- Historic Sites
Baroness On The Battlefield
Not all the Hessians taken prisoner at Saratoga were soldiers, nor were all of them men. There was also, with her three small daughers,
December 1964 | Volume 16, Issue 1
We learned that General Burgoyne wanted to carry out General Fraser’s last wish and intended having him buried in the place designated at six o’clock. This caused an unnecessary delay and served to increase the army’s misfortune. At precisely six o’clock the body was actually carried away, and we saw all the generals and their staffs take part in the funeral services on the hilltop. The English chaplain, Mr. Brudenel, held the services. Cannon balls constantly flew around and over the heads of the mourners. The American General Gates said later on that, had he known that a funeral was being held, he would have allowed no firing in that direction. A number of cannon balls also flew about where I stood, but I had no thought for my own safety, my eyes being constantly directed toward the hill, where I could see my husband distinctly, standing in the midst of the enemy’s fire.
The command had been given for the army to withdraw immediately after the funeral, and our calashes were ready and waiting. I did not want to leave before the troops did. Major Harnage, miserably ill as he was, crept out of bed so that he would not be left behind in the hospital, over which a flag of truce had been raised. When he saw me standing in the midst of danger, he ordered my children and the maidservants to be brought to the calashes and told me I would have to leave immediately. When I repeated my plea to be allowed to stay, he said, “All right, then your children must go without you, so that I can at least save them from danger.” He knew the weakest spot in my armor and thus persuaded me to get into the calash, and we drove away on the evening of the 8th.
We had been warned to keep extremely quiet, fires were left burning everywhere, and many tents were left standing, so that the enemy would think the camp was still there. Thus we drove on all through the night. Little Frederika was very much frightened, often starting to cry, and I had to hold my handkerchief over her mouth to prevent our being discovered.
At six o’clock in the morning we stopped, to the amazement of all. General Burgoyne ordered the cannons to be lined up and counted, which vexed everyone because only a few more good marches and we would have been in safety. My husband was completely exhausted and during this halt sat in my calash, where my maids had to make room for him and where he slept about three hours with his head on my shoulder. In the meantime Captain Willoe brought me his wallet with banknotes, and Captain Geismar brought me his beautiful watch, a ring, and a well-filled purse and asked me to take care of these things for them. I promised to do my utmost. Finally the order was given to march on, but we had hardly gone an hour when we stopped again, because we caught sight of the enemy. There were about two hundred men who had come out to reconnoiter and could easily have been taken prisoners by our troops, if General Burgoyne had not lost his head. …
We spent the whole of the gth in a terrible rainstorm, ready to march on at a moment’s notice. The savages had lost courage, and everywhere they were seen retreating. The slightest setback makes cowards of them, especially if they see no chance of plundering. My maid did nothing but bemoan her plight and tear her hair. I begged her to quiet herself, as otherwise she would be taken for a savage. Hereupon she became still more frantic, and she asked me whether I minded her behavior, and when I answered, “Yes,” she tore off her hat, let her hair hang down over her face, and said, “It is easy for you to talk! You have your husband, but we have nothing except the prospect of being killed or losing all we have.” With regard to the latter I consoled her by promising that I would compensate her and the others for anything they might lose. The other maid, my good Lena, although very much afraid, nevertheless said nothing.
Toward evening we finally reached Saratoga, which is only half an hour on the way from the place where we had spent the whole day. I was wet to the skin from the rain and had to remain so throughout the night as there was no place to change into dry clothes. So I sat down before a good fire, took off the children’s clothes, and then we lay down together on some straw. I asked General Phillips, who came up to me, why we did not continue our retreat while there was yet time, as my husband had promised to cover our retreat and bring the army through. “Poor woman,” he said, “I admire you! Thoroughly drenched as you are, you still have the courage to go on in this weather. If only you were our commanding general! He thinks himself too tired and wants to spend the night here and give us a supper.” In fact, Burgoyne liked having a jolly time and spending half the night singing and drinking and amusing himself in the company of the wife of a commissary, who was his mistress and, like him, loved champagne.