[January 28, 2020] When things go wrong, they can really go wrong. John Burgoyne was a British General during the American Revolutionary War. Burgoyne devised an intriguing strategy to split away New England from the rest of the colonies by moving his army south from Canada. However, the link-up with a larger British force in New York City failed to occur and Burgoyne surrendered his entire army of 6,200 men to the Americans.
Sometimes tactical concerns overcome even a good strategy. Burgoyne planned to move through the state of New York by way of Lake Champlain and the Mohawk River, taking the Americans by surprise. He believed that he and his troops could then take control of the Hudson River and isolate New England from the other colonies, freeing British General William Howe to attack Philadelphia.1 This plan was very innovative for the time and a worthy goal.
Initially, the plan was successful, and the British captured Fort Ticonderoga. Early success, however, led to overconfidence and his slow-moving force overextended his supply chain. American Patriot militia circled north and cut the British supply line. To make matters worse, General Howe moved south to Philadelphia instead of coming to the aid of Burgoyne. With no relief in sight and inevitable defeat at the hands of the Americans, Burgoyne surrendered.
Upon hearing of the Patriot victory against Burgoyne’s army, France agreed to recognize the independence of the United States. Historians generally agree that this was a “great turning point of the war” because it won for the colonists the foreign assistance which was the last element needed for victory.2 Burgoyne returned to England where he faced severe criticism and soon retired from active service.
But that is not the end of the story for retired British General Burgoyne. Not only was he successful in the British government, but he also was a notable playwright on his own accord. His most famous works were The Maid of the Oaks (1774) and The Heiress (1786). Had it not been for his role in the American War of Independence, Burgoyne would most likely be remembered today as a dramatist.
The life of John Burgoyne is fascinating. I recommend a summary written at Wikipedia.org (see the “later life” and “dramatist” sections). A link to it is here. On another note, today, is the anniversary of the date, January 28, 1777, that General Burgoyne submitted this plan to the British government.
- The Birth of the Republic 1763-1789 by Edmund S. Morgan (1956). https://books.google.com/books?id=KkzuMAhElTgC&pg=PP1