Baroness On The Battlefield


On the ioth at seven o’clock in the morning I refreshed myself with a cup of tea, and we now hoped from one moment to the next that we would at last proceed. In order to cover the retreat General Burgoyne ordered fire set to the beautiful houses and mills in Saratoga belonging to General Schuyler. [Philip John Schuyler was a member of the Second Continental Congress and a wealthy New York landowner. He had been in command of the Northern Army in New York until two months before this time, when, after the British recaptured Ticonderoga, he was replaced by General Horatio Gates. It was in one of Schuyler’s houses that Burgoyne had been “having a jolly time."] The greatest misery and extreme disorder prevailed in the army. The commissary had forgotten to distribute the food supplies among the troops; there were cattle enough, but not a single one had been slaughtered. More than thirty officers came to me because they could stand the hunger no longer. I had coffee and tea made for them and divided among them all the supplies with which my carriage was always filled; for we had a cook with us who, though an archrogue, nevertheless always knew how to get hold of something for us and, as we learned later, often crossed streams at night in order to steal from, the farmers sheep, chickens, and pigs, which he sold to us at a good price.

Finally my own supplies were exhausted, and in my desperation at no longer being able to help the others, I called to Adjutant-General Petersham, who was just passing by, and, as I was really very much worried, I said to him vehemently: “Come and look at these officers who have been wounded in the common cause and who lack everything they need because they are not getting their due. It is your duty to speak with the General about this.” He was very much moved, and, as a result, about a quarter of an hour later General Burgoyne himself came to me and thanked me most pathetically for having reminded him of his duty. He added that a commander is very much to be pitied if he is not properly served and his orders correctly executed. I asked his pardon for having interfered in matters which I well knew were not a woman’s business, but said that it had been impossible for me to keep still when I saw how these gallant persons were in need of everything and I, myself, had nothing more to give them. Thereupon he thanked me yet again (although I believe in his heart he never forgave me for this interference) and went to the officers and told them how sorry he was about what had happened; that he had, however, taken care of all by an order; but why, he asked them, had they not come to him for food, as his kitchen was at their disposal at all times? They replied that English officers were not accustomed to visiting the kitchens of their general, and that they had taken each morsel from me with pleasure, being convinced that I had given it to them from the heart. Thereupon he gave strict orders that the provisions be properly distributed. This only delayed us still further and availed us nothing. The General resumed his place at the table, and our calashes were harnessed and made ready for departure. The whole army was in favor of making a retreat, and my husband said it could be done, if only we lost no time. General Burgoyne . . . could not make up his mind to leave and lost everything by tarrying.

Toward two o’clock in the afternoon we heard cannon and musketry again, and alarm and confusion prevailed. My husband sent me word to get immediately to a house which was not far away. I got into the calash with my children, and just as we came up to the house I saw five or six men on the other side of the Hudson, who were aiming their guns at us. Almost involuntarily I thrust my children onto the floor of the calash and threw myself over them. The same instant the fellows fired and shattered the arm of a poor English soldier behind me, who had already been wounded and was retiring into the house. Immediately after our arrival a terrifying cannonade began, which was directed principally at the house where we sought shelter, presumably because the enemy, seeing so many people fleeing thither, got the idea that the generals themselves were there. But, alas, the house contained only the wounded and women! We were finally forced to seek refuge in the cellar, where I found a place for myself and the children in a corner near the door. My children lay on the floor with their heads in my lap. And thus we spent the whole night. The horrible smell in the cellar, the weeping of the children, and, even worse, my own fear prevented me from closing my eyes.