Assualt on Fort Ontario
Noble 24th Weekend At Saratoga Battlefield
A fierce attack now developed against the British lines. Lord Balcarres, the Major of the 53rd, now commanding Fraser's detachment, put up a most gallant defence of his section of the defences, beating off all the enemy's attacks, but the Canadians on his right soon gave way and, though even this did not enable the Americans to dislodge Balcarres, they outflanked the German grenadiers and Chasseurs under Colonel Breymann who were posted to the right rear of the camp. The capture, just before sunset, of Breymann's position made a further retention of the lines impossible, but a retirement was safely effected to the heights along the river bank where the hospitals had been established and where the bat-teaux were. Arnold, the life and soul of the American attack, had been wounded, or it might have been harder to get away. Besides losing the much lamented Fraser the Twenty-Fourth had had Captain Jones and Ensign Foster wounded, but the casualties among the men are not recorded. Burgoyne's total loss is put by some accounts at 500.
Above the hospitals three redoubts had been constructed with a good command of open country and the troops hoped very much to see the Americans attempt an advance across the open. For a moment, Anbury relates,1 they seemed about to do this but fell back the moment the British guns opened fire and never gave the troops the chance they wanted. However, the position was quite untenable and the only chance of avoiding a catastrophe was an immediate retreat before the Americans could interpose between Bur-goyne and Fort Edward, twenty miles away. To have a prospect of success not only should the wounded have been left behind but the remaining guns and the batteaux also, so that the march could be pressed.
After dark that evening (October 8th) a move was begun, the remnants of the "Advanced Corps " being detailed as rear-guard. It poured with rain, the half-starved men were wet and weary, the Germans utterly despondent and listless, and it was 11 p.m. before the rear-guard could quit their position. The wounded had been left behind, but at 9 a.m. next day Burgoyne halted his men near Saratoga to let the batteaux overtake them (Anbury). Here three companies of the Twenty-Fourth were posted in a redoubt covering a creek to observe the enemy and give warning of an attack.2 This redoubt was constructed of logs breast high and only gave real shelter at its angles, the rest being under fire from sharp-shooters in the trees who proved excellent marksmen. If a cap were hoisted on a stick it was promptly hit.
The Twenty-Fourth had enough spirit left to do this "in derision", but they were not allowed to retaliate, as Burgoyne did not wish to provoke another action, for which he had not enough ammunition. To their disgust therefore the men were not allowed to drive off the snipers, while, to make matters worse, the snipers completely prevented men approaching the stream by day to get water3 and the only water available was a muddy spring and that found in holes and small pools. All the tents had been left behind, and everyone was wet through and shivering with cold. Moreover, the delay allowed not only the batteaux but the Americans to overtake them, and though the march was resumed that evening the troops, being delayed by the artillery, did not get much beyond the Fishkill stream during the night. Next morning they found some Americans, who had crossed the Hudson above them, preparing to dispute their passage to Fort Edward. These were cleared away, apparently by the Twenty-Fourth, for the regiment is recorded4 to have had nearly 30 casualties, among them Captain Strangeways, in a fight at Saratoga. A party was now sent forward to seize the ground covering the ford opposite Fort Edward. Barely had this party started before the Americans began pressing in on the rear-guard, whereon Burgoyne recalled the advanced party, a fatal step which allowed more Americans to get ahead and occupy the ground above the ford in such force that all chance of reaching Fort Edward was gone.
1 The Twenty-Fourth's are not given, but the wounded included Major Agnew, Captains Blake and Ferguson and Ensign Doyle.
2 Cf. C.O. v, 236.
3 He had succeeded Coote, who got the Captaincy vacated by Agnew's promotion to Major in place of Grant.
1 Hadden shows him as moving in two parallel columns connected by a deployed company of the Twenty-Fourth in front.
1 i, 264. 2 Anbury, n, 7. 3 Anbury, n, p. 3.
4 MS. Records of Regiment.
Noble 24th Weekend At Saratoga Battlefield