Saratoga: "I was induced to open a Treaty with Major General Gates"

This is a drawing of a blank, open journal and a quill.

British General John Burgoyne wrote the following letter to Lord Germain, explaining what happened during the campaign which ended with the surrender of his British army at Saratoga on October 17, 1777.


Albany Octr. 20th 1777.

My Lord,

No possibility of communication with your Lordship having existed since the beginning of September at which time my last dispatches were sent away; I have to Report to your Lordship the Proceedings of the Army under my command from that Period, a Series of hard toil[,] incessant Effort[,] Stubborn Action 'till disabled in the Collateral Branches of the Army by the Total defection of the Indians; the Desertion or timidity of the Canadians and Provincials, some individuals excepted; disappointed in the last hope of any timely cooperation from other Armies[,] the Regular Troops reduced by losses from the best parts to three thousand five hundred Fighting men, not two thousand of which were British, only three Days Provisions upon Short allowance in Store, Invested by an Army of sixteen thousand Men, and no apparent means of retreat remaining; I called into Council all the Generals, Field officers, and Captains Commanding Corps: and by their unanimous concurrence and advice I was induced to open a Treaty with Major General Gates[.]

Your Lordship will see by the Papers transmitted herewith the disagreeable Prospect which Attended the first Overtures and when the Terms concluded are compared, I trust that the Spirit of the Councils I have mentioned, which under such circumstances dictated instead of Submitting will not be refused a Share of Credit.

Before I enter upon the detail of these Events I think it a duty of Justice my Lord to take upon myself the Measure of having Passed the Hudson River in Order to force a Passage to Albany[.] I did not think myself authorized to call any Men into Council when the Peremptory Tenor of my Orders and the Season of the Year Admitted no alternative—

Provisions for about thirty days having been brought forward[,] the other necessary Store prepar'd, and the Bridge of Boats completed, the Army Passed the Hudson's River on the 13th & 14th of September and encamped on the Heights & in the plain of Saratoga, the Enemy being then in the Neighborhood of Still Water—

[September 15-18 spent in marching, repairing bridges, and finding the Americans had arrived "in considerable force]

19th. The Passages of a Great Ravin [Ravine] & other roads towards the Enemy having been Reconnoitered, the Army Advanced. . . . 

The Signal Guns which had been Previously settled to give notice of all the Columns being ready to advance having been fired Between 1 and 2 o'Clock the March continued[.] [T]he Scouts and Flankers of the Column of the British Line were soon fir'd upon from small Parties but with no Effect, after about an hours March the Piquets [pickets] which made the Advanced Guard of that Column, were attacked in force, and obliged to give ground, but they soon Rallied and were Sustained.

On the first opening of the Wood I formed the Troops; a few Cannon that dislodg'd the Enemy at a House from whence the Piquets [pickets] had been attacked and Brigadier Genl. Frazer's Corps had arrived with such Precision in Point of time as to be form'd on a very Advantageous Height on the right of the British[.]

. . . . about 3 o'Clock the Action began by a very vigorous Attack on the British Line and continued with great obstinacy 'till after Sunset, the Enemy being Continually supplied with fresh Troops, the Stress lay upon the 20th, 21st &62nd Regiments most parts of which were engaged near four hours without intermission, the 9th had been Order'd early in the day to form in the reserve. The Grenadiers & 24th Regiments were some part of the time brot [brought] into Action as were part of the Light Infantry, and all these Corps charged with their usual Spirit. . . . 

Major Genl Phillips upon first hearing the firing found his way thro' a difficult part of the Wood to the Scene of Action and brot [brought] up with him Major Williams and four Pieces of Artillery and from that Moment I stood indebted to that Gallant and Judicious Second for incessant and most material Services, Particularly for restoring the Action in a Point which was critically pressed by a great superiority of Fire and to which he led up the 20th Regiment at the utmost personal hazard[.]

Major Genl. Reidesel exerted himself to bring up a part of the left Wing and Arrived in time to Charge the Enemy with regularity and Bravery[.] Just as the Light Closed the Enemy gave Ground on all sides and left us completely Masters of the Field of Battle with the loss of about five hundred men on their side and as supposed thrice that number Wounded[.]

The darkness prevented a pursuit the prisoners were few—

The behavior of the Officers & Men in General was Exemplary[.] Brigadier Genl Frazer took his Position in the beginning of the day with great Judgment and sustained the Action with constant presence of mind and Vigor. Brigr. Genl. Hamilton was the whole time engaged and Acquitted himself with great honor, activity and good conduct. The Artillery in general was distinguished and the Brigade under Capt. Jones who was Killed in Action was Conspicuously so.

The Army lay upon their Arms the night of the 19th and the next day took a Position nearly within Cannon Shot of the Enemy fortifying their Right and Extending their left so as to cover the Meadows through which the Great River [the Hudson] runs, and where their Batteaux and Hospital were placed. . . . 

It was soon found that no Fruits, honor excepted, were attained by the Preceding Victory, the Enemy working with redoubled Ardor to Strengthen their left, their Right was Unattackable already—

21st. A Messenger Arrived from Sir Henry Clinton with a Letter in Cyphers informing me of his intention to attack Fort Montgomery in about 10 Days from the date of his Letter, which was the Tenth Septr[.] [T]his was the only Messenger of many that I apprehend were dispatched by Sir William Howe and him that had reached my Camp since the beginning of August. He was sent back the same Night to inform Sir Henry of my Situation and of the necessity of a Diversion to oblige Genl. Gates to detach from his Army, and my intention to wait favorable Events in that Position if Possible to the 12th October. . . . 

3d Octr. I thought it advisable to diminish the Soldiers Rations in order to lengthen out the Provisions, to which measure the Army submitted with the utmost Cheerfulness. The difficulties of a Retreat to Canada were clearly foreseen as was the dilemma[,] shod [should] the Treat be effected[,] of leaving at Liberty such an Army as Genl. Gates to Act agt [against] Sir Wm Howe.

This consideration operated forcibly to determine me to abide Events as long as Possible, and I reasoned thus, the Expedition I commanded was Evidently meant at first to be hazarded [and] Circumstances might require it should be devoted; a critical Junction of Mr. Gates' force with Mr. Washington might Possibly decide the fate of the War: The failure of my Junction with Sir Henry Clinton, or the loss of my Retreat to Canada would only be a Partial Misfortune.

7th. In this Situation things continued 'till the 7th with no intelligence having been received of the expected Cooperation and four or five days of our Limited Stores in the Camp only remained, it was Judged advisable to make a movement to the Enemy's left, not only to discover Whether there were any Possible means of forcing a Passage, should it be necessary to advance, or of dislodging him for the Convenience of retreat, but also to Cover a Forage of the Army which was in the greatest distress of Account of the Scarcity—

A Detachment of Fifteen hundred Regular Troops with two 12 pounders[,] two Howitzers, and Six Six pounders were Ordered to move and was Commanded by myself. . . . 

The further Operations intended were Prevented by a very sudden and rapid Attack of the Enemy on our left where the British Grenadiers were Posted to support the left Wing of the line[,] Major Ackland at the head of them sustained the Attack with great resolution but the Enemys great numbers enabling them in a few Minutes to extend the attack along the front of the Germans[,] which were immediately on the right of the Grenadiers[,] no part of that Body could be removed to make a Second Line to the Flank where the Stress of the fire lay. . . . The Enemy pushed a fresh and Strong reinforcement to renew the Action upon the left, which overpowered by so great a Superiority it gave way, and the Light Infantry & 24th Regiment were obliged to make a quick Movement to save that Point from being entirely carried, in doing which Brigr. Genl. Fraser was mortally wounded—

The Danger to which the Lines were Exposed becoming at this Moment of the most Serious nature, Orders were given to Major Genl Phillips and Reidesel to cover the Retreat while such Troops as were most ready for the purpose returned for the defense of them, the Troops retreated hard Pressed but in good Order, They were obliged to leave Six Pieces of Cannon all the Horses having been killed and most of the Artillery Men who had behav'd as usual with the utmost Bravery under the Command of Major Williams being either killed or wounded—

The Troops had Scarcely entered the Camp when it was Storm'd with great fury, the Enemy rushing to the Lines under a Severe fire of Grape Shot and Small Arms, the Post of the Light Infantry under Lord Balcarres, Assisted by some of the Line who threw themselves by Order into those Intrenchments, was defended with great Spirit and the Enemy led on by Genl. Arnold was finally repulsed and the Genl. wounded, but unhappily the Intrenchments of the German reserve Commanded by Lieutn. Col. Breymann who was killed were carried, and altho' Ordered to be Recovered they never were so, and the Enemy by that Misfortune Gain'd an opening on Our Right & Rear. The Night put an End to the Action.

Under the disadvantages thus Apparent in our Situation the Army was Ordered to quit the present Position during the Night and take Post upon the Heights above the Hospital. Thus by an entire Change of Front to reduce the Enemy to form a new disposition. This Movement was Effected with Great Order & without Loss. . . . 

8th. Intelligence was now Received that the Enemy were Marching to turn the right, and no means could prevent that Measure but retiring towards Saratoga, and the Army began to Move at 9 O'Clock at Night. . . .

11th. . . . The Possible means of further Retreat were no considered in Councils of War, Compos'd of the General Officers, minutes of which will be transmitted to your Lordship. . . . 

The Bulk of the Enemy Army was Hourly Joined by new Corps of Militia & Volunteers & their Numbers amounted to Sixteen thousand Men[.] Their Position, which extended three parts in four of a Circle Round us, was from the nature of the Ground, unattackable on all parts—

In this situation the Army took the best Position Possible and fortified waiting 'till the 13th at Night in the Anxious hope of Succor from our Friends or the next desirable expectation, an Attack from our Enemies—

During this time the Men lay continually upon their Arms and were Cannonaded in every part; Even Rifle Shot and Grape shot came into all parts of the Line tho' without any considerable Effect—

At this Period an Exact Account of the Provisions was taken & the circumstances stated in the opening of this Letter became Complete[.]

The Council of War was extended to all the Field Officers & Captains commanding Corps of the Army, and the Convention inclosed herewith ensued[,], a Transaction which I am sure was unavoidable; and which I trust in that Situation will be esteem'd honorable[.]

After the Execution of the Treaty Genl. Gates drew together the Force that had surrounded my Position, and I had the Consolation to have many witness as I have Men under my Command of its amounting to the Numbers mentioned above. . . . 

It depends upon the Sentence his Majesty shall pass upon my Conduct upon the Judgement of my profession, and of the Impartial and respectable parts of my Country, whether I am to esteem them Blessings or Misfortunes—

I have the honor to be with the greatest respect

Yr Lordships Most Obedt & Most Humble Servt

J. Burgoyne


Burgoyne and the Saratoga Campaign, His Papers edited by Douglas R. Cubbison

Related Battles

New York | September 19, 1777
Result: American Victory
Estimated Casualties