was brownish black on the back, beautifully covered decorated in various colors and with an unusual pattern of scales. It was yellowish-white under the belly and shone as if a ring had grown here against the top of it. As beautiful as its body was, its head and eyes were terrible. The head was broad and similar to that of a large toad, the teeth very sharp, crooked and pointed like fishhooks, with which it can do harm when it jumps [on its victims]..”

—Surgeon Julius Wasmus

 Burgoyne acknowledged that the trek across land was difficult:
“The toil of the march was great, but supported with the utmost alacrity. The country being a wilderness in almost every part of the passage, the enemy took the means of cutting large timber trees on both sides of the road so as to fall across the length ways with the Branches interwoven. The troops had not only layers of these to remove in places where it was impossible to take any other direction, but also they had about forty bridges to construct, and others to repair, one of which was a Log work over a morass two miles in extent.”

–Burgoyne to Germaine, July 30, 1777

The psychological impact of stumbling through a forest that the enemy had just abandoned was huge:
“We halted at night on an eminence and were greatly distressed for water no river being near and a report that the enemy had poisoned a spring at a small distance but it was false as our surgeon tried an experiment on the water and found it good.”

–Lieutenant William Digby

Many soldiers believed that Burgoyne shouldn’t have taken them this way:
“Many here were of opinion the general had not the least business in bringing the army to Skeensborough after the precipitate flight of the enemy from Ticonderoga and tho we had gained a complete victory over them both at Fort Anne and Hubberton yet no visible advantage was likely to flow from either except proving the goodness of our troops at the expense of some brave men.”

–Lieutenant William Digby

Burgoyne believed he had a good reason for not following his original plan of going by way of Lake George:
“I was not unapprised that great part of these difficulties might have been avoided by falling back from Skenesborough to Ticonderoga by water in order to take the more commodious route by Lake George. But besides wishing to prevent the effect which a retrograde motion often has, to abate the panic of the Enemy, I considered that the natural consequence would be a resistance of delay at least, at Fort George; where, as the retreat was open, the enemy could wait securely the preparations of Batteries, or at least a landing in force for the purpose of investment.”

–Burgoyne to Germaine, July 30, 1777