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American History: John Burgoyne

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John Burgoyne, nicknamed Gentleman Johnny”, is famous for the disaster at the Battle of Saratoga. He was a confident and competent commander whom the British men loved. Burgoyne was a sanguine temperament who was known for his eccentric social life.

He first gained fame in the Seven Years War in Europe and was elected to parliament in 1761. It was in Parliament where he gained much popularity when he spearheaded an investigation into the East India Company. Burgoyne gained much respect among the British soldiers for his conduct in Parliament and in command. He was known as a soldiers officer and encouraged his men to go out of their way to befriend new recruits.

Burgoyne’s hobbies included gambling and amateur acting. Had it not been for the Battle of Saratoga, he would probably be known as a playwright and not a general. He wrote two plays, the first, “The Maid of The Oaks” which some some success and his second, “The Heiress” was even more successful.

Burgoyne and Saratoga

Regardless of who John Burgoyne became as a politician and a playwright, he will forever be known to Americans as the General who lost the Battle of Saratoga. The loss at Saratoga was the turning point of the American Revolution. It is generally accepted that the French came into the war due to the victory of Saratoga.

American History: John Burgoyne

The northern army was commanded by Guy Carleton until “Gentleman Johnny” convinced King George III to give him command in 1777. The eccentric general relieved Carleton of his command and began the fateful Saratoga Campaign.

The campaign was largely the general’s own plan. He would begin an aggressive push from Quebec over Lake Champlain with 8,000 British soldiers and sent out another 2,000 men over the Mohawk River as a diversion. This column was led by Barry St. Leger and would converge on Albany where they would meet up with Burgoyne. From there he would rendezvous with General William Howe and General Henry Clinton. Unfortunately the message that was sent from Lord Germain was met with confusion. General Howe did not move and General Clinton moved much too late and the force was not adequate size to be effective. Which left General Burgoyne pushing forward alone and in ignorance of the situation.

From the beginning of the campaign Burgoyne was overly confident and naive. He had little respect for the American forces and believed that he would easily defeat them. His push began at Fort Ticonderoga, which he was able to reclaim from the Americans. After the capture he was promoted to Lieutenant General.

Once he had secured Fort Ticonderoga he pushed further south, towards Albany, New York. It was here that he over extended and became detached from his communications in Quebec. He continued to push forward believing that he had the support of Native Americans and American Loyalists. However, Benedict Arnold neutralized them. Burgoyne was pinched in by a superior force without any reinforcements on the way. The battle was over quickly and Burgoyne surrendered the entire northern army. This blunder may have cost the British the war.

The general returned to England humbled and shamed. His plan failed and the positive rapport that he had built with the public, shattered. He would retire from politics and focus on his playwrights where he would be successful.

John Burgoyne died August 4, 1792 at the age of 70. He was buried in Westminster Abbey.