Saratoga

“we got orders to go to Virginia”

Members of the Convention Army——British and Hessian troops surrendered by General John Burgoyne after the battle of Saratoga in 1777——became prisoners of war after Britain and the Continental Congress failed to reach an agreement which would have allowed the troops to return to England.(See previous post.) According to the prevailing conventions of warfare, prisoners of war were supposed to be provisioned by their own country, but this rule was often ignored or impracticable.

There were three ways for prisoners to gain some or all of their freedom: exchange, parole, and desertion. Only high ranking officers were candidates for exchange and this was negotiated by the Continental Congress. States and local governments could grant parole on an individual basis; parole allowed soldiers limited freedom contingent on their promise not to engage in fighting. Because it was hard to provide for POWs, they were often paroled to farmers to help till the soil and also to provide their own food. Some prisoners with their own funds or money sent by relatives could purchase extra food and other supplies. Quite a few prisoners would desert. With the British failing to send supplies for the prisoners, it fell to the states and local communities to provide them with food and shelter (even in some private homes), and to local militias to guard them. When a state reached the limit of its ability to care for prisoners the Continental Congress ordered them moved to another state.

One of the most interesting diaries of the Revolutionary War era is that of BARONESS FREDERIKA VON RIEDESEL. Her husband, Major General Friedrich von Riedesel, was an officer in charge of a contingent of Brunswickers recruited by the English to fight in America. He became the commander of all the Hessians (and Indians) in the Saratoga campaign. Seventy-seven wives had accompanied the Brunswicker soldiers including some wives of officers. Among them was Frederika who traveled from the Continent with three children, the youngest of whom was still a babe in arms, to join her husband in Canada. After the defeat at Saratoga she accompanied the Convention Army to Boston. She describes her arrival there.

We finally reached Boston, and our troops were quartered in barracks not far away, on Winter Hill. We were put up at a farmer’s house, where we were given only one room in the attic. My maids slept on the floor, and the men in the hall. Some straw on which I had spread our bedding was all we had for a long while on which to sleep . . . .

We stayed in this place three weeks before we were then taken to Cambridge, where we were put up in one of the most beautiful houses, previously the property of royalists [loyalists]. [On Brattle Street which was called “Tory Row” because of the number of loyalists who resided there.] . . . .

We lived in Cambridge quite happily and would have liked to stay there as long as our troops were held prisoners, but as the winter drew near, we got orders to go to Virginia.

In January and February of 1779, during a hard winter, the troops and their followers, on low rations, were marched to Charlottesville, Virginia. Baron von Riedesel secured a carriage for his family but made the trip with his troops. The Baroness recounted experiences on the journey and upon her family’s arrival in Virginia.

Before crossing the Blue Ridge Mountains we had to make another week’s halt in order to give our troops a chance to reassemble. Meanwhile there had been so much snow that four of our men had to ride ahead of my carriage and make a path for us. We passed through picturesque country, but so rough and wild that it was frightening. Often our lives were in danger when we passed over breakneck roads, and we suffered terribly from the cold and, what was even worse, from lack of food. When we arrived in Virginia and had only another day to go before reaching our destination, we had nothing left but tea and some bread and butter, nor could we get anything else. One of the natives gave me a handful of dried fruit. At noon we arrived at a house where I asked for some food, but it was refused harshly with the remark that the people had nothing to give to the royalist dogs. I saw some Turkish flour [Indian meal] and begged for a couple of handfuls so that I could mix it with water and make some bread. The woman replied, “No, that is for our Negroes who work for us; you, however, wanted to kill us.”

Our destination was called Colle, in Virginia, where my husband had gone on ahead with the troops and now awaited us with impatience and longing. We arrived there in the middle of February 1779, having gone from Boston through the provinces of Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, traveling 678 English miles, in about twelve weeks. . . . The troops were in Charlottesville, two hours away. One had to go through a beautiful forest to get to them. At first they were very uncomfortable there. They had log cabins, but these were not plastered, and they lacked doors and windows so they suffered terribly from the cold. They worked very hard to build better houses . . . and in a short time the place became a pretty town. Each of the barracks had a garden in the back and a nice little fenced in yard for poultry . . . . We had a large house built with a big room in the center and two smaller rooms on each side, which cost my husband a hundred guineas. . . . A number of Negroes brought us everything they had in the way of poultry and vegetables . . . . In the summer we suffered terribly from the heat and lived in constant fear of rattlesnakes, and the fruit was completely ruined by three sorts of insects. We had heavy thunderstorms, sometime five or six a day, and the wind was so terrific that a hundred trees or more were uprooted. . . . We had no chairs at all, only treestumps on which to sit, and these were also used for tables by laying boards across them. . . . My husband was always sad, and, what was more, he could not stand the heat at all, which went as high as 103 degrees and was most oppressive.

More about the von Riedesels and the Convention Army in the next post.

Marvin L. Brown, Jr. A Revised Translation and Introduction and Notes, Baroness von Riedesel and the American Revolution: Journal and Correspondence of a Tour of Duty 1776-1783 (Chapel Hill, NC: University of NC Press, 1965), pp. 68, 69, 72, 79, 80, 82-83. The portrait of the Baroness is by Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein in 1829. The illustration is a framed 1789 engraving, “Encampment of the Convention Army at Charlottesville, ACHS 1848, Special Collections, University of Virginia Library, Charlottesville, Va. Other posts on Baroness von Riedesel can be found HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE.

“The Doctor proposes to Inoculate our little Fellow”

SUSAN LIVINGSTON (1748-1840) was the oldest daughter of William Livingston and Susannah French. (The couple had thirteen children.) Her father was the governor of New Jersey, a member of the Continental Congresses, and a brigadier general in the New Jersey militia. Susan, her younger sisters, Sarah and Catharine (Kitty), known as “the three graces,” were very popular. Sarah became the wife of John Jay in 1774. The Livingstons often had the care of Peter Augustus, the couple’s son, during the war. Susan wrote her sister Sarah on November 1, 1777 in care of John Jay who was in Kent, Connecticut at the time. The letter contains details of the military activity in the area and around Philadelphia as well as family news. (The Livingston home, Liberty Hall in Elizabethtown, was looted and damaged during the Revolution by both sides.)

Dearly beloved Sarah
I am in expectation of the arrival of the Post every moment, he usually comes in on Friday Evening, and returns next Morning as he goes no further than Morris Town. . . . I do not know where to direct to you; we are afraid Mr. Jay has lost all his Clothes that were at Kingston. Mama says if your warm Petticoat is lost, she can spare you one, rather than you should suffer for want of it.

Papa has been home since Sunday Evening, the Accounts he brought are old now, and not worth writing, on the 23d Inst. 5 or 6 Men of War, warped through an opening they had made in the lower Cheveaux de Frieze*, and came up to attack our Fort and Ships and Gallies but they found the Navigation so difficult, that they set Fire to the Augusta of 64 and the Apollo of 32 Guns, and the rest made the best of their way back again. A few days before 2500 of the Enemy (most of them Hessians) under the command of Count Donolp. attacked Fort Mercer or Red Bank, and were soon obliged to retreat in a most shameful and confused manner, leaving behind them killed and wounded 1500. The Count is a Prisoner—they also left 12 pieces of Artillery.

The 22nd our Troops attempted a stroke upon a detachment of six Regiments lying at Grays Ferry [near Philadelphia] where they had thrown a Bridge over the River. They marched all night and reached the Ground about Sunrise, but the Birds were flown, they had suddenly the preceding night deserted the Post, left all their works unfinished and broke up the Bridge. To day Sen’night there was a very warm Engagement, but reports respecting it are so vague, and contradictory, I cannot pretend to give you any account of it.

The Articles of Capitulation that appeared in Loudons last Paper are not relished this way, neither by Whigs, nor Tories, the latter say if Mr. Burgoyne was in a Situation to obtain such Terms he ought to have fought, the Former say if Burgoyne was obliged to surrender at all, Gates might have brought him to what Terms he pleased, so that it looks as if the two Generals wished to avoid fighting. The troops will go home and Garrison the Forts abroad, and let those Garrisons come to America—so it will be only an exchange of Men.

The Doctor proposes to Inoculate our little Fellow next week. He is now a fit subject for it, his blood is well purified, he has pretended to inoculate him often, so he will not be afraid of it. You know old Woodruff, that carts for us, his Son that lived next door to Dr. Darby, died a few days ago of the Small pox the natural way, and now his Widow and Child have it, the old Man has never had it, he stayed in the same House with his Son till a day or two before he expired, they are not entitled to much pity, for they say the Avarice of the old Man prevented their being inoculated. The Child will perish with it, it is thought.

. . . . Our house is a Barrack there was a whole Artillery Company in it, so I expect every thing will be destroyed.

We have not heard from B[rockhol]st [her brother]** since the last action to the Northward. (I have no doubt but his Letters have miscarried) but Mama has allmost persuaded herself he is among the Slain, and if there was any mourning to be purchased, I do not know but she would exhibit a dismal Spectacle of bombazeen and crepe. . . .

We had the Taylor here (that you engaged) these three weeks, which has kept Kitty tightly employed. She is his Journey-woman. Mr. Jay’s green suit is turned. Papa has brought home a Cargo of broken things, so that we have not eat the bread of Idleness since you left us. . . .

I think this scrawl as it is . . . entitles me to a few Lines from your fair hand. This I submit to you and whether you write or not, I am yours most Affectionately.

* An object of timber and spikes placed in a river to rip the hulls of vessels attempting to pass
** Brockholst was a lieutenant colonel and an aide-de-camp to General St. Clair in 1776 and 1777.

Susan makes reference to the battle of Saratoga which the Americans under General Horatio Gates won over the British and Hessian forces under General John Burgoyne. The Articles of Capitulation were very generous allowing what was called the Convention Army to to return to Britain on the condition that they not serve again in America. Both Gates and Burgoyne were criticized as Susan notes. Can you imagine a man, especially a buttoned-up one like John Jay, wearing a green suit!!

Source: John Jay: The Making of a Revolutionary, 1745-1780, edited by Richard. B Morris (New York: Harper & Row, 1975), 445-47.

posted October 28th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Burgoyne, Gerneral John,Clothes,Gates, General Horatio,Hessians,Inoculation,Jay, John,Jay, Peter Augustus,Jay, Sarah Livingston,Livingston, Brockholst,Livingston, Catharine "Kitty",New Jersey,Philadelphia,Saratoga,Smallpox,Symmes, Susan Livingston

“such a great quantity of snow fell”

Outside the window next to my computer I see that snow is falling, along with the temperatures, yet again. Fie on the polar vortex. Yet it puts me in mind of Valley Forge and the suffering of the Americans there in the cold winter of 1777-78. And of other examples of severe winter weather described by women, some in our book and others I have since come upon. It seems appropriate to present a few.

In 1777, Frederika von Riedesel, with their three children, had joined her husband in Canada where he commanded the German mercenaries hired by the British. General von Riedesel pushed south into New York with British General John Burgoyne and his troops in an attempt to cut off New England from the other colonies. Frederika, who was with him, witnessed the decisive defeat of their combined forces by the Americans at Saratoga on October 17, 1777. The British and Hessian troops were marched to Boston, where the Von Riedesels were put up in a house in Cambridge. In the following year as winter approached, Congress decided to move the prisoners to Virginia where their maintenance would be less costly. The Baroness and her children traveled by carriage while her husband made the journey with his troops. Frederika described what the family had to contend with.

Before we passed the so-called Blue mountains, we were forced to make a still further halt of eight days, that our troops might have time to collect together again. In the mean time such a great quantity of snow fell, that four of our servants were obliged to go before my wagon on horseback, in order to make a path for it. We passed through a picturesque portion of the country, which, however, by reason of its wilderness, inspired us with terror. Often we were in danger of our lives while going along these break-neck roads; and more than all this we suffered from cold, and what was still worse, from a lack of provisions. When we arrived in Virginia, and were only a day’s journey from the place of our destination, we had actually nothing more remaining but our tea, and none of us could obtain any thing but bread and butter. A countryman, whom we met on the way, gave me only a hand full of acrid fruits. At noon we came to a dwelling where I begged for something to eat. They refused me with hard words, saying that there was nothing for dogs of Royalists. Seeing some Turkish [Indian] meal lying around, I begged for a couple of hands full, that I might mix it with water, and make bread. The woman answered me “No, that is for our negroes, who work for us, but you have wished to kill us.”

. . . The place of our destination was Colle in Virginia, where my husband, who had gone ahead with our troops, awaited us with impatient longing. We arrived here about the middle of February, 1779, having, on our journey, passed through the provinces of Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland, and having traveled in twelve weeks, six hundred and seventy-eight English miles. . . .

The passages from the Baroness’s journal appear on pages 268-69 of In the Words of Women.

posted January 30th, 2014 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: British soldiers,Camp followers,Canada,Hessians,New York,Prisoners,Saratoga,Travel,Weather

“We … had this sad sight before us the whole day”

Mercenaries from the small states of what is now Germany were hired by the British to supplement their forces. They too had camp followers. Madame Fredericka von Riedesel, with their three children, joined her husband who was a general in Burgoyne’s army. With her were also a maid, a cook, and an old servant of the family. As fighting intensified prior to the British surrender at Saratoga, she witnessed firsthand the casualties of war. In her journal she described what happened on October 7, 1777.

I had just sat down with my husband at his quarters to breakfast. General Fraser, and … Generals Burgoyne and Phillips … were to have dined with me on that same day. …

About three o’clock in the afternoon, in place of the guests who were to have dined with me, they brought in to me, upon a litter, poor General Fraser … mortally wounded. Our dining table, which was already spread, was taken away, and in its place they fixed up a bed for the general. I sat in the corner of the room trembling and quaking. The noises grew constantly louder. … The general said to the surgeon, “Do not conceal any thing from me. “Must I die?” The ball had gone through his bowels … Unfortunately … the general had eaten a hearty breakfast, by reason of which the intestines were distended, and the ball … had not gone … between the intestines, but through them. I heard him often, amidst his groans, exclaim,”O, fatal ambition! Poor General Burgoyne! My poor wife!” Prayers were read to him. He then sent a message to General Burgoyne, begging that he would have him buried the following day at six o”clock in the evening on the top of a hill, which was a sort of redoubt. …

Early in the morning … he expired. After they had washed the corpse, they wrapped it in a sheet, and laid it on a bedstead. We then came into the room, and had this sad sight before us the whole day. … We learned that General Burgoyne intended to fulfill the last wish of General Fraser. … Precisely at six o’clock the corpse was brought out, and we saw the entire body of generals with their retinues on the hill assisting at the obsequies. The English chaplain, Mr. Brudenel, performed the funeral services. The canonballs flew continually around and over the party.
The American general Gates, afterward said, that if he had known that it was a burial he would not have allowed any firing in that direction. … The order had gone forth that the army should break up after the burial, and the horses were already harnessed to our calaches. … we drove off at eight o’clock in the evening.

Narrative from In the Words of Women pages 82-83. Illustrations: View of the West Bank of the Hudson by Thomas Anbury, 1789 and Burial of General Fraser after John Graham.

posted November 19th, 2012 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: British soldiers,Camp followers,Death,Hessians,Saratoga

“they … saluted us with a cannon ball”

Thousands of women traveled with the armies during the Revolution: American, British, and Hessian. Called “camp followers,” they served as cooks, laundresses, seamstresses, and nurses. Some were wives—of officers or common soldiers. Others offered themselves as sexual partners, but most were women who hoped to obtain something to eat and earn a few pennies. In fact, in recognition of the useful services they provided many were “officially attached” and entitled to rations. With General John Burgoyne’s army moving south from Canada in 1777, there were between 1,000 and 2,000 women and children. Elizabeth Munro Fisher, wife of a Loyalist, described camp life near Saratoga.

We were deprived of all comforts of life, and did not dare to kindle fire for fear we should be observed from the other side of the river [where the Americans were], and they might fire on us, which they did several times. Being about the middle of October, we suffered cold and hunger; many a day I had nothing but a piece of raw salt pork, a biscuit, and a drink of water. … One day, wearied of living in this manner, I told some of the soldier’s wives if they would join me, I would find out a way to get some provisions cooked—seven of them joined me. I spoke to some of the soldiers that were invalid, and told them if they would make up a fire back in the wood, and get a large kettle hung on, we would fill it with provision, and cook it. … They consented to do it for a guinea; they went to work and built up a fire, hung on a kettle, and put water in it, then we women put in what we pleased; we soon filled it with a variety; it began to boil; we all kept our distance from the fire for fear of the cannon that were placed on the other side of the river on a high hill; they soon discovered our fire, and saluted us with a cannon ball; it struck and broke our kettle to pieces, and sent the provision in the air. We met with no hurt only losing our intended feast. …

posted November 15th, 2012 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Camp followers,Saratoga

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