OTD: Baroness accounts of the Battle of Bemus Heights

Baroness Frederika von Riedesel described the 2nd Battle of Saratoga also known as the Battle of Bemus Heights:

We passed through boundless forests and magnificent tracts of country, which, however, were abandoned by all the inhabitants, who fled before us, and reinforced the army of the American general, Gates.

In the sequel this cost us dearly, for every one of them was a soldier by nature, and could shoot very well; besides, the thought of fighting for their fatherland and their freedom, inspired them with still greater courage.

During this time, my husband was obliged to encamp with the main body of the army. I remained about an hour’s march behind the army, and visited my husband every morning in the camp. Very often I took my noon meal with him, but most of the time he came over to my quarters and tie with me.

The army were engaged daily in small skirmishes, but all of them of little consequence. My poor husband, however, during the whole time, could not get a chance either to go to bed or undress.

As the season had now become more inclement, a Colonel Williams of the artillery, observing that our mutual visits were very fatiguing, offered to have a house built for me, with a chimney, that should not cost more than five or six guineas, and which I could steadily occupy. I took him up,and the house, which was twenty feet square, and had a good fireplace, was begun. They called it the block-house. For such a structure, large trees of equal thickness are selected, which are joined together, making it very durable and warm, especially if covered with clay.

I was to remove into it the following day, and was the more rejoiced at it, as the nights were already damp and cold, and my husband could live in it with me, as he would then be very near his camp.

Suddenly, however, on the 7th of October, my husband, with the whole general staff, decamped. Our misfortunes may be said to date from this moment. I had just sat down with my husband at his quarters to breakfast.

General Frazer, and, I believe, Generals Burgoyne and Phillips, also, were to have dined with me on that same day. I observed considerable movement among the troops. My husband thereupon informed me, that there was to be a reconnaissance, which, however, did not surprise me, as this often happened.

On my way homeward, I met many savages in their war-dress, armed with guns. To my question where they were going, they cried out to me, ” War! war !” which meant that they were going to fight . This completely over whelmed me, and I had scarcely got back to my quarters, when I heard skirmishing, and firing, which, by degrees, became constantly heavier, until, finally, the noises became frightful.

It was a terrible cannonade, and I was more dead than alive.

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 Frazer (one of my expected guests), 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 a corner of the room trembling and quaking. The noises grew continually louder. The thought that they might bring in my husband in the same manner was to me dreadful, and tormented me incessantly.

The general said to the surgeon, “Do not conceal any thing from me. Must I die?” The ball had gone through his bowels, precisely as in the case of Major Harnage.

Unfortunately, however, the general had eaten a hearty breakfast, by reason of which the intestines were distended, and the ball, so the surgeon said, had not gone, as in the case of Major Harnage, between the intestines, but through them. I heard him often, amidst his groans, exclaim, ” Oh, 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 a redoubt.

I knew no longer which way to turn. The whole entry and the other rooms were filled with the sick, who were suffering with the camp-sickness, a kind of dysentery.

Finally, toward evening, I saw my husband coming, upon which I forgot all my sufferings, and thanked God that he had spared him to me.

He ate in great haste with me and his adjutant, behind the house. We had been told that we had gained an advantage over the enemy, but the sorrowful and downcast faces which I beheld, bore witness to the contrary, and before my husband again went away, he drew me one side and told me that everything might go very badly, and that I must keep myself in constant readiness for departure, but by no means to give any one the least inkling of what I was doing.

I therefore pretended that I wished to move into my new house the next morning, and had everything packed up.

My lady Ackland occupied a tent not far from our house. In this she slept, but during the day was in the camp. Suddenly one came to tell her that her husband was mortally wounded, and had been taken prisoner. At this she became very wretched. We comforted her by saying, that it was only a slight wound, but as no one could nurse him as well as herself, we counseled her to go at once to him, to do which she could certainly obtain permission. She loved him very much, although he was a plain, rough man, and was almost daily intoxicated; with this exception, however, he was an excellent officer. She was the loveliest of women.

I spent the night in this manner—at one time comforting her, and at another looking after my children, whom I had put to bed. As for myself, I could not go to sleep, as I had General Frazer and all the other gentlemen in my room, and was constantly afraid that my children would wake up and cry, and thus disturb the poor dying man, who often sent to beg my pardon for making me so much trouble.

About three o’clock in the morning, they told me that he could not last much longer. I had desired to be apprised of the approach of this moment. I, accordingly, wrapped up the children in the bed coverings, and went with them into the entry. Early in the morning, at eight o’clock, he expired.

After they had washed the corpse, they wrapped it in a sheet, and laid it on a bedstead. We then again came into the room, and had this sad sight before us the whole day. At every instant, also, wounded officers of my acquaintance arrived, and the cannonade again began.

A retreat was spoken of, but there was not the least movement made toward it. About four o’clock in the afternoon, I saw the new house which had been built for me, in flames: the enemy, therefore, were not far from us.

We learned that General Burgoyne intended to fulfill the last wish of General Frazer, and to have him buried at six o’clock, in the place designated by him. This occasioned an unnecessary delay, to which a part of the misfortunes of the army was owing. 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 cannon balls 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. Many cannon balls also flew not far from me, but I had my eyes fixed upon the hill, where I distinctly saw my husband in the midst of the enemy’s fire, and therefore I could not think of my own danger.”

The diary or journal of the German Baroness von Riedesel offers a vivid picture of British General John Burgoyne and the British army’s march from Canada to surrender at Saratoga. It also details the Baroness’ subsequent journey through America. Her journal is the famous narrative by a woman from the entire war (and one of the most famous from the Northern Campaign of 1777). Because she was traveling with her husband, a Brunswick General in Burgoyne’s army, the Baroness was subject to his fate.

After the British surrender at Saratoga, the Baroness, her husband, their three children and almost 6,000 captured British and Hessian soldiers were marched to Boston. There the Baroness and her family were detained in comfortable surroundings for more than a year. During their stay in New York, the Baroness gave birth to a daughter, who was named America.

To learn more about The Myth of Rifleman Timothy Murphy visit http://ift.tt/2bnGk

This passage also mentions Lady Harriet.  She is another of the many amazing women involved in the Saratoga campaign of 1777. She was the daughter of Stephen Fox-Strangways, 1st Earl of Ilchester PC (12 September 1704 – 26 September 1776), a British peer and Member of Parliament and Elizabeth Horner. In November of 1770 she was married to John Dyke Acland.

When her husband was ordered to attend his British 20th Regiment to Canada in 1776, he was accompanied by Lady Harriet Acland. She was joined by her mother, a valet, lady’s maid, and a dog. She created a narrative of her impressions of the American landscape and native customs that was later published.
When Major Acland was taken ill in Canada, and she nursed him. On his partial recovery his services were required at the attack of Ticonderoga; but at the express injunction of her husband she remained behind. During the conflict at Hubbardton, he received a dangerous wound, and Lady Harriet hastened to join him and provide devoted care and attention.

Major Ackland commanded the British grenadiers, and his corps was often at the most advanced post of the army. On one of these occasions the tent in which they were sleeping caught fire, and both of them had a narrow escape of their lives.

Lady Harriet is best remembered today for her role in a far more dramatic event. In October 1777, Colonel Acland was badly wounded and taken prisoner by the Americans at the second Battle of Saratoga (Bemis Heights.) At once the pregnant Lady Harriet decided to go to him. Accompanied by her maid, a military chaplain, and Acland’s valet, she crossed the Hudson River in an open boat and made her way into enemy territory.

One account is they went down the river during a violent storm of rain and wind, and arrived at the American outposts (this may be in the Coveville section of the Town of Saratoga) in the night, having suffered much from wet and cold. The sentinel of the advance-guard heard the sound of oars, and hailed the boat. What must have been his surprise to hear that a woman had braved the storm on such an errand! He sent for Major Henry Dearborn, the officer of the guard, before he would permit the passengers to land. Major Dearborn invited Lady Ackland to his guard-house, offered her a cup of tea, and every accommodation in his power, and gave her the welcome intelligence of her husband’s safety. In the morning she experienced the kindness of General Gates, who treated her with the tenderness of a parent, bestowing every attention which her sex and circumstances required. She was conveyed, under a suitable escort, to the quarters of General Poor on the heights, to her wounded husband; and there remained till he was taken to Albany. Her resolution, and devotion to him, touched the feelings of the Americans, and won the admiration of all who heard her story.

While there are varying accounts of her night-time crossing, all agree that she was treated courteously by American General Horatio Gates, and permitted to join her husband in captivity to nurse him. The Aclands were released and allowed to return to England (and to their daughter Kitty) in January, 1778, with Lady Harriet still nursing her convalescing husband. Their son John was born on the voyage.

After such perilous adventure, Lady Harriet and Major Acland deserved a long and happy life together. Unfortunately, Colonel Acland died later in 1778 from complications after a duel – fought in defense of the American cause.

The dramatic story of the Baroness von Riedesel and Lady Harriet’s courage made them remarkable heroines.

The Visitor Center at Saratoga National Historical Park is the best place to start to learn about the Battles of Saratoga. Here you will find the National Park Service Information Desk, Visitor Center artifacts, interactive displays, a overview video, special exhibit gallery, bookstore, and restrooms. The park website is at http://ift.tt/2cxkI82

The Schuylerville Public Library http://ift.tt/2dYYY7C and all the libraries in the region have a number of books on the Battles of Saratoga. One of the more popular and well written books is Richard M Ketchum’s Saratoga: Turning Point of America’s Revolutionary War. (1997) New York: Henry Holt. ISBN 978-0-8050-6123-9. OCLC 41397623

Saratoga is known for being the turning point of the American Revolution. In 1777 −− the second year of America’s War for Independence −− the British sought to quell the rebellion with a single decisive military campaign. The British plan depended on using an invading army to divide the colonies along a natural corridor of rivers and lakes stretching from Canada to New York City. The Americans’ determined resistance at Saratoga, coupled with British strategic blunders, resulted in a stunning defeat and surrender for a British army. This timely victory reversed American military fortunes, boosted patriot morale, and gained them international recognition and support, including military assistance. That is why studying the Battles of Saratoga is integral to a good understanding of the American freedoms.


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