Saratoga: Turning Point of America's Revolutionary War

Overview

More than the Civil War, more than World War II, the American Revolution is the most significant event in the nation's past, and the British surrender at Saratoga was the turning point of that struggle. In the summer of 1777 - two years after Lexington, Concord, and Bunker Hill, twelve months after the brave Declaration of Independence - the British launched an invasion from Canada under General John Burgoyne. It was the campaign that was supposed to end the rebellion, but it resulted instead in a series of ...
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Saratoga: Turning Point of America's Revolutionary War

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Overview

More than the Civil War, more than World War II, the American Revolution is the most significant event in the nation's past, and the British surrender at Saratoga was the turning point of that struggle. In the summer of 1777 - two years after Lexington, Concord, and Bunker Hill, twelve months after the brave Declaration of Independence - the British launched an invasion from Canada under General John Burgoyne. It was the campaign that was supposed to end the rebellion, but it resulted instead in a series of battles that changed America's history and that of the world. Basing his vivid account on the participants' diaries and letters, Richard Ketchum brings to life as never before the inspiring story of Americans like ourselves who did their utmost in what seemed a lost cause, achieving what proved to be the crucial victory of the Revolution.
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Editorial Reviews

Pauline Maier
The strength of Saratoga lies in his vivid descriptions of the rugged landscape and in his many arresting portraits of participants.
The New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In 1777, the British government mounted an invasion from Canada with the objective of splitting the rebellious American colonies into manageable fractions. On a map the task seemed easy. But on the ground, Ketchum (Decisive Day) shows, Sir John Burgoyne's route was dominated by rugged terrain, creating insoluble logistics problems. Even had Sir William Howe advanced toward Albany instead of turning south to Philadelphia, Burgoyne, Ketchum convincingly argues, was unlikely to have gone much farther. The American northern army, Continentals and militiamen effectively delayed the British until enough reinforcements could be concentrated to offer battle around Saratoga. While rehabilitating the reputation of the conflict's initial commanders, Philip Schuyler and Arthur St. Claire, Ketchum also provides a balanced account of the feud between eventual commander Horatio Gates and Benedict Arnolda subject often clouded by the former's subsequent incompetence and the latter's subsequent treason. Arnold's energy and coup d'oeil proved the tactical mainsprings of victory. Gates was the organizer, the "chairman of the board" able to weld the disparate elements of his army into the sword that Arnold wielded with such devastating effect on October 7, 1777. Moving beyond the generals and battles, Ketchum puts his readers alongside the enlisted men and the regimental officers who did the fighting and dying, the women who followed them and the civilians who got in war's way. His fast-paced popular history relies on their experiences, recorded in letters, diaries and memoirs, to tell the human side of the American Revolution's galvanizing turning point. Illustrations not seen by PW. History Book Club alternate; first serial to Military History Quarterly. (Oct.)
Pauline Maier
The strength of Saratoga lies in his vivid descriptions of the rugged landscape and in his many arresting portraits of participants.
The New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
An exciting and richly detailed narrative history of the events leading up to the decisive battle that altered the course of the American war for independence.

Distinguished historian Ketchum (The Borrowed Years: 19381941, etc.) uses a wide range of primary and secondary sources to vividly depict this extraordinary drama. When "Gentleman Johnny" Burgoyne's feared army of British and German veterans invaded New York, intending to meet up with General Howe's forces, they seemed at first unstoppable. Burgoyne's fierce (and uncontrollable) Indian allies terrorized the countryside, killing civilians and burning and looting outlying settlements. The settlers (some of them previously lukewarm about the revolution) were forced to unite to defend their lives, families, and homes. The Americans soundly defeated the forces of the king at the fierce battles of Bennington and Fort Stanwix. At the same time, a merciless civil war between loyalists and rebels was being fought out in a series of small, vicious engagements. Burgoyne's logistical problems (he was compelled to drag mountains of equipment and supplies over narrow, primitive roads in unfamiliar country) and constant casualties served to weaken his seemingly invincible army. His exhausted forces were finally surrounded at Saratoga, and in the ensuing battle the Americans won a great victory under the courageous leadership of Benedict Arnold, Dan Morgan, and John Glover. Burgoyne's stunning surrender of his 6,000-man army brought a reassured France into the war on the side of the Americans, a move that would prove decisive.

With clear, vigorous prose and well-drawn portraits of famous and obscure personalities, Ketchum captures a stirring time in American history, producing what should be the definitive study of Burgoyne's defeat for many years to come.

From the Publisher
"The knowledge and passion of a lifetime fairly incandesce Richard M. Ketchum's Saratoga. What an achievement it is. "-Robert Cowley, Military History Quarterly

"This is superbly researched, full-scale narrative history at its best. "-David McCullough

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780805061239
  • Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 5/28/1999
  • Edition description: REV
  • Pages: 480
  • Sales rank: 214,048
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Richard M. Ketchum's work has been hailed as "superb military history of an intimacy and narrative power such as is rarely written" (Orville Prescott). The author of twelve books, Mr. Ketchum served as the editor in charge of books at American Heritage Publishing Company for two decades. A graduate of Yale University, he commanded a subchaser in the South Atlantic during World War II. Mr. Ketchum was the editor and cofounder of Blair & Ketchum's Country Journal, a monthly magazine. He and his wife live on a farm in Vermont.

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Table of Contents

List of Maps ix
Preface xi
1 The Secret Mission 3
2 They Wish to See Our Throats Cut 21
3 The Enemy's Plans Are Dark and Mysterious 41
4 To Effect a Junction with Howe's Force 64
5 A Matter of Personal Interest and Fame 89
6 A Theater of Glory 113
7 The Scalping Knife and the Gospel 127
8 The Scene Thickens Fast 147
9 The Most Delicate and Dangerous Undertaking 172
10 I Have Beat Them! 185
11 The Wolves Came Down from the Mountains 207
12 Considerable Difficulties May Be Expected 222
13 The Rebels Will Chicane You 245
14 Giving Stretch to the Indians 265
15 The Dismal Place of Bennington 285
16 A Continual Clap of Thunder 306
17 The moment Is Decisive 329
18 We Had Something More at Stake 350
19 I Will Make a Push in About Ten Days 373
20 They Poured Down Like a Torrent from the Hill 390
21 All Remains Still Like Sunday 408
22 The King Fell into Agonies 426
Bibliography 449
Notes on Sources 470
Acknowledgments 525
Index 531
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First Chapter

CHAPTER ONE

The Secret Mission

He was bone-tired, painfully aware of his seventy years, and not at all sure he would survive the long journey that lay ahead. It was the second day of April in 1776, chilly enough to remind a man that winter was not yet over, when Dr. Benjamin Franklin and four companions stood on the Albany pier in New York's East River, watching their servants load the waiting sloop with baggage, food, blankets, folding beds, and a new saddle Franklin had purchased in Philadelphia.

This was an odd bunch--five men of disparate age, temperament, and experience, bound on a secret, highly sensitive mission to Canada on behalf of the Second Continental Congress. They had departed from Philadelphia on March 26, and a leisurely journey across New Jersey brought them to New York three days later. Assuming that the city would be crowded, Franklin had written ahead to an old friend, William Alexander--a burly, energetic major general in the Continental Army who laid claim to an earldom in Scotland and styled himself Lord Stirling even in these egalitarian times, and who was now in charge of preparing the city's defenses against an expected attack by the British. The general found lodgings for them and arranged for a vessel to take them to Albany, the first major stop on what promised to be a long and arduous expedition.

From where the travelers stood, the noise and smells of the bustling port were overpowering. The entire city of New York was contained within the southern end of Manhattan Island, and it was a hodgepodge of old Dutch and new English structures, fashionable brick residences standing cheek by jowl with mechanics' workshops, law offices, and the counting houses of merchants. Narrow streets, reeking of horse and pig manure, were crowded with boardinghouses, countless shops and warehouses, and a sea of trade signs, all surrounded by a forest of masts, intricate webs of spars and rigging, shipyard ways, ropewalks, breweries, a distillery, and grog shops--the innumerable ancillaries of a booming seaport. Buildings echoed with the blows of blacksmiths, gunsmiths, and joiners, with the shouts of hucksters and the man who arrived each day with a horse-drawn cart carrying a hogshead of fresh spring water for tea (yours for less than a dollar a bucket). The place had a bit of everything: it was a sailor's town, a wide-open town, a haven for smugglers supplying the Indian trade with contraband goods from Holland and for local merchants who bribed customs officers to look the other way when illegal shipments of tea were landed.

On all sides were the trappings of a great deepwater port that now rivaled Boston in the volume of foreign commerce landed at its docks. Nor was the water traffic all international: every day brought fresh shipments of corn and oats from Dobbs Ferry, cattle from Long Island, lumber, wheat, and precious cargoes of furs and skins from Albany--an incredible harvest of pelts carried by trappers and traders from the continent's vast interior.

Beneath the veneer of business as usual were layers of the city's deeply divided loyalties and the discontent they fostered. During his five-day stay in the city, Franklin called on a Mrs. Barrow, whose husband remained a loyalist. Since politics rarely if ever prevented the doctor from enjoying the company of a woman, he listened sympathetically as she spoke of her fears that she and her home might be mistreated by the Americans because of her husband's bias. He reassured her and later arranged with his friend Stirling to see that she was not harmed or harassed. But the incident suggested the rancorous ideological wall that separated acquaintances and friends and even members of the same family as the whirlwind of rebellion swept across America. To Franklin's sorrow, his illegitimate son William, who gained the respect he craved by his appointment as governor of New Jersey, announced his intention to stay loyal to the crown--a loyalty that had him just now under virtual house arrest and later took him to a Connecticut prison, where he remained for two years.

The doctor also had time to write Anthony Todd, an old friend in England, asking, "How long will the Insanity on your side [of] the Water continue?" before expressing his confidence in the outcome of the struggle. "The Breach between you and us grows daily wider and more difficult to heal," he observed, but "Britain without us can grow no stronger: Without her we shall become a tenfold greater and mightier People."

In the public house kept by Jesper Darkes, "zealous partizans in the cause of Liberty," as one habitue called them, met day and night, laying plans, discussing whether this man or that could be trusted or whether he was spying for the government, speculating on what could be done when the British military arrived, as it surely would. But other signs of the festering differences between America and Britain were out in the open, for all to see. Like Boston, New York had its Stamp Act riots in 1765, when the effigy of Lieutenant Governor Cadwallader Colden went up in flames along with his carriages. New York's Liberty Boys had held their own tea party, too, dumping the East India Company's hated cargo into the harbor--doing so, it was proudly said, fearlessly, in broad daylight, and without the Indian disguises worn by Bostonians.

In the spring of 1775, when news of the fighting at Lexington and Concord reached New York, members of the so-called patriot party seized City Hall, armed themselves, embargoed ships in the harbor that were loaded with arms for the British in Boston, and closed the custom house. And as a small detachment of redcoats prepared to march to the relief of Boston, the vigilant Sons of Liberty appropriated the arms and ammunition the soldiers were loading into wagons. Ever since the bloody affair at Breed's Hill in June of '75--a fight known ever after as the battle of Bunker Hill--the army led by George Washington had kept the British bottled up in Boston, but the rebels could do little more than that until a fat former bookseller named Henry Knox, who had a penchant for artillery, brought forty-three cannon and sixteen mortars over the mountains from Fort Ticonderoga on Lake Champlain, and work crews hauled them into position to command the enemy fleet, the shipping channels, and the town of Boston itself. That sealed the fate of the army under General William Howe: the British had nowhere to go but out--out of range of those guns and out of Boston harbor. And so they did, more than a hundred shiploads of them, redcoated soldiers and loyalist families, many of the latter leaving what they regarded as their homeland for the last time, bound for Halifax and England.

Two weeks before Benjamin Franklin and his party boarded the sloop bound for Albany, a New Yorker addressed an open letter to "Freeborn Sons of America," stating a proposition that was in just about everyone's thoughts that spring thanks to the powerful arguments for independence contained in the pamphlet Common Sense, written by Franklin's friend Thomas Paine. "The American separation and independence is now seriously thought of," the New Yorker wrote, "and near at hand, and reconciliation despaired of as a thing utterly impracticable...." His object in bringing this out in the open, he said, was to provoke a dialogue that would lay the groundwork for "a more sound Constitution and perfect scheme of Government." As it happened, the same idea was receiving a good deal of attention behind closed doors in Philadelphia, where the Continental Congress was debating the most critical issue to confront the delegates. Describing these deliberations,John Adams, representing Massachusetts, wrote: "Objects of the most stupendous magnitude, and measures in which the lives and liberties yet unborn are intimately interested, are now before us. We are in the midst of a revolution, the most complete, unexpected and remarkable, of any in the history of nations."

At the same time, Congress received from George Washington the joyous news that the "Ministerial Army evacuated the town of Boston" on St. Patrick's Day, and the forces of the United Colonies were now in possession of it. Howe's departure to Halifax freed Washington's army to march to New York, where the American commander in chief assumed the British would go next. So Boston, which had been the focus of rebellion the year before, was now all but forgotten as advance units of the Continental Army began pouring into New York. Stirling was in charge here until Washington arrived; he ordered all able-bodied males to help fortify the city, and they and the growing number of American troops were doing a prodigious amount of digging--so enthusiastically, one of Franklin's companions noted, that two gentlemen unused to such labor shoveled until "the blood gushed out of their fingers." (Optimistically, Stirling requisitioned "intrenching tools" for ten thousand men, along with appropriate numbers of clothing, blankets, canteens, tomahawks, tents, muskets, and such items to a total of 26,000, [pounds sterling] prompting a poignant note to the New York Committee of Safety from the man in charge of these matters: "I have no cash.")

The city, one member of Franklin's party observed, "was no more the gay, polite place it used to be esteemed: but was become almost a desert [except] for the troops." Indeed, every day brought more of those rebel soldiers to New York, including a rifle battalion and five battalions of infantry under General William Heath, who were seen to be young and well armed, but without uniforms. As fear grew among the populace--Tory and Whig alike--that the anticipated attack by British forces would be accompanied by a naval bombardment, thousands of residents fled--perhaps as many as 11,000 out of a population of 27,000.

The island that Indians called Manahata, meaning "the place encircled by many swift tides and joyous, sparkling waters," had undergone considerable change since a small English fleet arrived in 1664 to take possession of New Amsterdam, its thriving fur trade, and its 1,500 inhabitants. Its contented burghers shed neither a blow nor tear but looked the other way as Governor Peter Stuyvesant stamped his wooden leg in futile protest. In Stuyvesant's day the dense forest north of the settlement's fortified wall was roamed by bears, cougars, bobcats, deer, wolves, and beaver; wild turkeys, passenger pigeons, and partridge were everywhere, as were saltwater birds, prolific shellfish beds, and fish in the island's freshwater streams. Beyond, the rivers were alive with otters, porpoises, and harbor seals.

By the time the uprising against Great Britain began, most of the wild animals were long gone; New York had 27,000 people and was, after Philadelphia (which was next in size only to London in the British Empire), the second-largest city in colonial America, with a superb port ideally situated for a base of British military operations. Despite the activities of its incendiaries, New York was not such a hotbed of rebellion as Boston; the city bristled with loyalists, and the entire Hudson Valley was full of conservative landed aristocrats--many of them Dutch, with pockets of Swedes, Scots, Huguenots, Germans, and Scotch-Irish who might be expected to support England against their rebellious neighbors.

And unlike Boston, New York dominated land and water communications and as such was the key city in America, gateway to the mighty Hudson River, that huge tidal estuary of the Atlantic. It was obvious to everyone--especially military planners in London--that New York, more than any other American city, was where the British had to be. The island was what one visitor termed a "centrical place," ideally situated on the Atlantic coastline. Surrounded by navigable waters, it could be protected and provisioned by the world's greatest fleet, which would have no opposition, since the Americans had no warships. New York, in short, was a superb base of operations for a military force that was dependent on its navy. From New York even the largest British ships of the line--those drawing as much as twenty feet--could sail up the Hudson, or North River, as it was also called, for more than a hundred miles, to within forty-six miles of Albany. At the very least, this meant that His Majesty's formidable navy could take some of the burden off his army by patrolling the lower reaches of the river, spotting and frustrating the movement of rebel troops and arms, while the army held strongpoints on the river's banks.

What were known as the Albany piers were located below the ferry slip where cattle from Long Island were landed, close by the fish market on Dock Street and Cruger's wharf at the foot of Wall Street--the thoroughfare that took its name from the protective wall bordering it, which marked the northernmost edge of the Dutch community. Here ships tied up after touching at major ports in the Atlantic and Mediterranean, as well as the West Indies and the coastal cities of North America. Flanking it on the other side was Whitehall slip, where ferries to and from Staten Island berthed.

By the time Franklin and his group had their gear stowed aboard the sloop it was late in the afternoon. The seamen cast off lines, ran up the sails, and the vessel slipped out into the East River, rounded the end of the island, and, after skirting the battery and barracks adjoining Fort George, caught a following breeze and headed upstream in the Hudson. Standing on deck, the passengers could see most of the landmarks on the west side of town--the tree-lined Bowling Green and the dozen or more houses of worship that suggested the cosmopolitanism of the place. Trinity Church, the Lutheran Church, both the Old and the New Dutch churches, the Presbyterian and New Scots meetinghouses, the Eglise du St. Esprit, and the Quaker Meetinghouse were all visible from the river. So were City Hall, Van Cortlandt's Sugar House (one of the three largest buildings in the city), and King's Wharf, site of the arsenal and royal storehouses. Beyond the ferry to Paulus Hook, where the road to Boston branched off from the Broad Way, were St. Paul's Chapel, King's College, the poorhouse, the prison, and the powder house, interlaced with streets bearing the names of New York's leading citizens--Van Cortlandt, Vesey, Barkley, Murray, Warren, and others.

The last glint of a dying sun caught the rooftops of the elegant residences and grounds along the riverbank, belonging to the prominent George Harrison, Leonard Lispenard, and Abraham Mortier, paymaster general of the royal forces that had lately left town. Beyond, hidden now in the gathering dusk, lay acres and acres of farms, forest, and open lands with a scattering of isolated houses.

Thirteen miles upriver, the sloop docked for the night, and when the five passengers went ashore to cook supper they had their first real opportunity to size up their companions. Franklin already knew Samuel Chase, since both served in the Second Continental Congress, but he was less familiar with a Prussian officer who accompanied them, and had no more than a nodding acquaintance with two men named Carroll--Charles, and his cousin John, a Jesuit priest.

If the Carrolls had any doubts about the freethinker Franklin's tolerance for Catholics or his acceptance of them as associates, those reservations were quickly dispelled. He was by all odds the liveliest, most genial man in the group--"a most engaging and entertaining companion of a sweet, even and lively temper, full of facetious stories always applied with judgment and introduced a propos," wrote Charles Carroll, who was equally impressed with the old gentleman's boundless curiosity and broad knowledge of political, literary, and philosophical matters. Summing up his feelings, he added, "I am quite charmed with him."

Chase, who served so conscientiously as chef on the voyage that he once hurried back from an exploratory trip ashore for fear that a leg of mutton would be overcooked, was a delegate to Congress from Maryland. At thirty-five he was exactly half Franklin's age--a big, strong, beefy fellow known uncharitably as "Bacon face" for his florid complexion (and a choleric temper to match). He had studied law before his election to the provincial assembly, where he was a stone in the shoe of the royal governor and his loyalist friends, one of whom--the mayor of Annapolis--described Chase sourly as a "busy, restless incendiary, a ringleader of mobs, a foul-mouthed and inflaming son of discord and faction, a common disturber of the public tranquility, and a promoter of the lawless excesses of the multitude."

There was a coarseness about Chase that made him one of those men who are very popular with some people and intensely disliked by others, and his habit of criticizing those who didn't measure up to his political expectations did not endear him to his targets, many of them on his own side. At the time he instigated mob action against the Stamp Act he attacked those who were too timid for his liking by accusing them of skulking in their houses and grumbling in their corners, not daring to speak out while the real work of protest was carried on by others. Later, an annoyed Congressional colleague observed that he had "more learning than knowledge, and more of both than judgment."

Charles Carroll of Carrollton, another Marylander, was the antithesis of Chase except in his politics. He was said to be one of the three wealthiest men in America, along with George Washington of Virginia and Henry Middleton of South Carolina. At thirty-nine, he was older than any of the other passengers but Franklin and had an elegant, aristocratic look about him--he was slight, delicate, with deep-set, dark eyes and thin, almost ascetic features. His family claimed kinship with the ancient kings of Ireland, but a more direct reason for their eminence in Maryland was the friendship of Charles's grandfather with Lord Baltimore, as a result of which he had received huge land grants.

At the age of eight, Carroll was sent to France for a proper Catholic education, which was denied him in Maryland, and he spent twelve years there and another six in England, studying law. By the time he returned home in 1764 he was fluent in French and the owner of a ten-thousand-acre estate called Carrollton, a gift from his father. (He became known as Charles Carroll of Carrollton to distinguish him from his parent, Charles Carroll of Annapolis, and his son, Charles Carroll of Homewood.)

His fortune did not keep him from becoming a leader of the colony's patriot movement. He opposed the Stamp Act and what he called taxation by proclamation (by the governor) and played an important part in Maryland's own tea party, averting almost certain mob violence by persuading the owner of a ship loaded with tea to burn the vessel and her contents.

Despite Carroll's unfamiliarity with military matters he had an astonishingly prescient view of how the war for independence would be fought and won. Replying to a member of Parliament who predicted that six thousand British troops could march triumphantly through the colonies, he wrote: "So they may, but they will be masters of the spot only on which they encamp. They will find nought but enemies before and around them. If we are beaten on the plains, we will retreat to our mountains and defy them. Our resources will increase with our difficulties" until at last, he said, "tired of combating, in vain, against a spirit which victory after victory cannot subdue, your armies will evacuate our soil, and your country retire, an immense loser, from the contest." Much blood would be spilt, Carroll knew, but "we have no doubt of ultimate success."

Father John Carroll was under no illusions about his potential contribution to this undertaking. Having spent his working life in a calling remote from politics, he felt like a fifth wheel. It was his opinion, in fact, that men of the cloth who set aside their proper duties in order to engage in politics were deservedly objects of contempt, besides which, he took a very dim view of the mission's chance of success. His reason for accompanying the others was that Congress had done him "the distinguished and unexpected honour" of inviting him to do so.

In any society Benjamin Franklin would have been an uncommon figure, but as a product of what many Europeans considered a raw, uncouth, wild land peopled by renegades from civilized countries, he was looked on as a phenomenon. Which, to be sure, he was.

It was highly unusual for seventy-year-olds to become revolutionaries, but after striving for years to keep the ties between Britain and her American colonies intact, Franklin finally realized the hopelessness of his efforts and became one of the leading figures of the rebellion. He was, of course, far more--a man of such talents as is rarely seen and the embodiment of what would become the great American dream and its fulfillment, in which the bright, self-reliant youngster, through hard work, advances from rags to riches. Beginning life as the fifteenth child of a tallow chandler--a maker of soap and candles--he was apprenticed at the age of twelve to his brother, a printer, and at seventeen left home to seek (and find) fame and fortune in Philadelphia, and go on to become the most renowned of all his countrymen, an immensely creative figure whose life revealed how rich and varied human existence can be. His achievements even before 1776 boggled the mind: he was an essayist, master printer, journalist, publisher of the hugely popular Poor Richard's Almanack, and civic leader. He instigated programs to pave and illuminate Philadelphia's streets and founded the colonies' first circulating library, a hospital, the American Philosophical Society, a fire insurance company, an academy. He was the inventor of an efficient stove, the lightning rod, and, later, bifocal glasses. His interests were beyond all accounting: he studied eclipses, whirlwinds, ants, and the Gulf Stream, knew most of the prominent scientists and scholars of his day, became a farmer, and as deputy postmaster general established local mail delivery in the colonies. Although his formal education stopped at the second grade, he received honorary degrees from Harvard, William and Mary, and Yale, and a doctorate from the University of Edinburgh, after which he was always addressed as Dr. Franklin.

At the age of forty-two he retired from business with an income sufficient to support a variety of philanthropic careers for the rest of his life. As agent for several colonies--and as virtual ambassador for all thirteen--he spent eighteen years in England, returning in 1775, finally convinced that reconciliation with Britain was impossible, independence inevitable and essential.

European admirers regarded Franklin as the quintessential American. Part of this had to do with his homespun look: plain clothes, average height, benevolent appearance, thinning light brown hair that he brushed back from a high, wide forehead, steady gray eyes that gave the impression of having seen much of the world's follies and faults, a wide mouth that looked as if it might break into a grin at any moment. Part also was his ability to merge into his surroundings in such a way that he could appear the rustic, the diplomat, or the scientist, depending on the occasion. At heart he was a philosopher, a patient, wise, and immensely practical man with a delicious sense of humor and a rare facility for thoroughly enjoying almost everything he did. Thomas Jefferson wrote many years later, "I served with General Washington in the legislature of Virginia before the Revolution, and during it with Dr. Franklin in Congress. I never heard either of them speak ten minutes at a time, not to any but the main point which was to decide the question. They laid their shoulders to the great points, knowing that the little ones would follow of themselves."

John Adams, another of the doctor's Congressional colleagues, said of him: "Franklin had a great genius, original, sagacious, and inventive, capable of discoveries in science no less than of improvements in the fine arts and the mechanic arts. He had a vast imagination, equal to the comprehension of the greatest objects, and capable of a steady and cool comprehension of them." That from a man who was no particular admirer of Franklin because of his easy way with women, his habit of turning aside arguments with a joke, and his love of creature comforts that spelled lavish living to Adams's puritanical way of thinking.

Even before embarking on this trip, Franklin was exhausted from overwork in the Congress and in the Pennsylvania Assembly and Committee of Safety, his eyes so tired that he was often unable to write at night, yet he corresponded later with a friend about this period in his life, saying, "I do not find that I grow any older. Being arrived at seventy, and considering that by traveling further in the same road I should probably be led to the grave, I stopped short, turned about, and walked back again; which having done these four years, you may now call me sixty-six. Advise those old friends of ours to follow my example; keep up your spirits, and that will keep up your bodies."

The three commissioners--Franklin, Carroll, and Chase--appeared to have little in common beyond an abiding faith in the cause for which they were risking their lives and fortunes, but it seems likely that before they drifted off to sleep in their cramped quarters, with the waters of the Hudson lapping at the ship's sides, their thoughts turned to the mission and the question of whether it could possibly be consummated with any hope of success. The idea for their secret assignment had originally been suggested to Congress by Chase, and they had a flowery commission signed by John Hancock, the president of that body, endowing them with extraordinary authority. Their instructions, however, were as voluminous as they were improbable of achievement. Put briefly, the commissioners were to attempt to form a union with the people of Canada, Congress's hope being that Canada would become the fourteenth colony and fight side by side with Americans against the British crown, making a British attack from the north highly unlikely. The three men were given the widest latitude to bring this about: they were authorized to establish a free press, guarantee the Canadians religious freedom, encourage them to set up whatever form of government was most likely "to produce their Happiness," promote trade, resolve disputes between American troops and the Canadians, and exercise a host of other powers that would make Franklin and his group a de facto governing body of that country until "the pleasure of the Congress shall be known."

But there was a hitch here--several, in fact. Since 1774, Congress had been obsessed with the desirability of persuading Canadians to join in the conflict with Britain, but nothing much came of this until June of 1775, when the delegates decided to invade Canada if that proved practicable and "if it will not be disagreeable to the Canadians." The dubious theory behind this extraordinary idea was that the Canadians would be more likely to consider becoming a sister colony if the invitation was accompanied by a show of strength. So in the autumn of 1775, far too late in the season for any such notions, two hastily assembled American military forces had headed north--one jumping off from Fort Ticonderoga on Lake Champlain, led first by General Schuyler until poor health obliged him to quit and then by a former British officer named Richard Montgomery. That army was bound for Montreal. The other, under a tough Connecticut merchant named Benedict Arnold, who proved to be a superb battlefield commander, made one of the most heroic marches in history, traveling from Maine through 350 miles of unbroken wilderness toward Quebec. That city controlled the St. Lawrence River, which in turn controlled access to the interior of North America. A misguided venture from the start, the abortive two-pronged campaign was one in which just about everything that could go wrong did. Arnold arrived at Quebec with 675 ravaged survivors of 1,100 who had started on the dreadful march. Montreal fell to Montgomery, but when he joined Arnold he had only 300 men. Storming Quebec in a howling winter gale on the night of December 31, 1775, Montgomery was killed, Arnold badly wounded, and another exceptional officer, Daniel Morgan, captured. Even at that, the rebels nearly brought it off, but the British under General Guy Carleton had cannon, they were behind stone walls, and without leadership the rebel attack collapsed. Arnold was able to hang on through the winter, maintaining a siege of sorts outside the walled city, but he had a mere 500 effective troops against the 1,600-man garrison, and by spring of 1776 his supplies of food and weapons were almost gone and his soldiers crippled with disease and near the end of their endurance.

Not surprisingly, the Canadians who were supposed to flock to their liberators had no wish to join hands with the rough, tough rabble that first invaded their country and now made off with food and other property at every opportunity. But that was a minor factor compared to Canada's memory of the bigotry that characterized American reaction to the Quebec Act of 1774.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 22, 2006

    Decisive Battle

    Saratoga was the turning point of the Revolution. Richard Ketchum has written a fine account of the campaign from both British and American viewpoints. He uses the word of everyone from George III to the humblest privates to help us feel the emotions of the participants. Some readers may feel he denigrates the Indian allies of the English but he uses the accounts of the officers to support his judgment. This is excellent you-are-there history that also offers analysis of the operations that changed the course of the war.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 12, 2001

    An excellent review

    Very easy to read...it is difficult to find many good books on the War for Independence in retail outlets, but this ranks as one! The politics, geography, and economics are not ignored for the juicier military aspects. As an added bonus, his extensive bibliography serves as a nice step-off for other books on the subject which I otherwise would not have known about.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 5, 2000

    Comprehensive and enjoyable reading

    Having read numerous books on the Saratoga Campaign and the players involved (Arnold/Gates/Schuyler, Burgoyne/Fraser/Tories/Indians), this is by far the best. Ketchum has a wonderful style of using innumerable facts with the readability and suspense buildup of a novel. This ranks up there with his masterpiece The Winter Soldiers (Trenton/Princeton) and helps clarify the myths of Arnold's participation in the Freeman's Farm clash and his disregard for Gates' direct orders, as well as his later motivations for leaving the American Cause behind. Gates is shown as the pompous ars he was, though a good administrator, and the bum rap Schuyler suffered because of his unenviable, but correct, decision to abandon Ticonderoga. Though a long read for those not patient with historical writings, it was well worth the time.

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    Posted April 2, 2009

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    Posted July 29, 2009

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 28, 2011

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