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Determining the Facts

Reading 3: The Voices of Battle

A number of participants in both armies wrote about their experiences at the Battles of Saratoga. Following the battle of September 19, Lt. Col. Alexander Scammell of the 3rd New Hampshire Regiment, involved in some of the heaviest fighting of the day, wrote a letter to his brother describing what he had endured:

The 19th inst. we had a very hot Engagement with his whole Army [Burgoyne's] except about 2000 Foreigners Deserters inform - Their light Camp under Gen'l Frazer appeared about 1 o'clock, our Riflemen & light infantry attacked them and drove them about a mile with considerable [loss?]...I was formed in the line of Battle which was then exceeding hot at 3 o'clock P.M. where, with the above mentioned Troops about 1,500 we sustained the hottest Fire of Cannon and Musquetry that I ever heard in my Life two hours nearly against Gen'l Burgoyne in person when Gen. Poor with the remainder of our Brigade came to our assistance when almost surrounded by the enemy...I believe it was the severest Battle ever fought in America...A ball passed through the breech of my Gun and another through my overalls and just scraped my legg whilst my Serg't Major had both Cords of his Ham cut off with a Ball at my side...The Enemy's loss must have been very great by sustaining an American Fire for at least 4 Hours. The ground...was thickly scattered with their dead Bodies, and I nothing doubt at the lowest compilation we killed took and wounded 1,500 of the enemy. ¹

Across the lines, Lt. Thomas Anbury of the British 24th Regiment of Foot gave his account of the same fight:

I then hastened to my company, on joining of which I met a number of the men who were retiring wounded, and by this time the firing of the enemy was suppressed by the artillery.

Shortly after this we heard a most tremendous firing on our left, where we were attacked in great force and the very first fire...Lt. Don of the 21st Regiment received a ball through his heart. I am sure it will never be erased from my memory; for when he was wounded, he sprang from the ground nearly high as a man. The party that had attacked us was again driven in by our cannon.

The courage and obstinacy with which the Americans fought were the astonishment of everyone, and we now become fully convinced they are not the contemptible enemy we had hitherto imagined them, incapable of standing a regular engagement.... ²

German auxiliaries from Brunswick aided the British at Saratoga. The Germans arrived on the field of battle on September 19 just as the British line was collapsing, saving the day for Burgoyne. A Brunswick soldier recorded the event:

When the English saw us coming they picked up courage again. They shouted one hurrah after another and we answered with a VIVAT and drums beating so that the air resounded...It did not take more than one quarter of an hour before the enemy took flight and left the battlefield to us. The enemy withdrew to their entrenched camp at Stillwater [Bemis Heights] with the greatest speed...Our losses were not light seeing that about 500 of the English had been wounded, yet the losses of the enemy had been far greater and the battlefield was covered with dead...I believe that no regular troops can ever be found in any war who have stood under fire more courageously and more steadfastly than these farmers and citizens have done ³

Questions for Reading 3

1. What similarities do you find in all three descriptions of the battle?

2. Following the battle on September 19, what opinions do the British and German soldiers offer about the American army?

3. In two out of three accounts, the writer estimates his opponent's casualties to be much high than his own. Why do you think this is the case?

4. Give an example for each writer of a detail he included which brought the battle to life for you. Which account made the greatest impact on you, and why?

¹ Letter, Lt. Col. Alexander Scammell to his brother, September 21, 1777, Saratoga National Historical Park Library, The Hoyt Collection.
² Thomas Anbury,
With Burgoyne from Quebec: An Account of the Life at Quebec and the Famous Battle at Saratoga, ed. by Sydney Jackman (Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, 1963), 173-175.
³ Quoted and translated by Helga Doblin, "Saratoga from an Enemy Prospective,"
Tamkang Journal of American Studies, vol. III, no. 3 (Spring, 1987), 19.

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