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During the summer of 1776 a new spirit animated the Americans who were taking part in the Revolution. It sprang from no elation of victory, rather from a grim determination to win the war in spite of every obstacle. Incensed by the acts of George III and inspired by the Declaration of Independence, they fought no longer merely for their rights as Englishmen. They were engaged in a war of secession from the British Empire. If victorious, they would have full opportunity to carry out their theories of "liberty and equality"; if defeated, they might reasonably expect the imposition of more galling conditions than any that they had suffered before the days of Lexington and Concord. Little in the first year and a half of the Revolution augured well for their ultimate success. Boston, of course, had been taken, but its value was slight compared with that of New York City, from which Washington was driven during September, 1776. While he was in full retreat across New Jersey, the Colonists learned the harrowing details incident to the ignominious failure of their expedition into Canada. With the northern frontier unprotected, the British assumed the offensive, an offensive that Arnold halted by his gallant action with an improvised fleet on Lake Champlain during October. Once the enemy were in retreat in this area, Gates dismissed the militia, established a garrison under Wayne at Ticonderoga, and began a concentration of the rest of his troops at Albany.
Wilkinson had no part in these autumn operations of the Champlain valley. By the good offices of Gates, he was promoted to brigade-major on July 20 and assigned to the 3rd Brigade at Mount Independence. On September 4 he was transferred with the same rank and duties to the command of Brigadier-General Arthur St. Clair, one of Washington's faithful officers who subsequently became governor p18 of the Northwest Territory.1 While elated over his rise in rank, Wilkinson was stricken with typhoid fever and incapacitated for two or three months. More than a thousand troops died of the disease, and few expected him to survive. With others critically ill he was sent to the south end of Lake George, where Dr. Jonathan Potts became his personal physician. In spite of attentive care, he grew worse, and boards were sawed for his coffin. Taking a turn for the better, he improved so much by October that he could make the trip to Albany in a wagon. There he was helped, at least, by being far away from burial squads and the slow beat of funeral drums. The Van Rensselaers took him in and tended him kindly.2 Among friends and in a comfortable home, Wilkinson began to mend, and toward the last of November he was able to resume his duties.
He could no longer act as brigade-major for his old organization, the 4th Brigade, for it had been recently discharged. Gates was on his way to General Washington in New Jersey with reinforcements from the Northern Department; he had progressed as far as Esopus (Kingston) when Wilkinson, now convalescent, reported and began to do errands for him. On arriving at Van Kempt's, a settlement in the rough country near the Delaware, the straggling troops suffered intensely from cold; they lacked clothing, shoes, transportation, and provisions, and, in this desolate region, covered deep with snow, Gates did not know the whereabouts of either Washington or the enemy. On December 12 Wilkinson was dispatched to find the commander-in‑chief and ascertain what route to pursue.3 Making his way over the hills to Sussex Court House, he learned that Washington had crossed the Delaware to escape the British in close pursuit. He immediately wrote this news to Gates, expressing at the same time his intention of pushing on quickly to the headquarters of the commander-in‑chief.4 On hearing how hard it was to get a boat for reaching the opposite shore of the Delaware, he changed his plans and determined to find General Charles Lee, now second in command of the Army, who was supposed to be at Morristown, a place much closer at hand.5 He p19 must have known that Gates would choose to serve under Lee, an old friend, rather than under Washington, of whom he was inordinately jealous. It was possible that Lee might order Gates's four regiments to join him instead of making the longer and more difficult march to Washington; lately he had done this very thing in the case of three other organizations.6
While riding along at night, Wilkinson stumbled on a tavern, and went in to inquire where Lee might be found. Nobody apparently could inform him except the old woman of the place, who suggested that two strange officers upstairs in bed might know. A chambermaid, sent to awaken them, was soon screaming at the top of her voice though not because they were asleep or deaf. Wilkinson, Don Quixote in person, grabbed his pistols and started to the rescue of the nearly ravished Dulcinea. He found her trembling in a corner and two officers somewhat the worse for toddy. Naked and unarmed, they rose up in bed only to look into a pair of huge pistols and a gaudy apparition clothed in French capot, scarlet undercoat, and gold-laced hat. It was time for Lee's private secretary and Colonel Gibson to quake. Only a realization of Wilkinson's identity brought them relief — then the maid went back to her chores, the officers to their clothes, and Wilkinson again upon his way.7
By four o'clock the same morning he had reached White's Tavern, where Lee was quartered. The General received him in bed, read the message, and bade him "take repose." Wilkinson, finding a place to rest among the officers of the staff, rose early to wait upon him again at eight. But the General had to take time out to confer with his adjutant-general and to pour out his wrath upon the peruked Connecticut Light Horse who, sick of the war, wanted to go home. Damned by him, they went. Not until ten o'clock was he able to write a reply to Gates and begin his breakfast with Wilkinson.8
When both had nearly finished eating Wilkinson turned and peered out of the window. Just one look was enough. A troop of British dragoons were charging down the road toward the tavern. Lee had only thirteen men as a bodyguard, and his division was •four miles distant. The General raged because members of the "damned guard" did not fire. They were without arms, •two hundred yards away, on p20 the south side of a house, pleasantly warming themselves in the winter sun. When Wilkinson poked his head out, the dragoons greeted him with curt, dirty words — a broad enough hint to get his pistols and prepare for resistance. Lee, still unseen, could not get a satisfactory place to hide: the breastwork over the fireplace was too small, and his dignity would not permit the use of a feather bed that the landlady offered. After surrounding the tavern, the raiders swore that they would burn it to the ground unless the General came forth and surrendered. Wilkinson was ignored; their net was cast for bigger fish. Lee quickly appeared bareheaded, in bedroom slippers, blanket coat, and dirty shirt. Mounting him on Wilkinson's horse and tormenting him with stableyard wit, they joyfully bore away one whom some erroneously believed to be "the American Palladium,"9 but who was, in fact, nothing more than a spindle-shanked, long-nosed, dog-loving eccentric of dubious loyalty and questionable military capacity.
Before Lee was captured he had written an answer to Gates, and Wilkinson now hastened to deliver it. In this letter he termed Washington "damnably deficient"; he declared the army was without supplies, Tories were everywhere, the country's counsels were weak, and unless the Whigs burnt Philadelphia, the cause of liberty was lost. Under the circumstances, Gates was bidden to seek safety by marching his forces to join the main army, if he thought he could do so quickly enough to help.10
Lee had disobeyed orders in lagging along the way, and was consequently liable to be court-martialed or relieved from command. To justify his action and show up Washington by contrast, Lee, according to Wilkinson, was contemplating an attack on the British at Princeton. A brilliant stroke with his own small forces might have resulted in foisting him upon the Army as commander-in‑chief. The possibility of any such disaster was fortunately prevented by his capture.11
When Gates heard that Lee was in British hands he was greatly disturbed. In compliance with orders he started his troops for the Delaware, and on December 20 arrived at Washington's headquarters near Coryell's ferry.12
p21 Never had the morale of the army been so low. The loss of New York and Fort Washington, the ensuing retreat, accumulating hardships, and offers of easy British pardon had caused many to desert and others to lose their fighting edge. Washington realized that if the army was to be saved from disintegration, he must rekindle its hopes with a brilliant stroke.13 On December 23, he informed Colonel Joseph Reed of a contemplated raid on Trenton.14
With a battle imminent, Gates complained of sickness and declined the command at Bristol that Washington had offered him; he prepared to leave for Philadelphia, where Mrs. Gates had recently come for a visit. He also wanted to see several merchants of the city who seemed eager to obtain a contract for supplying his half-naked men with clothes.15 Now a surplus major-general, he could be spared for such an errand. Perhaps by a warm fire in a comfortable house, he might improve his health and figure out a scheme for regaining his former importance. Not far off was Baltimore, Maryland, where Congress was sitting. A journey thither might disclose how he and Washington stood with some of its influential members.
Wilkinson traveled with him, although then a staff officer of St. Clair, who had recently been given another brigade. His old commander wondered that he would go at a time when a fight was in the wind. Wilkinson, in later years, tried to excuse himself on a plea of ignorance, in spite of the fact that orders had been issued on the 23rd for troops to draw rations for three days and even Tories knew that Washington was planning an offensive. More likely he was flattered by Gates's friendliness and felt the lure of Philadelphia and a burning desire to see the charming Ann Biddle. Hence the two set out and, after a wearisome ride, reached the City Tavern, where they lodged for Christmas Eve. Gates was dyspeptic and croaked mournfully of Washington and his plans; he felt that the one which he was going to propose to Congress would save the Republic.16
Wilkinson wisely determined to return to his brigade, which he reached about dusk on Christmas Day after delivering a letter from Gates to Washington at McKonky's Ferry. Stopping for a moment from observing the passage of troops to the New Jersey side, the commander-in‑chief p22 asked Gates's whereabouts and made a mental note that he was on the way to Baltimore.17 Gates's absence was not deeply regretted; he could have done little to help upon that wintry night.
It was bitterly cold, and a cutting wind swept down the Delaware, now filled with floes of ice and eddying currents. At the ferry stood the massive and vigorous Henry Knox, bellowing orders. From the most ponderous of Boston booksellers, he had developed into one of Washington's favorite generals. Toward eleven o'clock snow began to fall, increasing confusion and discomfort. Colonel John Glover's regiment of seafaring Marblehead men was in charge of the crossing. These hardy fellows in blue jackets and leather-buttoned trousers knew rough weather and how to handle the black Durham boats across the •thousand feet or more of treacherous water. With only about thirty shivering figures in a boat, the transfer was slow; after nine hours of going and coming, Glover had landed twenty-four hundred men safely on the Jersey side.18
At four o'clock the •eight-mile march to Trenton began. The army operated in two divisions; the right under John Sullivan, that doughty general who had led the Americans back from Canada, took the route closer to the river, while the left, commanded by Washington in person, covering about the same distance, followed the Pennington road. Coöperating troops were to cross from points opposite Trenton and Bordentown, but these failed to get over. Hence on Sullivan's and Washington's troops alone the burden of battle fell.
Map of the Battle of Trenton.
Courtesy of The Burrows Bros. Co.
Moving to the southeast, they first encountered a hostile picket about eight o'clock. It was posted near the Pennington road on the outskirts of Trenton. When firing began Hessian reinforcements came running up; they pulled their triggers once and fled helter-skelter down the road across the Assunpink to Bordentown and safety. Lieutenant Jacob Piel, brigade adjutant, hearing the rattle of musketry, knocked loudly on the quarters of Colonel Rall, then commanding at Trenton. The colonel, late at wine and cards, still slept. Once awakened, he answered them from an upstairs window, and was soon in the street already swept by artillery from the road junction near the north end of the village. For a few moments he wavered in confusion and then gave orders for the Rall and the Lossberg regiments to drive the invaders from the town. Both organizations completely failed, and the retreat p23 began. Rall suffered two fearful wounds, and was carried into the Methodist Church, a dour-looking building where some of his artillerists were quartered. No one immediately exercised control, and the two regiments milled about in the orchards east of town. Firing continued. Often a figure in scarlet or blue or black stumbled and lay quietly beneath the trees, and the snow fell generally on his upturned face or heavy mass of braided hair.19
The Knyphausen regiment fared no better than the other two. When attacked by Sullivan's men on the south end of Trenton it resisted stoutly. But General Arthur St. Clair, pushing the Hessians hard with his brigade, drove them eastward from the houses of the town. Seventeen years before he had shown the same indomitable spirit on the Plains of Abraham when Quebec yielded to Wolfe. Once the enemy were in the open, Wilkinson, his aide, yelled out to them to surrender. A Lieutenant Wiederhold soon approached, and through him Captain von Biesenrodt, actually commanding, was informed of the terms. The captain objected to them, and the parley was resumed. This time St. Clair took an active part, and he swore to blow the Knyphausen regiment to hell unless it immediately surrendered. The threat proved effective.20
Wilkinson was then dispatched to inform Sullivan of the news. With the same message he went on to Washington, who received it just when Rall, mortally wounded, was being carried to one of the houses of the town. Elated with victory, the commander-in‑chief pressed Wilkinson's hand and exclaimed, "This is a glorious day for our country."21
It was. The whole cause of liberty had been reborn in the hearts of all those who fought and labored for the army's success. A thousand of the enemy had been killed or captured at the expense of five American casualties — two killed and three wounded.22 The prisoners were sent the Philadelphia, where "Old Put" (Israel Putnam) gave orders to his officers to clear their own men "out of the Barrok to make room for the hashon Prisoners."23
Perhaps others might have been taken if Washington had been able to push on and gain the most from victory. Unfortunately his men p24 were exhausted, and he could do nothing in the next few days except remain at Trenton and retard the advance of the British. In spite of his efforts they drove him from the village on January 2, and soon their artillery began to pound his new position along the high ground south of Assunpink Creek. His left rested on the Delaware, and once his right was turned his whole force might be driven into the river.
In this dilemma he called a council of his ranking officers at St. Clair's headquarters, where they decided to evacuate their position secretly and attack the British at Princeton. Wilkinson claims St. Clair suggested the idea. He may have done so, although there were others whose estimate of the situation could have been more impressive. General Dickinson was far better acquainted with the neighborhood roads over which the march was to be made, and Colonel Joseph Reed, the adjutant-general, had, besides this knowledge, the latest and most accurate information of the dispersed condition of the enemy's forces.24
Once the decision was made, orders were promptly issued for the movement. A few men were detailed to stay behind and maintain the fiction of a camp. They kept the fires burning brightly with fragrant cedar rails and dug into the soil as if for a line of intrenchments. The British, only •a hundred and fifty yards away, could easily hear the challenge of sentinels and the sound of tools upon the frozen earth. They were completely deceived; they expected with some short, bloody work in the morning to wipe out the stain of the Hessian defeat by the capture of Washington's forces.
Meanwhile, the Americans were wrapping the wheels of the gun carriages with cast-off clothing to deaden the rumble of artillery over the frost-bitten ground. Rags had served a useful purpose before; they had bound the bleeding feet of shoeless men on the night march to Trenton. At about one o'clock on the morning of January 3 the march began. The road was rough and winding, the night dark and cold. Men grew weary and stumbled sleepily over the stumps along the uncleared way. Bruised, hungry, and shivering they moved slowly and profanely on.25
At dawn they reached the outskirts of Princeton, where the 40th Regiment alone remained of the British brigade quartered there. The 17th and 55th regiments had already left and were just then passing over the Stony Creek bridge on the way to reinforce Cornwallis at p25 Trenton. Lieutenant-Colonel Mawhood was in command and rode near the head of the column on a small brown pony. A couple of his favorite spaniels ran close beside. Suddenly catching sight of the American advance party under General Mercer, he immediately faced his troops about and raced back across the bridge to higher ground and natural cover. The Americans made for the same point. The lines drew close, not more than •one hundred and twenty feet apart; volley followed volley, and a cloud of smoke drifted lazily through the bare limbs of orchard trees. Men fought savagely, and warm blood ebbed away upon the frozen ground. Mercer went down with seven wounds. The British left him for dead, and pursued his routed men. Wilkinson, seeing the sorry state of things, ran to tell St. Clair, who, in turn, calmed his fears and told him to keep the bad news to himself. Meanwhile Washington rode forward and put new spirit into his beaten men. Mifflin, in rose-colored blanket coat, came hurrying up with reinforcements; St. Clair also brought help. The balance of battle turned. The 17th ran pell-mell across the fields to Maidenhead, and the 55th were "fox-chased" back to Princeton, where they joined with some of the 40th and made a stand upon the college grounds. Though Nassau Hall proved a strong point of resistance, it was soon surrounded and covered by artillery fire. From its stone walls a ricocheting ball nearly killed the horse on which Wilkinson rode. Up in front as usual, he could have seen one hundred and ninety-four of the British file out of the building and surrender. About two hundred others escaped by running off to Brunswick at top speed. All told, the British lost four hundred in killed, wounded, and prisoners. The Americans suffered only forty casualties.26
Meanwhile Cornwallis had learned what Washington was doing. He was "in a most infernal sweat — running puffing and blowing and swearing at being so outwitted."27 To prevent further disaster he started on a forced march to Princeton, where he arrived about noon, just in time to see the American rear-guard pass out of sight with the plunder of a second victory. Washington, of course, wanted to push on and capture Brunswick with all its British supplies and military chest of £70,000, but his men were too fatigued for another march and fight. Once beyond the danger of pursuit they rested for a while, and then ultimately went into camp at Morristown, a place well suited for p26 launching or repelling an attack and for obtaining adequate forage and provisions.28
Wilkinson was not among the troops that were stationed there. He perhaps had no desire to remain in a cheerless camp during midwinter. He had already experienced much of the wretchedness of war; he had often looked upon stark, naked suffering and putrid death in squalid places. He had seen bright waters and clean, green forests fouled by his afflicted countrymen in their dismal retreat from unconquerable Canada. He knew the exhaustion from long hard marching and the suffering from continued cold. The battles of Trenton and Princeton had opened his eyes to the hideous wounds that may be made by soft lead bullets and cannon balls. Partly because of his youthful vigor and practical mind, he had come through a year of fighting unscathed. In a short time he had established an enviable reputation, gained a modicum of glory, and won the friendship and support of his high-ranking superiors. Schuyler, Gates, St. Clair, and others were ready to exert a helpful influence in case he wanted a detail for which he was apparently fitted.
Thus it happened that Wilkinson was one of the officers assigned to the new battalions authorized on December 27, 1776; he was promoted to the grade of lieutenant-colonel and finally assigned to the regiment of Colonel Thomas Hartley, an officer with whom he had served in Canada. Partly because of his pleasing and convincing manner, he was selected to secure men for these last increments of the Army. He was sent to Maryland and Pennsylvania to enlist recruits, carrying with him blank commissions for the officers of his organization.29 The detail offered no chances for distinction, but it did have compensations. For a while, at least, he would not have to perform a round of monotonous duties in an uncomfortable camp. The winter was not harsh along the shores of Maryland, and here and in Philadelphia he might find many friends who would take him in and listen eagerly to his doings since 1773. Though his stories might grow old, they seldom lacked interest to others or credit to himself. His mother listened and carried her head a trifle higher; his elder brother Joseph and his younger sisters were quickened with family pride. Youthful James had traveled far and was now at home in the full glory of success.
p27 By the beginning of March, 1777, his recruiting parties were operating, and he had taken station in Philadelphia, the rendezvous of his regiment and the home of his future bride. One of his friends there was Gates, who had been oscillating since Christmas between Philadelphia and Baltimore under pretense of restoring his health but actually to promote his advancement through political intrigue. On March 25 Congress gave Gates what he wanted — the command of the Northern Department. Thereupon, Wilkinson was asked to become a member of his staff, a position that he accepted only after Washington had given reluctant consent.30
Some may have wondered why any officer would be willing to give up a lieutenant-colonelcy in the line for a lower grade on the staff of Gates, who was then just another major-general. Wilkinson offers in explanation that important operations were impending in the Northern Department, he knew its terrain in detail, and he valued discretion more than rank.31 He might have added that Gates was companionable, overlooked his foibles with paternal indulgence, and perhaps gave him promises of rapid promotion. As an officer of field rank he could not expect the same treatment at the hands of Washington. Few men had the courage and ability to pass through his hard school for regimental commanders at Morristown, Valley Forge, Yorktown, and all the trying places in between. Youth and brilliance did not alone suffice; Wilkinson may have realized that he did not have the other necessary qualities in an adequate degree.
Although Gates had set out for the Northern Department about the first of April, Wilkinson delayed and did not reach the dreary posts near the upper Hudson until the month had almost ended.32 At Albany he wrote to Wayne telling him of Gates's superseding Schuyler, of his own appointment, and of St. Clair's expected coming. At this time he greatly admired Wayne — that same "Mad Anthony" who had helped him get reinforcements to protect Arnold at a critical juncture during the Canadian campaign. He was just the man that Fort Ticonderoga then needed. In a letter to Gates, Wilkinson declared that to transfer him elsewhere would be "ill-natured, ill-judged and impolitic." This newly made staff officer was not wanting in opinions or words to express them.33
p28 On May 13 Wilkinson reached Ticonderoga and three days later made a scathing report on conditions there: the general in command was incapable of strengthening the defenses or perfecting the line of communications with Albany; provisions were scarce, returns in confusion, muskets and artillery in need of repair; clothing was not fit to be worn; the fleet was disorganized and without stores; men were sick and had no fight left in them. Nor were these the only things wrong. In the eyes of this boy-inspector: the adjutants were blockheads, the brigade-majors ignorant of their duties, and the general commanding had little or no ability, education, or experience.34 Little wonder that Wilkinson begged Gates or St. Clair to come and bring order out of chaos.
On June 12, 1777, St. Clair arrived at Ticonderoga as a result of another shuffling of general officers. He set vigorously to work, although he could foresee that twenty-five hundred men with inadequate provisions and dilapidated defenses could not long sustain a well-planned attack.35 Neither Congress nor the people would materially help to remedy these conditions, but they were still insistent that the place be held. Whoever abandoned it and saved his men might expect abuse from designing politicians who pandered to the whims of ignorant constituents.
Perhaps Gates visualized these contingencies more clearly than St. Clair; at any rate, he was too wily to accept command of the fort when it was offered to him by his successor, Schuyler, whom Congress had restored to the command of the Northern Department on May 22.36 Wilkinson hated to see his patron displaced and without any assignment. On June 7 he wrote to Gates bitterly arraigning the members of Congress for what they had done:
"They have injured themselves, they have insulted you, and by so doing have been guilty of the foulest ingratitude. How base, how pitiful, or how little deserving the name is the Public Power which individual consequence can intimidate or bribe to its purposes."37
Lately Wilkinson had special reason to feel kindly toward Gates, who, just before actual relief, had appointed him "deputy adjutant- p29 general to the army of the Northern Department of America" on the 24th of May.38 The honor was highly flattering and might be retained under Schuyler. He had read the auspices correctly when he had resigned his lieutenant-colonelcy in March. Now he was a grade higher, at a time and place where his peculiar abilities would show to the best advantage in a series of events that were close at hand. Already the stage was being set.
In June, 1777, about eight thousand British, Germans, Tories, and Indians left Canada and began moving southward through the valley of Lake Champlain. They were commanded by one Lieutenant-General Burgoyne, literary dilettante, favorite of the King, and reputed bastard. Strangely out of his element but never wavering in a belief in his omniscience, this young general of sloping forehead and heavy nose indited brochures to scalping Indians in his best "Ciceronian manner," marched his troops through the woods as on parade, drank champagne and flirted with pretty women wherever found, believing their conquest easy for the well drilled soldiers of the Crown.
Such was the unconventional leader of this extraordinary army that trudged along through the dripping aisles of forest trees. Pioneers were constantly panting from clearing the way and building bridges for those three thousand German hirelings of his to pass over with their heavy boots and clanking broadswords. Excepting the chasseurs, they were immobile and bovine and were no more fitted for frontier fighting than savages were for warfare in Flanders. The Englishmen, knowing something of colonial warfare, did not fall an easy prey to the Indians, even if their scarlet coats made them conspicuous targets against an emerald background bright with summer rain. They were well trained and inspired with traditions of success, but were burdened with lumbering carts and useless guns and knew nothing of the country in which they marched. For scouting they trusted to Indians, cruel, filthy, and hideous with war paint, useful only so long as they were swollen with food and allowed the privilege of plunder. Women of quality beheld them, and trembling, looked carefully to their little ones who traveled with them in the rear-guard of this vainglorious column.39
p30 Never before had such a heterogeneous and well equipped expedition descended from Canada. The Americans sensed the might of empire and grew fearful as the days drew near for the issue of battle. By the 1st of July the British had reached the south end of Lake Champlain. They had brushed aside all resistance — only Ticonderoga, frowning before them, barred their further advance.40
Fortunately for the invaders, confusion and divided counsels weakened the twenty-five hundred effective defenders. Tactics and politics were at odds. Wilkinson's idea, as he says, was to have fifteen hundred men hold Ticonderoga with plenty of supplies and a few light guns, ready to oppose a feint or scamper quickly away in case of serious attack. Schuyler could not agree to any such plan; instead he called a council of war made up of St. Clair, De Fermoy, Poor, and Patterson. His decision was to maintain Ticonderoga and Mount Independence "as long as possible, consistent with the safety of troops and stores."41 The task fell upon the shoulders of the forty‑three-year‑old St. Clair, whose patriotism and character were of a much higher order than his military ability. For no good reason Mount Defiance, on the side of Lake George and commanding both of the above places, remained unfortified.42 Muddy thinking and ambiguous orders continued to handicap the defenders.
In great anxiety Wilkinson wrote to Gates: "O! that you were here! the fertility of your soul might save this important pass."43 Probably he would have handled the situation better than the general in immediate command, Arthur St. Clair. The letter was soothing ointment for Gates's recently wounded pride. He was still in shadows; his machinations had not yet succeeded. He knew that the army need suffer only a few apparent disasters and Schuyler would be replaced by another who promised success. Events were already shaping themselves for just this outcome.
On July 2 the vanguard of the British took possession of Mount Hope. Three days after, they occupied Mount Defiance, and from this point their guns commanded the most important positions of the American defenses. At three o'clock on the afternoon of the same day a late but wise decision was made; a council of war decided to p31 evacuate Ticonderoga and Mount Independence that very night. The army would have suffered less had the same conclusion been reached earlier; on the other hand, St. Clair states he would then have got a hanging instead of a court-martial.44
The evacuation on short notice was a task for able and experienced men, and there were few of them on hand. Already the British, less than •a mile away, were holding points from which they could readily observe what the Americans were doing. Once they noticed any unusual activity, they might begin an offensive. Therefore special pickets were placed and nothing else was done until evening. The Americans hoped that the darkness of their short summer night might hide their hurried preparations for immediate departure. A strong wind blew from the northeast, and ruffled the waters of Champlain, and only a few bateaux would be brought close enough to the Ticonderoga landing for loading artillery and ammunition. Fifteen tons of powder were stored away, and the worst cases of the sick were carried on board — the former soon to be blown up, and the latter captured when the British overtook the slow-moving flotilla at Skenesboro under the ineffective Colonel Long.
Over at Mount Independence on the opposite side of Champlain, De Fermoy, brigadier-general, ex-roommate of St. Clair, and more especially habitual drunkard, sat blear-eyed amidst his dunnage and looked drowsily upon the confusion that incompetence had created. To this critical point Wilkinson, who had been scurrying around delivering orders and placing pickets, was sent to help accelerate the preparations for departure. The efficient young quartermaster, Lieutenant-Colonel Udrey Hay, was dispatched on the same errand. Major Isaac B. Dunn, an aide, moved backward and forward along the bridge to tell St. Clair how matters were going. Groups of disorder men cluttered his way. Some were carrying baggage and supplies across for loading; others bore articles of personal plunder, which in a few weary hours of marching they were destined to drop along the stony trail or fling resentfully into the forest.
About two o'clock most of the work had been done at Ticonderoga, and St. Clair went over and joined the troops at Mount Independence. Here the men had grown weary of work and belligerently refused to do more, even so little as loading some of the General's papers. As p32 a final token of incapacity De Fermoy set his quarters on fire, thereby warning the British of the movement on foot. After all had evacuated Fort Ticonderoga, a detachment was ordered to blow up the bridge. The enemy found it intact but a keg of Madeira empty.
Near daybreak the bateaux began sliding slowly through the water. A long, demoralized column took up its march to Hubbardton, •twenty-two miles distant. Those in the advance-guard seemed to hasten their steps when they entered the dark forest that shut their route closely in. They could not escape by either flank, and in the rear came the British against whom they dared not turn. Here and there officers urged on the laggards: some were sick with measles and plodded heavily along; others wabbled drunkenly by, fearful neither of punishment nor of an oncoming enemy. Nine hundred lately arrived militia cared for nothing except their own willful and ignorant ways, entering and leaving their places in column when and wherever they chose. Whatever the result, they halted if they wanted to appease their hunger or thirst; but, when stricken with terror, they surpassed all others in speed.45 Rear-guard detachments reached Hubbardton on the evening of July 6. Here they halted, unwilling to march two hours more and thus join the main body at Castleton as ordered. Next morning they paid for their disobedience and folly by being overtaken and routed.46
The American detachments retreating by water were luckier, although their movement was so slow that Burgoyne, commanding in person, overtook them at Skenesboro. Here his dispositions were faulty, and the country exceedingly tough. In consequence, they escaped to Fort Anne, •eleven miles distant, only losing their stores and a few men. Several days later they reached Fort Edward.47
At this place St. Clair and Wilkinson, last heard of at Castleton, arrived on July 12. Learning of the American disasters at Hubbardton and Skenesboro, St. Clair had pushed eastward by a circuitous route, and, after seven days of painfully hard marching through a mountain wilderness flooded with rain, he had finally reached Fort Edward. His reinforcements and six hundred militia from Peekskill now raised Schuyler's forces to forty-four hundred men. Besides, Washington p33 had sent him Lincoln and Arnold in order to make easier the handling of New England contingents. Keeping his army at Fort Edward, Schuyler awaited the coming of Burgoyne, who moved slowly forward over indifferent roads, now well obstructed by the work of a thousand or more American axmen.48
With the capture of Ticonderoga, Burgoyne had become elated, the Americans proportionately dismayed. Many of the weak and most of the prejudiced had turned upon St. Clair and Schuyler as the direct cause of such apparent disaster. Gates stirred the pot of small politics, for thereby he hoped to command once more the Northern Department. St. Clair, soldier that he was, took all the blame himself in an effort to exculpate Schuyler. Still the stories grew — British firing silver balls into the camp of the traitors for those two generals who had abandoned their country's stronghold for filthy lucre.49 Tales like these were told and other fanciful lies, but many believed.
Wilkinson had been through the worst of the retreat with St. Clair and appreciated his worth. Hence he became the General's indignant defender against the ignorant and malicious. Writing to the editor of a Boston paper, he asked him not to prejudice St. Clair or "disgrace your paper with the malicious innuendoes of every envious talkative puppy . . . Believe me, Sir, if virtue or justice has existence, the man who stands condemned for retreating from Ticonderoga, will ere long be thanked for the salvation of three thousand men, who instead of being in captivity are now opposing our enemy."50
Wilkinson spoke the truth, and had the manhood to proclaim it among those who were not inclined to listen.
As Schuyler continued to retreat, he increased the ultimate chance of victory at the expense of his own immediate reputation. By the time Burgoyne had reached Fort Edward, Schuyler was •four miles to the south, occupying a position that had been selected by Colonel Tadeusz Kosciuszko, Wilkinson's tentmate and chief of engineers. Not daring to remain here, he pushed on toward Albany, passing through Saratoga and Stillwater and finally reaching Van Schaick's Island, near the juncture of the Mohawk with the Hudson, on the 18th of August. On the next day Gates arrived and superseded him in command.51
p34 The opposition of New England to Schuyler, Indian outrages, the fall of Ticonderoga, and Gates's machinations, all had operated to cause this third change within a year of commanding generals of the Northern Department. Congress had made additional effort to mortify Schuyler by directing that he and St. Clair be held for trial because of the evacuation of Ticonderoga. Gates, showing no inclination to ameliorate this trying situation for Schuyler, displayed toward him the frowzy manners of an ill born boor.52
Wilkinson, although a partisan of Gates, felt that Schuyler had been greatly wronged, and that, too, when victory was close at hand.53 A detachment of approximately a thousand men whom Burgoyne had sent out to collect supplies, had been routed at Bennington, Vermont, on August 16; Lieutenant-Colonel Barry St. Leger, bringing reinforcements from the west, had advanced to Oriskany, New York, only to suffer defeat on the 6th and retreat thereafter to Canada. Burgoyne's own advance was increasingly slow. His engineers had to build bridge after bridge across marsh land for troops and artillery to pass over. One was •two miles long.54 On firmer ground they found no relief from toil, for they had to clear the roadway of huge trees that Americans had felled across it. When they would rest from such labor, they could not, because of swarms of pestilent mosquitoes.55 With hardships mounting, and diminished prospect of booty, many deserted, particularly Indian and Canadian allies.
Gates's army, on the contrary, was growing in spirit and numbers. The militia were eager to "join up" when victory and plunder seemed to be in easy reach. Colonel Daniel Morgan's corps had come from Washington's forces, and through its scouting a better knowledge of enemy movements was more quickly obtained. The tide had begun to turn. Gates, moving north over the route along which Schuyler had lately retreated, halted at Bemis Heights.
Wilkinson claims credit for suggesting to Gates the occupation of this position.56 As chief of staff it behooved him to do so if he thought the place well designed for defeating the enemy. Four times, at least, during the last two years he had gone to and from Ticonderoga, and perhaps then and on other occasions he had ridden along the main-traveled p35 route and looked upward from Bemis Tavern to the swelling hills that rose quickly from the ill cleared fields along the Hudson. His experience around Boston, the Canadian campaign, the battles of Trenton and Princeton, and his recent retreat with St. Clair, all would have trained his "eye for ground." If he himself did not sense the tactical advantages of the position, there were plenty of people in the neighborhood, like John Neilson, who were ready to suggest its occupation to him in the hope they would be protected by their countrymen, not ravished and plundered by the enemy. If he did not come by the idea from his own observation or in talking with settlers near by, he may have got it from his own blanket companion and Gates's chief engineer, Kosciuszko. More likely Wilkinson was only one of several who recommended Bemis Heights to Gates; and the General, after ruminating upon the matter for a while, dispatched Arnold, his ablest subordinate in troop leading, and Kosciuszko, who was to plan the defense works, to examine the position.57 Influenced by the report of these two, he chose Bemis Heights, and after it had proved so desirable in the test of battle he did not bestir himself to share with others the glory of its selection. That was Gates's way — Wilkinson's also.
With Bemis Heights actually occupied on September 12, troops immediately began to make intrenchments and breastworks. Gates sensed that Burgoyne was continuing southward, though ignorant of what progress he had made and what were his immediate intentions. Making use of Wilkinson's offer, the General sent him on reconnaissance with twenty picked riflemen and one hundred and fifty infantrymen. The detachment left on the evening of the 12th, and by the next morning had reached the high ground near the west bank of the Hudson and •approximately three miles from Saratoga. Not satisfied with what he had learned so far, Wilkinson took four men and advanced •a mile or two more. From a position near Fish Creek, he could see companies of the British prepared to march and others making ready to join them from across the Hudson. He concluded that Burgoyne's army was on its way to Stillwater, and so informed Gates when he returned. His deductions proved correct. Within a few days the enemy were only •two miles from the American position.58
Map of the Battle of Bemis Heights.
Courtesy of The Burrows Bros. Co.
Soon real fighting began. Yellowing leaves and chill evening winds p36 had warned Burgoyne that he must hasten south to better winter quarters. Troops had been deserting; supplies had been running low, and no encouraging news had come from Clinton. If he were to save himself from the reputation of Carleton and Howe, he must perform a brilliant stroke. On the morning of September 19 he personally led his troops to battle, hoping first to turn the American left and then perhaps to advance with his whole army and secure the road to Albany.59 When Gates learned of the movement he ordered Colonel Morgan to take his corps and counterattack Burgoyne. Gates seemed to sense the enemy's general plan, but, for a time at least, he did not realize where the attack was being most vigorously pressed.60 He held most of his men closely in camp and waited developments; the numbers of reinforcements actually sent were insufficient, and their efforts poorly coördinated.
By half-past twelve, troops were heavily engaged in small-arms firing. Riding toward the sound of it, Wilkinson reached Freeman's Farm and fell in with Major Henry Dearborn, a subordinate of Morgan, trying to reorganize his men after a stiff fight with the enemy. The troops of Lieutenant-Colonel Butler had been routed also and were fleeing in every direction. Morgan, confessing that his own were "scattered God knows where," was trying to assemble them with his "turkey call." Wilkinson brought news of a few and probably told him that reinforcements would come to his aid.61
Map of the Battle of Freeman's Farm.
Courtesy of The Burrows Bros. Co.
They did come, seven regiments strong, though not when and where they were most needed. From about three o'clock until dark, hard fighting continued, success favoring first one side, then the other, along the open spaces of Freeman's narrow farm. Here and in the near-by woods and rain-washed gullies they clashed in grisly combat. The Americans advanced slowly, picking off man after man with their unexcelled marksmanship, only to give way when British met them in clashing charges with the cold steel of sword and bayonet. The colonial frontiersmen from New York, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere knew how to handle their individual weapons and how to make the best use of the terrain and trees, but they were unable to combine their efforts toward the winning of a common objective. Though on the field as a representative of the commanding general, Wilkinson p37 could not direct them; he was too young and inexperienced to cope with such a situation. No officer of sufficient rank was near enough to coördinate the fighting of the colonels and detachment commanders until toward evening General Learned was ordered out with five more regiments. By then it was too late; the battle had already ended in a stalemate. Approximately six hundred British had been "killed, wounded, or taken," while the Americans had suffered only three hundred and twenty casualties.62 Both sides had furnished examples of great valor. Even the British were now ready to admit that there were Americans who knew how to die as bravely as the rank and file of England's most distinguished regiments.
If Arnold had taken personal control early on the 19th, the battle of Freeman's Farm might have been a decisive victory for the Americans. Doubtless he wanted to do so, but was restrained in camp by Gates, who wished to keep several of his ablest subordinates with him until he knew what part of his line the main attack was being made.63 Apparently several hours passed before Gates was aware that his left was being enveloped. About this time Colonel Morgan Lewis came riding up and told him that the battle was in a deadlock. Then Arnold, with a "By God, I will soon put an end to it," was off — but not far. Wilkinson, at Gates's order, rode after him, directing his return.64 The hour was too late except for a night operation, a hazardous undertaking for even the bravest and best. Possibly to prevent any attempt of this sort, Gates wanted Arnold held in check; he therefore ordered the rather inconsequential Learned to march out with troops for the sole purpose of holding the ground that their companions had taken. Always ravenous for glory, Gates, in spite of his dislike for Arnold, would have allowed him to go if the occasion had demanded. Gates felt that he could ill afford to risk disaster; his conservative thinking ruled the day.
On the other hand, Arnold's reputation does not suffer even if Wilkinson's story be true that he did not take part in the actual fighting on that autumn day.65 At the time Arnold was a major-general, and his particular duty was to dispose of his forces in accordance with orders so that they would promote the chances of victory, not to lead p38 them personally in the restricted area of Freeman's Farm where he might distinguish himself for bravery only to lose the direction and control of the units of his command. Nevertheless, he was doubtless irritated that his former aide should have been the person to prevent him from giving a new exhibition of leadership and valor.
Between September 19 and October 7 the rift between the two increased. In the course of his staff duties Wilkinson declared that Morgan's riflemen and light infantry, known as the élite corps, should be directly under the orders of headquarters and not under those of Arnold. Gates sustained him and made the suggested change in spite of previous arrangements to the contrary. Arnold, in high dudgeon, went to headquarters and had hard words with Gates, who merely ridiculed him and his contention. Angrier than ever, he persisted in his claim; he also accused Wilkinson of annexing the New York militia to Glover's Brigade after he had directed them to join Poor's in compliance with Gates's order; furthermore, he said that his division had not received due credit for its fighting on the 19th, and that when he was about headquarters he was coldly received. Wearying of his subordinate's belligerence, Gates relieved him from command. Arnold then asked leave to go to Philadelphia, and, although it was granted, he fulminated more and did not go.66
At times Arnold was disloyal, undisciplined, dishonest, and untruthful. No matter how able a leader he was in battle, these glaring faults totally unfitted him for continuing long as a desirable subordinate. On the other hand, Gates was narrow and jealous, just the type to goad him into a display of some of these most objectionable qualities. When once he had fallen into such an error, Gates relieved him from his command, as he had a perfect right to do.67 He may have also felt that Arnold's services were not essential for victory. The reconnaissance of Wilkinson, Hardin, and others had revealed how the British army was disintegrating and its supplies were dwindling.68 For the Americans, on the contrary, reinforcements were arriving daily, and both their rations and their ammunition had sensibly increased. Gates now knew that he had only to wait until Burgoyne retreated or attacked in desperation.69
p39 His estimate of the situation proved correct. On the morning of October 7, drums began to beat the alarm. Wilkinson went to investigate and found a large detachment of the British in a near-by wheat-field.70 When Gates was informed of the fact he ordered out Morgan, who in turn decided to strike this hostile force on the right; Poor and his brigade planned to envelop it on the left, Learned and his brigade to attack the center. These three commanders soon encountered about fifteen hundred troops whom Burgoyne had sent out on a vague, indefinite mission.71
The British were entirely too few for any decisive action, and in less than one hour after the battle had joined they were in full retreat. Some of Burgoyne's best men had fallen. Nearly half a company of grenadiers lay dead or wounded in a single area no larger than a garden patch. Elsewhere, too, casualties had been severe. A few of the wounded were given treatment by American surgeons, at least one of whom gloated that his hands were red from such a task; others were the spoil of ruffians who were out to loot both the living and the dead. From one of these raffish stragglers Wilkinson rescued Major Ackland, commander of the grenadiers.72
Much needed matériel also fell into the hands of exulting Americans. When New Hampshire men had captured a twelve-pounder, Colonel Cilley stopped long enough to straddle it and from this warming seat to deliver himself of a laconic speech of dedication.73
Do what they might, British officers could not stem the rush of fugitives until they reached their intrenched camp. In it the Germans were on the right, and Tories and spineless Canadians, farther on troops under Lord Balcarres. Partly protected by intrenchments, the defense stiffened; the second stage of battle began. Arnold, without command, had taken one, and now pushed the assault against Balcarres with fiery zeal. Meeting with no success, he then rode on a shining bay through a line of fire to the opposite flank of the enemy. Here Germans were holding out sturdily behind an improvised rampart of rails until he charged them. They could not withstand such a dynamic spirit of battle; they broke and fled, but with a retreating volley they felled both horse and rider. Thus John Armstrong (then an aide of Gates and thirty-five years later Secretary of War) was able p40 to overtake him and deliver Gates's order to withdraw. By this time Arnold had done decisive work: the hostile defenses were crumbling there and elsewhere, Burgoyne's whole position was threatened. Only the coming of darkness saved the British from greater defeat.74 Even so, they had suffered approximately seven hundred and fifty casualties.75
During the night of the 7th the British withdrew north of the Great Ravine. Next day Burgoyne, the play boy of the King's court, decided to retreat still farther after Major-General Fraser, one of his ablest subordinates, had been buried on a neighboring hilltop and the supply boats had made a little distance against the current of the Hudson. By daylight of the 9th troops had marched only •four miles — hungry, exhausted, and cold, their tattered uniforms wet through with chilling rain. A continual downpour made their footsteps heavier and filled the creeks to overflowing. The men trudged miserably on, abandoning wagon after wagon sunk deep in mud. Deserters slunk away from the column, and snipers, hiding behind rocks and trees, fired at those who remained in ranks and marched slowly past. It was too hardy a war for Burgoyne, that dramaturgic technician. Toward evening, he took shelter in the Schuyler mansion, where he found physical comfort for drooping spirits. Near by his rain-soaked troops made camp in the mud, failing to push on and increase their chances of escape. Not even did he allow Lieutenant-Colonel Sutherland to attack the Berkshire men under General John Fellows, who were then blocking the only remaining avenue of retreat; he satisfied himself with merely strengthening his position north of Fish Creek.76
While Burgoyne was retreating slowly Gates did little to improve his advantage. Time was taken to draw and cook rations and obtain more ammunition before taking up the pursuit. Fellows was merely warned of his isolated position across the Hudson and left to use his own measures in preserving his safety. On the night of the 10th Gates planned to attack next morning. Wilkinson was hesitant because he thought that the British were in a strong position and could shatter any offensive. Gates bade him rise early and verify his theory by reconnaissance. Apparently he did so.77
At dawn of the 11th the Americans began to advance under cover p41 of a heavy fog. Morgan, on the left as usual, crossed the upper reaches of Fish Creek and headed directly for a hill overlooking it and the Hudson. Although he did not know that a British strong point had been established near the crest, he sensed danger ahead, and, when met by Wilkinson, readily agreed to incline more to the west. Soon afterwards Wilkinson moved eastward and, finding Learned, guided him and his two brigades across the creek and unwittingly headed them against the British intrenchments, then completely hidden by the fog. Other American units farther down the creek and nearer the Hudson grew suspicious and halted. Seeing what a plight they themselves were in when the fog lifted, they ran quickly to the rear, suffering little from hostile fire. Unfortunately, Learned kept moving up the slope just where Burgoyne wanted him to go. Wilkinson, perceiving what a sacrifice was in prospect, hastened back and order him to retreat. After considerable demurring, Learned complied. Wilkinson's initiative and persistence had prevented disaster.78
Gates now wisely made no further effort to advance. The Americans could wait; the British could not. Realizing that the net around him was tightening, Burgoyne called a council of war on the 12th, and it decided to hasten the retreat, abandoning baggage and artillery. Nothing was done, however. Next day another council of war was held, and this time all were for surrender on honorable conditions. Lieutenant-Colonel Kingston was sent to arrange the details with Gates, who, in anticipation of the turn of events, had already carefully written out his own terms. As a whole, Burgoyne found them acceptable; he wanted only one important and several insignificant changes made. Gates agreed to them all, even to the one stipulating that those surrendering would be returned to England if they promised not to serve again in North America during the war; he merely requested that all negotiations be ended by two P.M. of the 15th. Believing that Gates's desire for haste sprang from a fear of the British coming up the Hudson, Burgoyne asked for more time. Gates acquiesced.79
The arrangement of the terms of surrender was left in the hands of Captain James H. Craig and Lieutenant-Colonel Nicholas Sutherland, who negotiated with Wilkinson and General William Whipple. By eight in the evening the four had composed their differences and p42 articles were signed. About three hours later Wilkinson received a note saying that Burgoyne agreed to everything except the word "capitulation" for which he wished "convention" substituted. For the third time Gates found no objection, and, after sending word to that effect, lay down to sleep.80
On the next morning, the 16th, Burgoyne wanted more delay; he had just heard the erroneous report that Sir Henry Clinton had advanced to Albany. He thereupon demanded that two of his officers count the American forces so that he would be sure of their superiority. Of course, Gates did not countenance such an impudent and lunatic request, and Wilkinson was sent to inform Burgoyne accordingly and to demand an "immediate and decisive reply."81 Burgoyne refused, the truce was to end in an hour, and Wilkinson started back — a failure on a definite mission. He had gone only a few hundred yards when Kingston came running after him, and pleaded that it be extended another hour. Burgoyne, meanwhile having consulted his officers, remained obdurate and sent Sutherland to inform Wilkinson of the final decision. Wilkinson, then reading part of Craig's letter in which Burgoyne had stated all was satisfactory except the word "capitulation," declared that he expected to keep it as a reminder of British good faith. Sutherland asked for the loan of the letter as an aid to win over his general; and, when given it, ran quickly back to his camp. Gates sent word to break off negotiations, but Wilkinson held on, replying that he was doing the best that he could and would see him in half an hour. Soon after Sutherland reappeared with Burgoyne's signature to the papers. Greatly relieved, Wilkinson returned with them to Gates.82
Seldom has a youth of twenty been so important in arranging details for so significant a surrender. Certainly none in American history pretends to an equal claim. Matthew Lyon believed that Wilkinson was then the "likeliest young man I ever saw."83 He was the same one who, in later years, charged John Adams, the President, with "unbounded thirst for ridiculous pomp and for foolish adulation," and had to suffer four months' imprisonment and a thousand-dollar fine as a consequence. Gates seemed to hold an equally flattering opinion p43 of his aide. Perhaps he saw in him a repetition of his own early struggles in the British service. He could recall how others had smoothed the way for him in his upward climb, and he overlooked few opportunities to do the same for his favorite subordinate.
When the surrender of the British army actually occurred at Saratoga, Wilkinson was given an important part. Early in the morning of the 17th, he started to the camp of Burgoyne, who, accompanied by staff and general officers, soon returned with him to the headquarters of Gates. At the head of the American camp the two met — Burgoyne in rich uniform of scarlet and gold, Gates, wigless, wearing his spectacles, and in a plain blue frock. When about sword's distance from each other, both halted, and Wilkinson introduced them. Then Burgoyne, always the actor, took his cue, raised his hat, and declared:
"The fortune of war, General Gates, has made me your prisoner."
Gates, not to be outdone, replied:
"I shall always be ready to bear testimony that it has not been through any fault of your excellency."84
After the others had been introduced, Wilkinson went to supervise other details incident to the surrender of the defeated army.85
Probably as a result of his hard and trying work, Wilkinson fell ill with "convulsive colic" from which he suffered extremely. Not until the 20th of October was he able to leave Albany for York, Pennsylvania, where congress, was then sitting. He had been chosen as Gates's messenger for making an official report of the surrender at Saratoga. Washington was to be meanly ignored. With other papers he bore a very flattering letter in which Congress was asked to reward him with the brevet of brigadier-general.86 In spite of this recommendation from Gates for promotion and the eagerness of Congress for news, Wilkinson did not hasten his journey.
The approximate distance from Albany to York via Kingston, Easton, Reading is •285 miles, and Wilkinson took eleven days to travel it. He was not well, the weather was bad, and he found plenty of friends along the way. At Hurley he spent a little while with George Clinton and Gouverneur Morris. At Easton the attraction was greater and his stay longer. Here as director general of hospitals p44 was Dr. William Shippen, whom Wilkinson when a medical student had known in Philadelphia. From him and others, he heard much of Thomas Conway, a French soldier of Irish antecedents who had been made a brigadier-general in the American forces and was allied with others in secret efforts to undermine the prestige of Washington. And best of all, that charming Ann Biddle, his fiancée, was visiting in the town. She was always a ready listener to the brave stories of her returning knight. Two days was only too short a time to spend with friends and betrothed, even if Congress was waiting for what he might tell.87
On the 27th he left for Reading, •fifty miles distant, arriving there in the evening, and falling in the hands of old soldiers and veteran politicians. General Mifflin was there in a smug fit of blues. At tea, he and two Congressmen, as invited guests, quizzed Wilkinson about Gates's victory, while they croaked on Washington's misfortunes, damning him by contrast and with the help of Conway's thirteen reasons for the American defeat at Brandywine on September 11.88
Next day it rained in torrents, and Wilkinson lay over; his health was not good and hospitality was alluring. Lord Stirling, an American major-general, invited him to dinner. His two aides, one McWilliams and James Monroe, were also guests. The General delighted in telling his own experiences; he liked to have brilliant youngsters with him for a pot-luck dinner while he was mending from a spill from his horse. Even if he preferred his own trumpet solos, he gave others a chance once in a while, listening attentively to their part in the symphony of news and comment. The hours slipped quickly by for those congenial comrades in arms — an open fire, a big-bellied flagon under a friendly roof pelted with cold autumn rain. It was easy for mutual confidences under the influence of Monongahela brew, and when Wilkinson's turn came, he was off his guard, and told McWilliams things that were only for the ears of Gates and himself. His host learned of them, and before long Washington knew that Conway and Gates were plotting to supplant him.89
Not until about midnight did the party break up. Next day and part of the following Wilkinson remained in Reading. The Schuylkill, p45 as he said, had overflowed its banks, and swept away all ferryboats.90 This was not much of an excuse for the delay of an officer who bore messages for Congress, and had at one time crossed the Delaware in a blizzard and the St. Lawrence under hostile fire. Maybe he was enjoying more of his friends, such as the able lawyer Edward Biddle, a relative of his fiancée, or Alexander Graydon, a youthful friend for whom he had a great regard.
When he finally reached York, •about fifty miles distant, on Friday the 31st, he found that John Hancock had resigned and Charles Thompson was acting as President of Congress. After he had delivered the public dispatches and answered various questions by members of Congress, he noticed a tendency of many to criticize Gates. With the idea of putting his own papers in better order and drawing up a brief for the General's defense, he asked to withdraw and reappear before the body later. After consulting with Samuel Adams and others he wrote out a message to Congress in Gates's name. On November 3 he again came before its members and defended the lenient terms of surrender. The task was now much easier, for Henry Laurens was friendly and had been elected President.91
Next day Wilkinson wrote Gates a letter in which the General was advised against allowing copies to be made of official papers. By granting the privilege, the details of Saratoga had already reached Congress, and some of its members had been outspoken in criticizing the liberal terms given Burgoyne. Of course he had shown that they were warranted by the conditions. He also added that the public notice that Washington had received no official notice of the surrender, and that he himself was still without mark of Congress' approbation. Even so, he was not mortified; in his own words, ". . . my hearty contempt of the follies of the world will shield me from such pitiful sensations."92
Nevertheless, this "promising military genius" was distinctly disappointed when others were receiving official recognition. On November 3, Gates besides being voted the thanks of Congress, like Arnold and Lincoln, had been given a gold medal in appreciation of his services. Next day it awarded "elegant swords" to three more officers.93 In spite of Gates's request some were loath to honor Wilkinson, who p46 was already high-ranking for his years and had taken about twice the necessary time to bring them dispatches of the highest importance. Perhaps the gift of a horsewhip and a pair of spurs would be better and more suggestive gifts. Such at least was the idea of one or two.94 However, in the great joy of victory sober thinking took a holiday; much to the resentment of older and more experienced officers, Wilkinson was given the brevet of brigadier-general on November 6, 1777.95
Shortly after delivering the papers concerned with Burgoyne's surrender, Wilkinson left York, going to Reading and spending several days with friends, then travelling to White Marsh, where he expected to find Washington and make another official report of Saratoga. Gates did not dare to ignore completely the commander-in‑chief, although he could show studied discourtesy in long delay. Undisturbed, Washington treated his messenger with kindness and attention, asking various questions about Gates's recent operations and present dispositions.96
He also showed similar forbearance toward the disreputable General Thomas Conway, who was then in camp and had written a bitter and disloyal letter concerning him to Gates. Fearful of disclosure, Conway now approached Wilkinson and asked if he recalled having read certain expressions in it. Wilkinson replied that he did not remember them. When wine was flowing and spirits high he might tell all to Lord Stirling, but never when sober and thoughtful to this plotting and ill-balanced Conway.97 He was still unaware of what a Pandora's box had been opened by talking indiscreetly at Reading. For several days he continued with the Grand Army, strutting a little, renewing his friendships, and learning much about the battle of Germantown. And then he set out for Easton, where that "sprightly" Ann Biddle awaited his coming. Of course he lingered several days with her. It was not until the 9th of December that this fledgling brigadier was back at Albany, working once more as adjutant-general of the Northern Department.98
1 Memoirs, I, 83; "Deputy Adjutant-General's Orderly Book," in The Bulletin of Fort Ticonderoga Museum, Jan., 1933, p35, and July, 1933, p87.
2 Memoirs, I, 86, 99; Wilkinson to Gates, Oct. 25, 1776, in Force, American Archives, 5th Series, II, 1243.
3 Memoirs, I, 100; Gates to Washington, Dec. 12, 1776, in Force, Amer. Archives, 5th Series, III, 1190.
4 To Gates, Dec. 12, 1776, in Force, Amer. Archives, 5th Series, III, 1190‑1191.
5 Memoirs, I, 101.
6 Gates to Washington, Dec. 12, 1776, in Wilkinson, Memoirs, I, 100‑101.
7 Ibid., I, 101‑102.
8 Ibid., I, 102‑108.
9 Ibid., I, 102‑107; Irving, Life of George Washington, II, 459‑460; Winsor, Narrative and Critical History of America, II, 369.
10 Lee to Gates, Dec. 13, 1776, in Wilkinson, Memoirs, I, 108.
11 Ibid., 108‑110.
12 Ibid., I, 114.
13 Upton, The Military Policy of the United States, 23‑24.
14 Washington to Reed, Dec. 23, 1776, in Wilkinson, Memoirs, I, 125‑126.
15 Stryker, The Battles of Trenton and Princeton, 60, 131, and Irwin to Gates, Nov. 3, 1776, in Force, Amer. Archives, 5th Series, III, 492.
16 Stryker, op. cit., 131; Wilkinson, Memoirs, I, 126‑127.
17 Wilkinson, Memoirs, I, 127‑128.
18 Stryker, op. cit., 113, 133‑138.
19 Ibid., 145‑177.
20 Ibid., 183‑184.
21 Ibid., 185, and Wilkinson, Memoirs, I, 129‑131.
22 Carrington, Battles of the Revolution, 274‑275.
23 Stryker, op. cit., 214.
24 Wilkinson, Memoirs, I, 140; Stryker, op. cit., 271‑273.
25 Stryker, op. cit., 274‑278.
26 Wilkinson, Memoirs, I, 140‑148. Stryker, op. cit., 278‑302.
27 Stryker, op. cit., 288.
28 Washington's report to Congress, Jan. 5, 1777, in Ibid., 460‑462.
29 Memoirs, I, 157‑158.
30 Ibid., 159‑160.
31 Ibid., 160.
32 Ibid., 162.
33 To Gates, May 11, 1777, in Gates Papers, N. Y. Historical Society.
34 To Gates, May 16, 22, 26, 1777, in Wilkinson, Memoirs, I, 162‑167; to Gates, May 26, 31, 1777, in Gates Papers, N. Y. Historical Society.
35 Memoirs, I, 174‑176.
36 Nickerson, The Turning Point of the Revolution, 136; Wilkinson, Memoirs, I, 168.
37 To Gates, June 7, 1777, in Lossing, Life and Times of Philip Schuyler, II, 183; to Gates, June 10, 1777, in Wilkinson, Memoirs, I, 172‑173.
38 G. O., Hqrs., May 24, 1777, in Wilkinson, Memoirs, I, 170.
39 Nickerson, op. cit., passim; Channing, A History of the United States, III, 255‑261; Winsor, Narrative and Critical History of America, VI, 293‑296.
40 Nickerson, op. cit., 140.
41 Wilkinson, Memoirs, I, 175.
42 Memoirs of John Armstrong, Sparks MSS.; extract from the Autobiography of John Trumbull, in Bulletin of Fort Ticonderoga Museum, January, 1933, pp7‑8.
43 To Gates, June 25, 1777, in Memoirs, I, 177‑178.
44 Nickerson, op. cit., 140‑143. "The Trial of Major-General St. Clair," in Collections of the N. Y. Historical Society for the Year 1880, III, 157.
45 The data for this retreat are taken largely from "The Trial of Major-General St. Clair" in Collections of the N. Y. Historical Society for the Year 1880, III, 1‑171, and Nickerson, op. cit., 142‑147.
46 Nickerson, op. cit., 146‑153.
47 Ibid., 154‑157.
48 Ibid., 175.
49 Ibid., 161; Wilkinson, Memoirs, I, 198.
50 Memoirs, I, 199.
51 Ibid., I, 207.
52 Nickerson, op. cit., 280‑282.
53 Wilkinson, Memoirs, I, 222‑223.
54 Andrews, History of the War with America, etc., II, 390.
55 Stedman, The History of the . . . American War, I, 305.
56 Memoirs, I, 232.
57 Winsor, Narrative and Critical History of America, VI, 304.
58 Wilkinson, Memoirs, I, 233‑235; Nickerson, op. cit., 291.
59 Nickerson, op. cit., 303‑304.
60 Wilkinson, Memoirs, I, 240; Dearborn to Wilkinson, Dec. 20, 1816, in Bulletin of Fort Ticonderoga Museum, June, 1929, p10.
61 Memoirs, I, 236‑238.
62 Nickerson, op. cit., 319.
63 Dearborn to Wilkinson, Dec. 20, 1815, in Bulletin of Fort Ticonderoga Museum, Jan., 1929, p10.
64 Memoirs, I, 245‑246.
65 Ibid., I, 245.
66 For the letters passing between Arnold and Gates at this time, see Ibid., I, 254‑261.
67 Hancock to Gates, Aug. 14, 1777, in Ibid., I, 225‑226.
68 Nickerson, op. cit., 354‑357; Wilkinson, Memoirs, I, 264‑265.
69 Gates to Washington, Oct. 5, 1777, in Wilkinson, Memoirs, I, 266.
70 Wilkinson, Memoirs, I, 267‑268.
71 Nickerson, op. cit., 357‑360.
72 Memoirs, I, 270‑271.
73 Nickerson, op. cit., 361; Wilkinson, Memoirs, I, 270.
74 Nickerson, op. cit., 365‑367.
75 Brandow, The Story of Old Saratoga, 17.
76 Nickerson, op. cit., 370‑378.
77 Wilkinson, Memoirs, I, 282‑286; Nickerson, op. cit., 372‑373.
78 Memoirs, I, 286‑289; Nickerson, op. cit., 382‑383.
79 Nickerson, op. cit., 384‑389; Wilkinson, Memoirs, I, 298‑309.
80 Wilkinson, Memoirs, I, 309‑311.
81 Nickerson, op. cit., 395‑396.
83 Lyon to Jefferson, Aug. 12, 1801, Jefferson Papers (Library of Congress), Vol. 115.
84 Nickerson, op. cit., 399‑400; Wilkinson, Memoirs, I, 321‑322.
85 Wilkinson, Memoirs, I, 322.
86 Ibid., I, 323‑324.
87 Ibid., I, 330‑331, 338.
88 Ibid., I, 331.
89 Ibid., I, 331‑332; Hatch, The Administration of the American Revolutionary Army, 29.
90 Memoirs, I, 332.
91 Ibid., I, 332‑333.
92 To Gates, Nov. 4, 1777, in Ibid., I, 336‑338.
93 Ford and Hunt, Journals of the Continental Congress, IX, 861‑862.
94 McKean to John Adams, Nov. 20, 1815, and Adams to McKean, Nov. 26, , in McKean Papers (Hist. Soc. of Pa. Library), Vol. IV.
95 Ford and Hunt, Journals of the Continental Congress, IX, 870.
96 Wilkinson, Memoirs, I, 339‑340.
97 Ibid., I, 341; Declaration of Conway, Jan. 3, 1778, in Hammond, Letters and Papers of Sullivan, II, 1‑2.
98 Memoirs, I, 369.
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