[REVOLUTIONARY WAR - SARATOGA]. GATES, Horatio (1728-1806), Continental Army General. Letter signed ("Horatio Gates"), to Gov. Clinton, Camp Saratoga, 13 October 1777. 2 pages, folio, in Gates's exquisite penmanship, some small closed tears at creases.
"GENERAL [HENRY] CLINTON WILL NOT BE ABLE TO EFFECT ANY STROKE OF CONSEQUENCE; AND...MAY...BE AS MUCH EMBARRASSED AS GENERAL BURGOYNE"
A dramatic and somewhat ironic letter written on the day that Burgoyne opened surrender negotiations with Gates. The American can taste victory: "I had previously made an Order to Fort Schuyler directing the Commanding Officer there to send Van Schaack's Regiment without delay to Albany. I have also desired Brigadier General Gansevoort to repair forthwith to that City, and take command of all the Troops that may assemble there. I am clearly with your Excellency in opinion that should the Enemy's general push up the river, your force, in addition to the reinforcements I can give you, acting upon the west side, will so cooperate with General Putnams upon the East Side, that He, General Clinton, will not be able to effect any Stroke of Consequence; and perhaps may finally be as much embarrassed as General Burgoyne most visibly appears to be." He promises also to send a heavy brass cannon captured from the British, as well as a regiment from Esopus and militia from Tryon and Albany counties so that General Gansevoort may "be able immediately to form a Post." There was only one fly in the ointment: a contingent of "Volunteer Militia under General Woolcot...could not be prevailed upon to go and remain any Time in Albany." Like many Revolutionary War militia, they felt their term of service was entirety their own business. The departing New Yorkers, Gates reports, explained that they only meant to "remain here a few days," and not stay for a protracted siege. He closes by lathering Clinton with flattery over the Governor's own exploits: "The very great Honour, Your Excellency has acquired by the Noble Defence of Fort Montgomery, will, to latest Posterity adorn the family of Clinton."
Yet departure of those militia forces nearly ruined Gates's victory and the affair at Fort Montgomery redounded rather more to the credit of the attacking British General Henry Clinton than to the defending George Clinton. The Brits killed hundreds in the fort during their 6 October assault, captured several cannon, and sent the survivors (Gov. Clinton included) fleeing into the hills. The next day, Gates's forces defeated Burgoyne at the Second Battle of Saratoga, leaving the British general hopelessly surrounded. He made his first peace overture to Gates on the 13th, and agreed "in principle" to Gates's surrender terms on the afternoon of the 15th. Later that day, however, he heard reports of Gen. Henry Clinton's troops arriving with reinforcements at the Hudson Highlands, fresh from their success at Fort Montgomery. They burned Esopus on the 16th and on that same day Burgoyne learned, through spies, about those departed militia. Was Burgoyne about to surrender to what was now a weakened and inferior force? Should he resume the attack and link up with Henry Clinton's men? Burgoyne called a council of war and a majority of his officers argued that honor bound him to keep his word and surrender. Burgoyne was not so sure. But when an impatient (as well as bungling and overconfident) Gates demanded a yes or no on the 16th, Burgoyne agreed to sign the "convention" (not "surrender") on 17 October. Provenance: See note preceding 316.