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 Not doubting he would find Skenesborough still in our possession, St. Clair was pushing for that place with all possible speed. He expected to get there by land before the enemy could do so by water; then, after gathering up the men and stores saved from Ticonderoga, St. Clair meant to fall back toward Fort Edward, where General Schuyler,[22] his superior officer, lay with two thousand men.

This was plainly St Clair's true course. Indeed, there was nothing else for him to do, unless he decided to abandon the direct route to Albany altogether. So St. Clair did what a good general should. He resolved to throw himself between Burgoyne and Schuyler, whose force, joined to his own, would thus be able, even if not strong enough to risk a battle, at least to keep up a bold front toward the enemy.

Though Burgoyne really knew nothing about Schuyler's force, he was keenly alive to the importance of cutting off the garrison of Ticonderoga from its line of retreat, and, if possible, of striking it a disabling blow before it could take up a new position. St. Clair counted on stealing a march before his retreat could be interfered with. He also depended on the strength of the obstructions at the bridge[23] of Ticonderoga to delay the enemy's fleet until his own could get safely to Skenesborough. In both expectations, St. Clair was disappointed.

In the first place, Burgoyne had sent Frazer out in pursuit of him, as soon as the evacuation was discovered; in the second, Burgoyne's gunboats had hewed their way through the obstructions by nine in the morning and were presently crowding all sail after the American flotilla, under command of Burgoyne himself.

Riedesel's camp, we remember, lay on the Vermont side, and so nearest to Mount Independence, and St. Clair's line of retreat. Burgoyne, therefore, ordered Riedesel to fall in behind Frazer, who had just marched, and give that officer any support he might be in want of.

Thus, most of the hostile forces were in active movement, either by land or water, at an early hour of the sixth. Let us first follow Frazer, in his effort to strike the American rear.

Frazer had with him eight hundred and fifty men of his own corps. He pushed on so eagerly that the slow-moving Germans were far in the rear when the British halted for the night, near Hubbardton. The day had been sultry, the march fatiguing. Frazer's men threw themselves on the ground and slept on their arms.

St. Clair had reached Hubbardton the same afternoon, in great disorder. He halted only long enough for the rearguard to come up, and then hastened on, six miles farther, to Castleton, leaving Warner,[24] with three regiments, to cover his retreat. Instead of keeping within supporting distance of the main body, Warner foolishly decided to halt for the night where he was, because his men were tired, thus putting a gap of six miles between his commander and himself.

Warner did not neglect, however, to fell some trees in front of his camp, and this simple precaution, perhaps, proved the salvation of his command the next day.

At five in the morning, Frazer's scouts fell upon Warner's pickets while they were cooking their breakfasts, unsuspicious of danger. The surprise was complete. With their usual dash, Frazer's men rushed on to the assault, but soon found themselves entangled among the felled trees and brushwood, behind which the Americans were hurriedly endeavoring to form. At the moment of attack, one regiment made a shameful retreat. The rest were rallied by Warner and Francis,[25] behind trees, in copses, or wherever a vantage-ground could be had. As the combat took place in the woods, the British were forced to adopt the same tactics. Musket and rifle were soon doing deadly work in their ranks, every foot of ground was obstinately disputed, and when they thought the battle already won they found the Americans had only just begun to fight.

For three hours, eight hundred men maintained a gallant and stubborn fight against the picked soldiers of Burgoyne's army, each side being repeatedly driven from its ground without gaining a decided advantage over the other. Nor would Frazer have gained the day, as he at length did, but for the timely arrival of the Germans. Indeed, at the moment when the British were really beaten and ready to give way, the sound of many voices, singing aloud, rose above the din of battle, and near at hand. At first, neither of the combatants knew what such strange sounds could mean. It was Riedesel's Germans advancing to the attack, chanting battle hymns to the fierce refrain of the musketry and the loud shouts of the combatants. Fifty fresh men would have turned the scale to either side. This reinforcement, therefore, decided the day. Being now greatly outnumbered, the Americans scattered in the woods around them.

Although a defeat, this spirited little battle was in every way honorable to the Americans, who fought on until all hope of relief had vanished. A single company would have turned defeat into victory, when to the British, defeat in the woods, thirty miles from help, meant destruction. Even as it was, they did not know what to do with the victory they had just won, with the loss of two hundred men, killed and wounded, seventeen of whom were officers. They had neither shelter nor medicines for the wounded, nor provisions for themselves. The battle had exhausted their ammunition, and every moment was expected to bring another swarm of foes about their ears.

The Americans had three hundred men killed and wounded, and many taken. The brave Colonel Francis, who had so admirably conducted the retreat from Ticonderoga, was killed while rallying his men. Seldom has a battle shown more determined obstinacy in the combatants, seldom has one been more bloody for the numbers engaged.

 

Illustration: ST. CLAIR'S RETREAT--BURGOYNE'S ADVANCE ON FORT EDWARD
Illustration: ST. CLAIR'S RETREAT--BURGOYNE'S ADVANCE ON FORT EDWARD

 

While Frazer was thus driving St. Clair's rearguard before him on the left, the British were giving chase to the American flotilla on the lake. This had hardly reached Skenesborough, encumbered with the sick, the baggage, and the stores, when the British gunboats came up with and furiously attacked, it. Our vessels could not be cleared for action or make effective resistance. After making what defense they could, they were abandoned and blown up by their crews. Skenesborough was then set on fire, the Americans making good their retreat to Fort Anne,[26] with the loss of all their stores.

St. Clair heard of Warner's defeat and of the taking of Skenesborough almost at the same hour. His first plan had wholly miscarried. His soldiers were angry and insubordinate, half his available force had been scattered at Hubbardton, his supplies were gone, his line of retreat in the enemy's hands. Finding himself thus cut off from the direct route to Fort Edward, he now marched to join Schuyler by way of Rutland, Manchester, and Bennington. This he succeeded in doing on the twelfth, with about half the men he had led from Ticonderoga. Warner, too, brought off the shattered remnant of his command to Bennington.

On his part, Schuyler had promptly sent reinforcement to Fort Anne, to protect St. Clair's retreat, as soon as he knew of it. These troops soon found other work on their hands than that cut out for them.

Burgoyne was determined to give the Americans no time either to rally or again unite their scattered bands in his front. Without delay, one regiment was pushed forward to Fort Anne, on the heels of the fugitives who had just left Skenesborough in flames. When this battalion reached the fort, instead of waiting to be attacked, the Americans sallied out upon it with spirit and were driving it before them in full retreat, when the yells of some Indians, who were lurking in the neighboring woods, spread such a panic among the victors that they gave up the fight, set fire to Fort Anne, and retreated to Fort Edward with no enemy pursuing them. The defeated British then fell back to Skenesborough, so that each detachment may be said to have run away from the other.

General Burgoyne had much reason to be elated with his success thus far. In one short week he had taken Ticonderoga, with more than one hundred cannon; had scattered the garrison right and left; had captured or destroyed a prodigious quantity of warlike stores, the loss of which distressed the Americans long after; had annihilated their naval armament on the lake, and had sown dismay among the neighboring colonies broadcast. It was even a question of whether there was any longer a force in his front capable of offering the least resistance to his march.

Illustration: BLOCK HOUSE, FORT ANNE
Illustration: BLOCK HOUSE, FORT ANNE

 

With these exploits, the first stage of the invasion may be said to have ended. If ever a man had been favored by fortune, Burgoyne was that man. The next stage must show him in a very different light, like the fool of fortune, whose favors he neither knew how to deserve when offered him, nor how to compel when withheld.

FOOTNOTES:

[22] GENERAL PHILIP SCHUYLER, one of the four major generals first created by Congress, June 1775. Had seen some service in the French War; was given command of the Northern Department, including Ticonderoga, Crown Point, Fort Stanwix, etc., February 1777, as the one man who could unite the people of New York against the enemy. Gates declined to serve under him.

[23] OBSTRUCTIONS AT THE BRIDGE. The Americans had stretched a boom of logs, strongly chained together, across the strait.

[24] SETH WARNER was on the way to Ticonderoga when he met St. Clair retreating. The rearguard, which Colonel Francis had previously commanded, was then increased, and put under Warner's orders.

[25] COLONEL EBENEZER FRANCIS of Newton, Mass., colonel, 11th Massachusetts Regiment. His bravery was so conspicuous that the British thought he was in chief command of the Americans.

[26] FORT ANNE, one of the minor posts built during the French War to protect the route from Albany to Lake Champlain. It consisted of a log blockhouse surrounded by a palisade. Boat navigation of Lake Champlain began here, fourteen miles from Skenesborough, by Wood Creek flowing into it.