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On the 9th of August, Frazer's corps moved down to Duer's house, seven miles from Fort Edward, and seven from Saratoga. This was done to cover the expedition Burgoyne had planned; first, to confirm the belief that he was about to fall on New England, and, next, for supplying his army with horses, cattle, carts, provisions, forage--everything, in short, of which he stood in want. Both objects would be gained at once since fear of the first would make easy the second. 

Burgoyne ached to strike a blow at New England. The successes he had just met with tempted him on toward his wishes; yet he dared not go too far, because the king's orders forbade his turning aside from his main object, to march into New England, as he himself had asked for discretionary power to do when laying his plan before the ministers. Still, as New England was to be the final object of the campaign, Burgoyne was impatient to set about humbling her in good earnest. Events were working so favorably for him, that he now saw his chance to go at least halfway toward his desires. So the expedition to Bennington was certainly far from being the effect of any sudden decision on Burgoyne's part, or wholly due to the pressing want of supplies. It would, we think, have been undertaken in any event.

On the other hand, the victualling of his army was the one obstacle to Burgoyne's advance to Albany. So long as every pound of bread and meat had to be brought from Quebec to Skenesborough, and from Skenesborough to his camp, the farther the army marched, the greater the difficulty of feeding it became. It was now living from hand to mouth, so to speak. Nobody but Tories would sell it a pound of beef or an ear of corn. What gold could not buy, Burgoyne determined to take by force. If enough could be gleaned, in this way, from the country round, he could march on; if not, he must halt where he was until sufficient could be brought up over a road every day growing longer and more dangerous. Burgoyne would never submit to the last alternative without trying the first.

For the moment then, the problem, how to feed his army so as to put it in motion with the least possible delay, was all-important with General Burgoyne. The oldest, and most populous, of the Vermont settlements lay within striking distance on his left. He knew that rebel flour was stored in Bennington. He had been told that half the farmers were loyal at heart and that the other half would never wait for the coming of British veterans. Burgoyne was puffed up with the notion that he was going to conjure the demon of rebellion with the magic of his name. Already he saw himself not only a conqueror but a lawgiver to the conquered. On the whole, the plan seemed easy of accomplishment. Burgoyne was like a man starving in the midst of plenty. Supplies he must have. If they could be wrung from the enemy, so much the better.

An expedition chiefly designed to rob barnyards, corn cribs, and henroosts promised little glory to those engaged in it. This may have been the reason why Burgoyne chose to employ his Germans, who were always excellent foragers, rather than his British soldiers. Perhaps he thought the Germans would inspire most fear. Be that as it may, never did a general make a more costly mistake.[30]

The command was given to Colonel Baum, who, with about a thousand Germans, Indians, Canadians, and refugee loyalists, started out from camp on his maraud, on the eleventh, halted at Batten-Kill on the twelfth, and reached Cambridge on the thirteenth. He was furnished with Tory guides, who knew the country well, and with instructions looking to a long absence from the army.

Burgoyne then began maneuvering so as to mask Baum's movements from Schuyler.

Frazer was marched down to Batten-Kill, with his own and Breyman's corps. Leaving Breyman here to support either Baum or himself, in case of need, Frazer crossed the Hudson on the fourteenth and encamped on the heights of Saratoga that night. The rest of the army moved on to Duer's, the same day. By thus threatening Schuyler with an advance in force, of which Frazer's crossing was conclusive proof, Burgoyne supposed Baum would be left to plunder at his leisure, but he seems to have thought little of the opposition which Baum, on his side, might meet with from the settlers themselves; though this too was provided against in Baum's orders, and by posting Breyman on Baum's line of march.

 

Illustration: POSITION OF BELLIGERENTS BEFORE BENNINGTON
Illustration: POSITION OF BELLIGERENTS BEFORE BENNINGTON

 

If Baum succeeded to his wishes, Burgoyne meant to throw the whole army across the Hudson immediately. Already Frazer was entrenching at Saratoga, with the view of protecting the crossing. Having now so placed his troops as to take instant advantage of Baum's success, of which he felt no manner of doubt, Burgoyne could only sit still till Baum should be heard from.

Meanwhile, the New England militia were flocking to Manchester in squads, companies, or regiments. Washington had said they were the best yeomanry in the world, and they were about to prove their right to this title more decisively than ever. Ministers dismissed their congregations with the exhortation, "He that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one." Some clergymen even took a musket and went into the ranks. Apathy and the numbness that succeeds defeat were dissipated by these appeals and these examples.

It was Washington's policy to keep a force on Burgoyne's flank, which might be used to break up his communications, cut off his provision trains, or otherwise so harass him as to delay his march. In General Lincoln [31] he found an officer, at once capable and brave, who had the confidence of the New England people. Lincoln was, therefore, sent to take command of the militia now mustering at Manchester.

At the same time, New Hampshire called upon the veteran Stark[32] to lead her forces into the field. Stark had left the army in disgust because Congress had promoted other officers over his head, not more worthy than himself. He was still smarting under the sense of wrong when this command was offered him. He was like Achilles, sulking in his tent.

Stark said that he asked nothing better than to fight, but insisted that he would do so only upon condition that the State troops should be exclusively under his orders. To agree to this would be practically an exercise of State sovereignty. But time-pressed, Stark's name was a host in itself: it was thought best to give his wounded vanity this sop; for, by general consent, he was the only man for the crisis.

Lincoln found six hundred men assembled at Manchester, most of whom belonged to Stark's brigade. On the seventh, Stark himself arrived with eight hundred more. By Schuyler's order, Lincoln desired Stark to march them to the main army at once. Stark replied that being in an independent command, he would take orders from nobody as to how or where he should move his troops.

Though plainly subversive of all military rules, Stark's obstinacy proved Burgoyne's destruction; for if Schuyler had prevailed, there would never have been a battle of Bennington.

Though undoubtedly perplexed by the situation in which he found himself placed, of antagonism to the regularly constituted military authority of the nation, Stark's future operations show excellent military judgment on his part. He was not going to abandon Schuyler, or leave Vermont uncovered; still less was he disposed to throw away the chance of striking Burgoyne by hanging on his flank, and of thus achieving something on his own account. Stark's sagacity was soon justified to the world.

 

He determined to march with part of his force to Bennington, twenty-five miles south of Manchester, and about the same distance from Stillwater. In this position he would easily be able to carry out either of the objects he had in view, assist Schuyler, cover Bennington, or get in a telling blow somewhere when least expected.

Burgoyne's expectation of surprising Bennington was thus completely frustrated.

 

Baum learned at Cambridge that the Americans were at Bennington, to the number of eighteen hundred. He immediately wrote Burgoyne to this effect. On the next day, he marched to Sancoic, a mill-stream falling into the Walloomsac River in North Hoosac, and after again writing Burgoyne, confirming the account he had previously sent about the force in his front, moved on toward Bennington, under the impression that the Americans would not wait to be attacked.

FOOTNOTES:

[30] A COSTLY MISTAKE to give the command to an officer who could not speak English; still, another, to intrust an expedition in which celerity of movement was all-important, to soldiers loaded down with their equipment, as the Germans were, instead of to light troops. Colonel Skene went with Baum. See note 4, p. 18.

[31] GENERAL BENJAMIN LINCOLN, born at Hingham, Mass., 1733. Made a major-general, February 1777. Joined Schuyler, July 29, at Fort Miller, while our army was retreating; sent thence to Manchester. One of those captains who, while seldom successful, are yet considered brave and skillful commanders.

[32] GENERAL JOHN STARK, born at Londonderry, N.H., 1728, had seen more active service than most officers of his time. He had fought with Abercromby at Ticonderoga, against Howe at Bunker Hill, and with Washington at Trenton. Notwithstanding this, he was passed over in making promotions, perhaps because he had less education than some others, who lacked his natural capacity for military life. Congress first censured him for insubordination, and then voted him thanks, and promotion to a brigadiership for his victory over Baum.