1777 A. D.
IN the month of June, when
Howe was beginning to win his lingering way to Philadelphia, a British army
set out from Canada to conquer the northern parts of the revolted territory.
General Burgoyne was in command. He was resolute to succeed. "This army must
not retreat," he said when they were about to embark. The army did not
retreat. On a fair field general and soldiers would have played a part of
which their country would have had no cause to be ashamed. But this was a
work beyond their strength.
Burgoyne marched deep into the
New England States. But he had to do with men of a different temper from
those of New York and Philadelphia. At his approach every man took down his
musket from the wall and hurried to the front. Little discipline had they,
but a resolute purpose and a sure aim. Difficulties thickened around the
fated army. At length Burgoyne found himself at Saratoga. It was now
October. Heavy rains fell. Provisions were growing scanty. The enemy was in
great force, and much emboldened by success. Gradually it became evident
that the British were surrounded, and that no hope of fighting their way out
remained. Night and day a circle of fire encompassed them. Burgoyne called
his officers together. They could find no place for their sorrowful
communing beyond reach of the enemy's musketry, so closely was the net
already drawn. There was but one thing to do, and it was done. The British
army surrendered. Nearly six thousand brave men, in sorrow and in shame,
laid down their arms. The men who took them were mere peasants. No two of
them were dressed alike. The officers wore uncouth wigs. Most of them
carried muskets and large powder-horns slung around their shoulders. No
humiliation like this had ever befallen the British arms.
These grotesque American warriors behaved to their conquered enemies with
true nobility. General Gates, the American commander, kept his men strictly
within their lines, that they might not witness the piling of the British
arms. No taunt was offered, no look of disrespect was directed against the
fallen. "All were mute in astonishment and pity."
felt acutely the shame of this great disaster. Her people were used to
victory. For many years she had been fighting in Europe, in India, in
Canada, and always with brilliant success. Her defeat in America was
contrary to all expectation. It was a bitter thing for a high-spirited
people to hear that their veteran troops had surrendered to a crowd of
half-armed peasantry. Under the depressing influence of this calamity it was
determined to redress the wrongs of America. Parliament abandoned all claim
to tax the colonies. Every vexatious enactment would be repealed. All would
be forgiven, if America would return to her allegiance. Commissioners were
sent bearing the olive-branch to Congress. Too late—altogether too late!
Never more can America be a dependency of England. With few words Congress
peremptorily declined the English overtures. America had chosen her course.
For good or for evil she would follow it to the end.