The following is an account of the battle of Freeman’s Farm, 19 September, 1777. The account of the activities prior to the start of the battle can be found in the daily posts in the August and September sections. The information contained within this page is from :
JOURNAL of BRUNSWICK TROOPS IN AMERICA
DIARY Of the BRUNSWICK TROOPS IN NORTH AMERICA
Under the command of
Major-General von RIEDESEL
Location, Saratoga NHP
The night passed quietly, although we knew for certain, that the rebels were quite near us among the hills, waiting for us, but we could not find out very much about their actual position as yet. So our troops remained in their clothes that whole of last night saw well, and were under arms again an hour before daybreak.
As the movements the enemy made yesterday had aroused some fear in us as regards our left wing and the main road near the river Hudson, Major-General v.Riedesel ordered 2 companies of his regiment to advance to no. 1 bridge that had just been reconstructed, and station themselves in the vacant space between the above-named wing and the picket 2 hours before daybreak, so that they might be a protee to support that post whatever evenements might happen. The patrols that had been sent out in all directions at daybreak reported, that they had not noticed anything of the enemy. So General Burgoyne resolved to advance further with the whole army, and seek the enemy in their position. For this purpose an arrangement was made with regard to signal shots and shot to give warning, in accordance with which the vans of the columns were to regulate their movements during the advance, so as to remain parallel to each other as far as possible when they got further apart among these wooded hills.
So the army set out in the following order, after the passage across the ravine near the right wing had been sufficiently reconnoitred.
Brigadier Fraser’s Corps consisting of the English Grenadiers, Light Infantry and the 24th Regiment, and supported by the Brunswick Grenadiers and the Battalion of Chasseurs under Lieutenant-Colonel Breymann together with 8 six-pounders that had been given to these two corps, covered the right wing of the army in three small columns, whilst marching along a circuitous path on the hills, and had all the light troops in front of them on their flank.
The central column consisted of the 9th, 20th, 21st and 62nd English Regiments from the right wing together with 6 six-pounders that had been attached to that wing, all being under the command f Brigadier Hamilton. General Burgoyne himself remained with this column. The column of the left wing, that marched along the main road in the valley near the river Hudson, consisted of all the German troops as well as the artillery from the left wing. This column was followed by the heavy artillery with its train, the hospital, all the depots and the baggage of the whole army. The bateaux with the provisions, which were always protected by the 47th Regiment, kept close to the river bank. All the troops were under the orders of Major-Generals Phillips and von Riedesel.
At 8 o’clock in the morning the troops commenced to prepare for their departure, and to form their columns. It was decided by Major-General v.Riedesel, that the Hesse-Hanau Regiment should occupy the hills on both sides of Sword’s House, so that we might make sure of the road that runs behind this house into the depths of the woods, and prevent the army from being harassed in the rear. This regiment had orders to remain at its post until all the troops had set out; it was not to leave anything behind it, and was then to form the rear-guard.
The von Rhetz Regiment, which had hitherto guarded this post, placed itself behind the Specht Regiment, and the v. Riedesel Regiment formed the van. On a shot being fired as a signal from the centre of the army, the vans of all 3 columns set out at the same time at about 11 o’clock. On the left wing the remnant of the Dragoon Regiment, followed by a detachment of 100 men, formed the vanguard in the plain on the road near the river, and was followed by the v.Riedesel Regiment together with a detachment of workmen and the artillery belonging to the left wing, and then the remaining regiments in their order. The column crossed the new no. 1 bridge that was constructed yesterday, and advanced some 800 paces past George Taylor’s House, where we had to make a halt in order to construct another larger bridge over a swampy ravine. (This bridge will be called no. 2 in the future). A signal shot from us informed the other columns of this halt. The v.Riedesel Regiment was posted in a road close behind this 2nd bridge, that had to be made in order to protect the work, and that intersected the valley from the river as far as the hills behind the aforesaid swampy ravine, and led past some habitations at the foot of the hills and on across the mountains. The other regiments were on the foremost chain of hills to our right, and formed a line consisting of various divisions in the direction of the mountains and the valleys between, where we should not be able to see the enemy, but had reason to fear an attack first of all. Our patrols were pushed forward as far as possible.
Drives them back
About 1 o’clock in the afternoon we heard a brisk discharge of musketry at some little distance, which we supposed might be from General Burgoyne’s column. (According to what we heard later on this fire was directed at the pickets belonging to the English column, that form the vanguard in front of same; it made them give way at first, but they were supported by the column).
The firing, which continued for about half an hour, did not disturb the building of the bridge in the slightest, however, General v.Riedesel took precautions in case the enemy should approach our wing. For that purpose he brought the v.Rhetz Regiment nearer his own, so as to have more troops a portee whatever might happen. At the same time 2 companies of the v.Rhetz Regiment under Captain Fredersdorff were sent along another road, which also led across the mountains and seemed to run parallel to the former one, and were posted on a hill further in the woods on the opposite side of the swampy ravine, in order that we might get into closer communication with the right wing of the army in this manner.
General Phillips, who had been delayed near our column especially by his heavy artillery and the construction of the bridge, not left us, as he thought his presence on the right wing might be necessary. So he returned along the same road by which we had come, following the foot prints of the English column, as he did not venture to seek a shorter cut across the mountains. He promised to inform General v.Riedesel of what had happened on the right wing.
When the firing had ceased and the construction of the 2nd bridge had been completed, this was again made known to the other columns by means of signal shots, and after repairing some bad places and small bridges General v.Riedesel advanced 600 paces further along the main road, where another large bridge had to be constructed. The workmen were relieved of their post as vanguard when we advanced again, and General v.Riedesel now brought the Specht Regiment forward, and it had to form in the plain behind the workmen, so as to serve the vanguard as a soutien, whilst the v. Riedesel Regiment on the other hand occupied the hills around John Taylor’s House between no. 2 and no. 3 bridges, that had lately been gained. The height this regiment specially occupied was the one at the crossroad in the wood, where Captain Fredersdorff was still stationed with the 2 companies. It was expected that this crossroad would take us to the column consisting of the English regiments, and this was also found to be the case later on. Major-General v.Riedesel had 2 twelve-pounders driven up behind the ravine to cover no. 2 bridge, and our six-pounders advanced into the plain with the Specht Regiment. At 2 o’clock General Phillips sent Brigade-Major Blomfield of the Artillery to General v.Riedesel. He stated that the vanguard of General Burgoyne’s column consisting of the pickets had had a fierce engagement with the enemy, that the rebels were advancing in ordre de bataille, and that it would probably come to a general conflict that day, for which reason he intended taking some heavy guns from the train with him. He was not mistaken, as a steady and extremely fierce cannonade and discharge of musketry were again heard not long afterwards.
So far General v.Riedesel had neither received any news nor orders from General Burgoyne, so he sent Captain Willoe to same, and meanwhile occupied himself in giving the troops of the left wing such a position, that they would be able not only to withstand a hostile attack, but also defend the valley between the two bridges nos. 1 and 2 in a satisfactory manner whatever happened, the safety of our whole army depending on this, as everything that had to do with the sustenance of the army was enclosed in the space in front of George Taylor’s House. With this in view General v.Riedesel also had the advantageous post the v.Riedesel Regiment is to occupy defended by two 6-pounders from the left wing under Captain v.Peusch, who posted himself with them at a suitable spot on the road.
Some Indians, who had been cut off form the rest, came straight across the mountains from the right wing, and warned us that some hostile regiments had formed into line a short distance from our left wing. These were the brigades that we had seen halting in the plain yesterday, whose patrols had been seen in the plain and on the hills at different time, and had killed one of our dragoons’ horses.
Of the engagement
At Freeman’s farm
Whilst General v.Riedesel was taking these precautions, the firing on the right wing continued with more or less fierceness at various intervals, until the engagement seemed to us to become more general towards 4 o’clock. Captain Willoe returned again from General Burgoyne with the order, that General v.Riedesel should strengthen the post near the river as much as he could, and endeavour to fall on the enemy’s right flank at Freeman’s Farm with all the troops he possible could spare.
General v.Riedesel at once set out with the 2 companies of the v.Rhez and his own regiment together with 2 big guns, and had the hill where these 7 companies had been stationed occupied by the other 3 remaining companies of the v.Rhez Regiment. Brigadier Specht received the command of the troops near the river. He had the 3rd large bridge which had been commenced completed, and posted himself with the greatest part of his regiment and 2 guns at the cross-road behind no 2 bridge, from whence he could defend the whole plain that lay before him as far as no. 3 bridge. Only a small detachment remained in a fleche at the last-named bridge in order to give us warning, which was covered by another detachment posted on an advantageous height behind John Taylor’s House. (The left wing of the army was stationed on this hill later on). The 47th Regiment served Brigadier Specht as a support in case of need, and the heavy artillery was also at his disposal.
It might be about 4 o’clock when General v.Riedesel set out. The 2 companies of the v.Rhetz Regiment under Captain Fredersdorff formed the vanguard, and advanced in all haste accompanied by General v.Riedesel, and they cleared a road for themselves through the wood, which the general followed for one English mile and a half, and which led him to an open hill from whence the flanks of both the parties engaged might by surveyed.
The enemy were stationed at the corner of a wood, and were covered on their right flank by a deep swampy ravine, whose steep banks covered with bushes had moreover been made quite insurmountable by means of an abatis. There was an open space in front of this corner of the wood, in which the English Regiments had formed into line. The possession of this open piece of ground, on which Freeman’s Habitation was situated, was the apple of discord during the whole of the day, and was not occupied by the one party now by the other,. The English left wing was also covered by the same piece of ground, so that the open hill on which we debouched only kept up the communication in the rear of the English by means of a bridge. The right wing of this English brigade (which consisted of the 20th, 21st and 62nd Regiments, the 9th Regiment serving as a reserve) was covered by the Fraser and Breymann Corps, but they had probably to do this at a great distance, and it would, strictly speaking, have been much better for these corps to have assisted the English Brigade as part of the left wing. There was nothing but dense forests around the place where the English Brigade had formed into line.
At the moment Major-General v.Riedesel arrived with the vanguard, the enemy’s fire was more galling than it had ever been. The rebels had advanced fresh brigades against the said 3 English Regiments already for the 6th time. The guns of the right wing, which had all been employed here, were entirely useless, partly owing to the loss of all their officers and artillerymen, partly to want of munition. Even the 3 English regiments, whose constant willingness and bravery was one of their characteristics, had already dwindled down to much less than half their numbers owing to the enemy’s terrible fire, so that there was only a small troop of them left when we arrived, and these were just on the point of posting themselves on their plain again.
We saw the terrible moment approaching very close, when the victory would be decided in favour of the enemy, and this would probably also have happened, if General v.Riedesel had not sent his 2 companies of the v.Rhetz Regiment straight against the enemy’s right flank, who pressed forward against the rebels sounding a march and with loud war cries, and gave them a well-placed flanking fire from behind the aforesaid ravine. Such an unexpected fire had a sudden and telling effect on the enemy, who were sallying forth from the wood in pursuit of the English, and gave new courage to the latter, so that they pressed forward against the rebels once more. At that moment General v.Riedesel rode up to Generals Burgoyne and Phillips, who were with the English regiments. Whilst the English line was advancing Captain v.Peusch arrived with his two six-pounders, and had to post himself on the height in line with the advancing English troops in accordance with Major-General v.Riedesel’s orders.
This was again of great assistance, for in spite of all the bravery the English displayed before our eyes when advancing for the second time, they were still driven back, even much further than the first time. But as soon as Captain v.Peusch saw that the advantageous moment had come, he sent his grape-shot amongst the enemy (who had not expected any more big guns at that place), and thereby covered the English line that was retreating, so that same could fall into line again on the hill. In the meanwhile the v.Riedesel Regiment had formed close to the 2 companies of the v.Rhetz Regiment on the enemy’s right flank. General v.Riedesel sent these 7 companies orders to force their way through the ravine no matter what it cost. Our troops were successful, although it seemed so impossible at first. The ravine was crossed, and a steady fire was poured into the enemy’s flank. The English saw what a powerful assistance we had given them once more, and rushed into the wood together with us with a terrific hurrah.
The beaten enemy
Retire to their
Confusion and terror now spread among the fugitive enemy, who were pushed into the wood, so to speak, and w ere seeking the path across the mountains that led to their camp.
In the manner a victory was torn out of the enemy’s hands on this day, which they had already almost won to all appearances, had it not been for the assistance given by our left wing. Before General v.Riedesel’s arrival part of our Jagers and the v.Barner Battalion had been employed to cover the re treat of the English, when they were driven out of the wood by the force of the enemy.
It was about an hour before dark when this fierce engagement came to an end, which had lasted almost 5 hours on one and the same spot and had caused much bloodshed, as the list added at the end of this journal will show.
The army bivouacs
On the champ
The troops received orders to halt, and bivouaced that night on the champ de bataille as well as the state of the ground would allow.
General Burgoyne tendered Major-General v.Riedesel his sincere thanks for his meritorious assistance, and kept our 7 companies with him on the right wing that night.
After everything was quiet at this spot, some other hostile brigades, who were probably trying to surround the Fraser and Breymann Corps, commenced the fight anew, but after a very few volleys had been fired they were compelled to give way in consequence of an adroit move on the part of Lieutenant-Colonel Breymann. That was the expression Brigadier Fraser employed when he came to us on the champ de bataille, and publicly gave this glorious testimony before all 3 generals. The 24th Regiment lost some more men on this occasion.
Not many more than 100 dead rebels were found on the battlefield, as they had time and men enough to take some of them away and bury them, and also remove the wounded.
Some prisoners we made told us, that the whole force of the enemy had been against us on that day, and that their last brigades had arrived on the battlefield as late as 2 o’clock in the afternoon. Their camp at Stillwater was occupied by hardly 800 men, it was said. If the daylight had lasted longer, it is not unlikely that the fight would have become more general, and the night also prevented us from pursuing the enemy and taking some of them prisoners.
All the generals rode over the champ de bataille, and chose the posts for ensuring the safety of the right wing during the night, after which General v.Riedesel again returned to the left wing towards 9 o’clock. That wing had remained in bivouac where it was when General v.Riedesel had left the valley. The Hesse-Hanau Regiment received orders to leave its post at Sword’s House, and the men had to station themselves on the crossroad behind no. 2 bridge, which the Specht Regiment had occupied hitherto. And the latter regiment, on the other hand, had to post itself with 2 guns on the height where the 3 companies of the v.Rhetz Regiment were stationed.”
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