John Burgoyne

John Burgoyne

(1722-1792)

John Burgoyne was born in London, the son of a captain in the British army. He stud¬ ied at the prestigious Westminster School. Burgoyne joined the army in 1740. He was given command of one of the new regiments of light cavalry commissioned in 1759. He made his military reputation during the British campaign in Portugal and Spain (1762-1763). He led his light cav alrymen on daring raids that brought him promotion to brigadier general.

Returning home again, Burgoyne ran for and won a seat in Parliament represent¬ ing Midhurst in Sussex. He ran for election representing Preston, Lancashire, in 1768; he won the race and held that seat for the rest of his life.In 1775, Burgoyne was sent to North America during the Revolutionary War.

Promoted to major general, he witnessed the stirring Battle of Bunker Hill (1775) and came away convinced he could beat the Americans. After a frustrating campaign in Canada (1776), Burgoyne sought and obtained permission to lead a major inva¬ sion to capture and hold Albany, New York and the Hudson River Valley. This he believed was the key to winning the war.

Burgoyne led more than 7,000 British and Hessian troops south from Canada in June 1777. He adroitly positioned cannon on Mount Defiance and thereby captured Fort Ticonderoga on Lake Champlain.

Rather than marching swiftly to Albany, Burgoyne pursued a slow route through the New York wilderness; his men averaged only one mile a day during July.

When he did reach the Hudson River, he sent a large detachment of Hessian troops to find cattle and supplies; these men were nearly wiped out in August at the Battle of Bennington in Vermont.

Burgoyne should have retreated to Canada when he learned that General William Howe had gone south to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, rather than advance north along the Hudson River to Albany.

Instead, Burgoyne gambled and marched south, straight into a trap laid by 20,000 American militiamen led by Generals Horatio Gates and Benedict Arnold.

Outnumbered and out¬ fought at the battles of Freeman’s Farm and Bemis Heights, Burgoyne tried to retreat but was surrounded. On October 17, 1777, he and more than 6,000 soldiers laid down their arms to the Americans in the Convention of Saratoga.

It was a stunning blow to the British side. France saw the opportunity to take revenge on Britain and entered the war as an ally of the Americans. Burgoyne himself was paroled to England in 1778. He was widely criticized for his surrender, but retained his seat in Parliament. He died in London and was buried in Westminster Abbey.