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9. Driving South of Essex: Burgoyne’s Long Flotilla
A huge line of soldiers, ships, supplies, and support teams made their way south on the lake. The lead group would set up camp in the wild woods along the lake.
Burgoyne’s flotilla extended in a long line as they preceded south on Lake Champlain. The first group of the army under Brigadier General Fraser would go ashore to clear a place to camp, which would then also serve as a campground for the next group. Each evening, the soldiers and camp followers would disembark and get to work setting up camp.
Here in the wilderness, the soldiers were at a disadvantage. The surrounding forest and steep cliffs offered places where the Rebels could shoot and hide. There were no raids against the army, but the threat was present and palpable. The men needed to be prepared at a moment’s notice.
The men not only needed to be prepared to fight but prepared for the wilderness. Snakes, bugs, and other pests were a constant nuisance, creating a physical and psychological challenge for the soldiers. As the cool spring departed, the summer heat brought out black flies, mosquitoes, gnats, and other annoyances.
This area is known as Split Rock, one of the places where Burgoyne’s men camped. If you are on the lake, you would see a split in the granite rock that creates a little island off the point. This rock was known to the Abenaki as “the rock split through.” Indians used distinctive landmarks, such as Split Rock, to define a nation’s territory. It is widely believed that Split Rock was the border between the Algonquians in the north and the Iroquois to the south before the Europeans carved out their own borders.
Start track 9 once you approach Whallons Bay, just south of the hamlet of Essex. During this part of the journey on the Turning Point Trail, you will drive by the 3,700-acre Split Rock Wild Forest, between the towns of Essex and Westport. The forest is part of the Adirondack Forest Preserve. Located in the eastern foothills of the Adirondack Mountains along the shore of Lake Champlain, it comprises the largest tract of undeveloped Lake Champlain shoreline in New York.
The trailhead is on Lakeshore Road, 5.8 miles south of Essex and 4.7 miles north of Westport. Trails go up, over, and along this mountain overlooking Lake Champlain with wetlands, little waterfalls, an old quarry, hidden bays, and views. The trails range from 2- to 6-mile loops, easy to moderate.
The wild forest is named for Split Rock Mountain, the main feature of the area. The Lake Champlain Palisades and Webb Royce Swamp are within its boundaries. The trail system provides many scenic views of Lake Champlain and the Green Mountains of Vermont. The Westport Boat Launch Site, located in the Hammond Pond Wild Forest, is the nearest location to launch on the lake and access the shoreline campsites on Split Rock Wild Forest.
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Visualizing General Burgoyne’s Army on Lake Champlain:
“His [General Burgoyne’s] whole army appeared in perfect regularity as to form the most complete and splendid regatta you can possibly conceive. It was a majestic sight, with the Indians in their birch canoes holding between twenty and thirty men each, followed by the gunboats, together with brigs and sloops.” –Historian Nicholas Westbrook
From the diary of camp doctor Julius Wasmus on the procedure and details of setting up camp:
“If we were to pitch our tents here, we would first have to clear a camping place in this immense and dense forest. The Fraser Corps had made a breastwork of big trees; they had set out from here this morning and taken their course toward Crown Point. They had driven off a detachment of Rebels from here whereby one Savage had been shot dead. The Savages had captured 6 Rebels and scalped all of them alive….” “There are again very many mosquitoes at this place and although having left Canada by now, we have not seen swallows as yet nor any other birds that live off insects. Orders were quickly issued to the army that no one should take his clothes off at night so that all may quickly appear at the front should there be any noise; for a detachment of 800 rebels is said to be in the wilderness here….
“At 3 o’clock, we had embarked and were rowing in good weather and calm waters for 6 miles along the right shore. We found the shore to consist of one solid rock, as it were, and so high that it was impossible to climb. Various kinds of trees and brush grew out of this rock and in about the middle of this precipice we saw an opening through the rock, called Split Rock, where 4 men abreast could march through.” –Julius Wasmus