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It is a well-known maxim of war, that the general who makes the fewest mistakes will come off conqueror.

In his haste to crush the Americans before they could combine against him, Burgoyne had overshot his mark. His troops were now so widely scattered that he could not stir until they were again collected. By the combats of Hubbardton and Fort Anne, nothing material had been gained, since St. Clair was at Fort Edward by the time Frazer got to Skenesborough, and the Americans had returned to Fort Anne as soon as the British left the neighborhood. 

After the battle of Hubbardton, Riedesel was posted at Castleton, in order to create the impression that the British army was moving into New England. By this bit of strategy, Burgoyne expected to keep back reinforcements from Schuyler. Riedesel's presence also gave much encouragement to the loyalists, who now joined Burgoyne in such numbers as to persuade him that a majority of the inhabitants were for the king. The information they gave, proved of vital consequence in determining Burgoyne's operations in the near future.

Two routes were now open to Burgoyne. Contrary to sound judgment, he decided on marching to Fort Edward, by way of Fort Anne, instead of going back to Ticonderoga, making that his dépôt, and proceeding thence up Lake George to Fort Edward and the Hudson. Unquestionably, the latter route would have taken him to Albany, by the time he actually reached Fort Edward, and in much better condition to fight.

Burgoyne had said he was afraid that going back to Ticonderoga would dispirit his soldiers. It could have been done in half the time required for bringing the supplies up to it at Skenesborough, to say nothing of the long and fatiguing marches saved by water carriage across Lake George.

Be that as it may, from the moment Burgoyne decided in favor of the Fort Anne route, that moment the possession of Fort Anne became a necessity to him. Had he first attacked it with fifteen hundred men, instead of five hundred, he would have taken it; but even if he had occupied it after the fight of the eighth, the Americans would have been prevented from blocking his way, as they subsequently did with so much effect. In Burgoyne's case, delays were most dangerous. It seems only too plain, that he was the sort of general who would rather commit two errors than retract one.

Let us see what Burgoyne's chosen route offered of advantage or disadvantage. The distance by it to Fort Edward is only twenty-six miles. By a good road, in easy marches, an army should be there in two days; in an exigency, in one. It was mostly a wilderness country, and, though generally level, much of it was a bog, which could only be made passable by laying down a corduroy road. There were miles of such road to be repaired or built before wagons or artillery could be dragged over it. Indeed, a worse country to march through can hardly be imagined. On the other hand, of this twenty-six miles, Wood Creek, a tributary of Lake Champlain, afforded boat navigation for nine or ten, or as far as Fort Anne, for the artillery, stores, and baggage.

 

Illustration: OLD FORT EDWARD. A, Magazine. B, Barracks. C, Storehouse. D, Hospital.
Illustration: OLD FORT EDWARD. A, Magazine. B, Barracks. C, Storehouse. D, Hospital.

 

But while Burgoyne was getting his scattered forces again in hand, and was bringing everything up the lake to Skenesborough, the garrison of Fort Edward had been spreading themselves out over the road he meant to take and were putting every obstacle in his way that ingenuity could devise or experience suggest. Hundreds of trees were felled across the road. The navigation of Wood Creek was similarly interrupted. Those trees growing on its banks were dexterously dropped so as to interlock their branches in mid-stream. Farms were deserted. All the live-stock was driven out of reach, to the end that the country itself might offer the most effectual resistance to Burgoyne's march.

Burgoyne could not move until his working parties had cleared the way, in whole or in part. From this cause alone, he was detained more than a week at Skenesborough. This delay was as precious to the Americans as it was vexatious to Burgoyne since it gave them time to bring up reinforcements, form magazines, and prepare for the approaching struggle, while the enemy's difficulties multiplied with every mile he advanced.

At length, the British army left Skenesborough. It took two days to reach Fort Anne, and five to arrive at Fort Edward, where it halted to allow the heavy artillery, sent by way of Lake George, to join it; give time to bring up its supplies of food and ammunition, without which the army was helpless to move farther on; and, meanwhile, permit the general to put in execution a scheme by which he expected to get a supply of cattle, horses, carts, and forage, of all of which he was in pressing want.

Still another body of savages joined Burgoyne at Fort Edward. Better for him had they staid in their native wilds, for he presently found himself equally powerless to control their thirst for blood or greed for plunder.

Not yet feeling himself strong enough to risk a battle, Schuyler decided to evacuate Fort Edward on the enemy's approach. He first called in to him the garrison at Fort George. Nixon's brigade, which had just been obstructing the road from Fort Anne, was also called back. All told, Schuyler now had only about four thousand men. With these, he fell back; first, to Moses's Creek, then to Saratoga, then to Stillwater.

FOOTNOTES:

[29] FORT EDWARD, a link in the chain of forts extending between Canada and the Hudson,--first called Fort Lyman, for Colonel Phineas Lyman, who built it in 1755,--stood at the elbow of the Hudson, where the river turns west, after approaching within sixteen miles of Lake George, to which point there was a good military road. The fort itself was only a redoubt of timber and earth, surrounded by a stockade, and having a casern, or barrack, inside, capable of accommodating two hundred soldiers. It was an important military position, because this was the old portage, or carrying-place, from the Hudson to Lake George, though the fort was no great matter.