Saratoga: "The royal army continued their retreat"

This is a sketch of three soldiers operating a cannon.

Samuel Woodruff (1760-1850) served with several American militia units at different times during the Revolutionary War. His significant battle experience occurred during the Battle of Bemis Heights on October 7, 1777 during the fighting near Saratoga. The following account is an excerpt from Woodruff's pension application, prepared in 1832.

This applicant further declares that on or about the tenth day of August, 1777, he was enrolled as a volunteer soldier in a military company under the command of said Capt. Asa Bray at said Southington and marched with the through Albany to Saratoga, where on or about the twentieth day of October, three days after the surrender of General Burgoyne with his army, our company was disbanded, and he returned home about the first or second day of November following. He would further state that while in this service at Saratoga he was engaged in the battle fought by the hostile armies on the seventh of October, the following particulars of which, together with many others which might be related he distinctly remembers: viz., that about eleven o'clock  in the forenoon of that day, the British troops advanced under the command of General Fraser, who led up the grenadiers, drove in our pickets and advanced guards, and made several unsuccessful charges with fixed bayonets upon the line of the Continental troops at the American redoubts on Bemis Heights, near the headquarters of General Gates. But meeting repulse at this point of attack, the grenadiers commenced a slow but orderly retreat, still keeping up a brisk fire. After falling back two or three hundred yards, this part of the hostile army met and joined with the main body of the royal troops commanded by Lord Balcarres and General Riedesel. Here, on a level piece of ground of considerable extent called Freeman's Farms, thinly covered with yellow pines, the royal army formed an extensive line with the principal part of their artillery in front. By this time the American line was formed, consisting of Continentals, state troops, and militia. The fire immediately became general through the line with renewed spirit, and nearly the whole force on both sides was brought into action. General Fraser, mounted on a gray horse a little to the right of their center and greatly distinguished himself by his activity, received a rifle shot through his body (supposed to be from one of Colonel Morgan's sharpshooters), of which he died the next morning at eight o'clock at the Smith house, then the headquarters of General Burgoyne. Soon after this occurence, the British grenadiers began reluctantly to give ground, and their whole line, within a few minutes, appeared broken. Still, they kept up a respectable fire, both of artillery and musketry.

At about this stage in the action, General Arnold, while galloping up and down our line upon a small brown horse which he had that day borrowed of his friend Leonard Chester of Wethersfield, received a musket ball which broke his leg and killed the horse under him. He was at that moment about forty yards distant from this applicant and in fair view. Isaac Newell of said Southington, since deceased, and one or two other assisted this applicant to extricate Arnold from his fallen horse, placed him on a litter, and sent him back to the headquarters of General Gates.

A regiment of royal grenadiers, with the brave Major Ackland at their head, in conducting the retreat came to a small cultivated field enclosed by a fence. Here they halted, formed, and made a stand, apparently determined to retrieve what they had lost by their repulse at the redoubts in the commencement of the action. They placed in their center and at each flank a strong bttery of brass field pieces. The carnage became frightful, but the conflict was of short duration. Their gallant major received a musket ball through both legs, which placed him hors de combat. Retreat immediately ensued, leaving their killed and some of their wounded with two brass fieldpieces on the ground. Ackland, leaning upon a stump of a trree in the corner of the fence, was made prisoner by Adjutant General Wilkinson and his servant, who who were passing by. They dismounted from their horses and, placing the major on the servant's horse, sent him to general Gates's headquarters to have his wounds dressed.

The retreat, pursuit, and firing continued till eight o'clock. It was then dark. The royal army continued their retreat about a mile further and there bivouacked for the night. Ours returned to camp, where we arrived between nine and ten o'clock in the evening. About two hundred of our wounded men, during the afternoon, and by that time in the evening, were brought from the field of battle in wagons, and for want of tents, sheds, or any kind of buildings to receive and cover them, were placed in a circular row on the naked ground. It was a clear, but cold and frosty, night. The sufferings of the wounded were extreme, having neither beds under them nor any kind of bed clothing to cover them. Several surgeons were busily employed during the night extracting bullets and performing other surgical operations. This applicant, though greatly fatigued by the exercise of the day, felt no inclination to sleep, but with several others spent the whole night carrying water and administering what other comforts were in our power to the sufferers, about seventy of whom died of their wounds during the night.

The next day, this applicant was detached from our company to assist others detached from other companies in burying the dead remaining on the field of battle. This was a sad and laborious day's work. On the cleared field already mentioned and within the compass of a quarter of an acre of ground we found and assisted to bury between twenty and thirty dead bodies of the royal grenadiers. The brigade in which this term of service was performed was commanded by Gen. Oliver Wolcott of Litchfield, former governor of Connecticut.

Source

"Samuel Woodruff's Pension Narrative", published in The Revolution Remembered: Eyewitness Accounts of the War for Independence, edited by John C. Dann (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1980), pages 100-104.

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Related Battles

New York | September 19, 1777
Result: American Victory
Estimated Casualties
1,465
American
330
British
1,135