In this war of the Revolution you will always hear a great deal about the surrender of Burgoyne and the surrender of Cornwallis. These two British generals were at the head of large armies, and had arranged most extensive plans for series of battles, which, had they been successful, would have ruined completely the American army; and instead of the grand history of independence, of progress and of growth which we now have, there would have been I fear, a very sad ending for the Revolution, and a history sadder still of the years that followed.
This General Burgoyne had been sent over from England with an army of "picked men," great stores of firearms, and some of the finest brass cannon that had ever at that time been made.
I fancy the colonists would have been much more afraid of this general and his soldiers, had Burgoyne not done something, as soon as he reached this country, which was so ridiculous that it made the American officers and soldiers roar with laughter when they heard of it.
You see General Burgoyne was a very pompous sort of a man, much given to strutting and bragging. While he was in England, he had written two or three comic plays for the theatre; and had, I suspect, quite a high opinion of his own composition; for as soon as ever he had settled himself here in America, he wrote out a long, long proclamation, in which he talked to the colonists much as a big bully of a boy might talk to a very little boy.
He promised a great many things to the Americans if they would lay down their arms and surrender at once; but if they did not, there was no end to the awful things he threatened to do;—he would destroy their cities, he would cut their throats, he would let the Indians loose upon them, indeed, he would, judging from his threats, hardly leave the earth for them to walk upon. Now, the colonists believed that the stillest waters run deepest; and so, although Burgoyne was indeed a great general, and had a powerful army, the colonists were sharp enough to see that there was a great deal of wind and bluster about this Englishman after all. Then, too, he wound up this proclamation of his by signing his name with ten or fifteen big sounding titles, expecting that the colonists would surely look with great reverence upon these. But the patriots had now outgrown any reverence they might once have had for English titles, and the newspapers all over the country made all sorts of fun of this proclamation. And said it was a bigger comedy than those he had written in England.
Burgoyne's plan was to come down from Canada into New York State, get possession of the Hudson River, and so hem in the colonies of New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island, that they would be compelled to surrender.
As you already know, Burgoyne failed in his plan in the end; but it was a terrible campaign for the patriots for all that. For Burgoyne engaged the Indians on his side; and wherever the Indians fought, you know there was scalping, and burning, and murder on every side.
At one time, when General Herkimer was on his way with a company of about eight hundred patriots to help defend a poorly garrisoned fort, a party of these Indians, aided by some cowardly Tories fell upon them and butchered them most savagely. Brave old General Herkimer fought like a tiger. When he had been shot in both legs, and could no longer stand, he sat down upon a stump, still cheering his men on, while with a rifle, he fired at the enemy as long as he could pull the trigger.
At another time, General Burgoyne sent a detachment of his men to attack the colonial army at Bennington. General Stark had just arrived there with an army from the New Hampshire militia. Now, General Stark's wife, Molly, was a patriotic woman, and was well known and highly respected in her husband's army. And so, when the British appeared, General Stark said, "Boys, the British are coming; there's a hard battle ahead; beat them we must, or to-morrow morning Molly Stark will be a widow."
It was indeed a close fight; but success attended the army of the general whose wife's name he had made the watchword.