Starting about 10 a.m. Fraser's men, with one company of the Twenty-Fourth as advanced guard, made good progress, and though delayed by another ravine did not at first encounter much resistance. About midday a halt was made to let the other columns come up and rather before 2 p.m. the advance was resumed. Opposition was now encountered, and though at first not more than the advanced guard could deal with, it soon stiffened and became serious. Firing could now be heard to the left, where the centre column had run into the enemy in force, and Fraser had to detach the Light Infantry and two companies of the Twenty-Fourth, one of them Anbury's. These companies, falling briskly on the enemy's flank, did what was needed and the centre was soon moving on again, but shortly afterwards, when Fraser's men were approaching Freeman's Farm, the Americans developed a really serious attack upon him, trying to turn his right.
Five companies of the Twenty-Fourth (1) promptly advanced through the wood in their front to drive the enemy back. Their first attempt was checked but they rallied, re-formed and, advancing again, supported by two companies which had been covering the rear, achieved their purpose. Fifty men fell, but they thrust the Americans back, whereupon these, having had enough of Fraser's men, mostly swung away towards the centre, against which their main attack now developed. Here the fighting was very fierce, the 62nd on the left being specially hard pressed. At one time they were driven off a hill on which were two guns under Lieutenant Hadden. All but three of Hadden's twenty-two men were hit and only timely succour by the 20th prevented disaster.
Fraser, meanwhile, was dealing very effectively with his opponents, but he was already ahead of the centre and could advance no further without quitting an advantageous position on high ground. He was able, however, to check an attempt to outflank the centre and eventually General Phillips brought up guns from the left and lent the hard-pressed centre such effective support that, on the arrival of Riedesel's Germans, the Americans fell back, a simultaneous thrust by Fraser contributing to their discomfiture.Pursuit was out of the question. Dusk was coming on: losses had been heavy,1 the 62nd indeed had lost 200, over half their numbers, and the men were exhausted by the long and stubborn fight. Burgoyne's dispatch2 is full of praises of their gallantry, while Fraser's judicious choice of his position and skilful handling of the situation earned emphatic commendation. But it had been a Pyrrhic victory, and though next day a short advance was made and a position occupied round Freeman's Farm overlooking the Mill Creek ravine and within cannon shot of the enemy's lines, no more could be done.
The Americans were fortifying themselves energetically; they had been too hard hit to fancy attacking again just yet, but reinforcements were flocking to join Gates and delay was all in their favour. The next fortnight brought little change in the situation. Had Burgoyne retired at once he could probably have made good his retreat. The Americans were in no condition to press him, still less to intercept him. Unluckily he conceived that his instructions were absolute and that his main duty was to prevent Gates from joining the force employed against Howe, who had defeated Washington on the Brandywine (September 11th) two days before Burgoyne crossed the Hudson and occupied Philadelphia six days after the fight at Freeman's Farm. He wrote later that he looked on his army as "to be hazarded and devoted", and that "the loss of his retreat to Canada" would be a less misfortune "than to let Gates join Washington".
Moreover, on September 21st a messenger arrived from New York, announcing that Clinton was about to attack Fort Montgomery on the Lower Hudson and hoped that this would facilitate Burgoyne's operations. In view of this Burgoyne felt doubly bound to hang on; accordingly he dispatched three messengers, one of them Scott, now Captain-Lieutenant of the Twenty-Fourth,3 to tell Clinton he could hold on till October 12th. Scott, after thrilling adventures, got through to Clinton (October 8th) three days 1777 after Clinton had stormed the two forts which barred his advance up the Hudson, but by then Burgoyne was past saving.