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General John Burgoyne (24 February 1722 – 4 August 1792) was a British army officer, politician and dramatist. During the American War of Independence, on 17 October, 1777, during the the Saratoga campaign he surrendered his army of 6,000 men to the American troops.
John Burgoyne was born in Sutton, Bedfordshire location of the Burgoyne Baronets family home Sutton Manor. He attended the prestigious Westminster School, as did many British army officers of the time. In 1740 he purchased a commission in the 13th Light Dragoons, a fashionable cavalry regiment, and soon acquired the nickname "Gentleman Johnny". He became well known for his stylish uniforms and general high living which saw him run up large debts. He was promoted to Lieutenant in 1741.
In 1743 Burgoyne eloped with Lady Charlotte Stanley, the daughter of Lord Derby, one of Britain's leading politicians, after which he lived abroad for seven years. By Lord Derby's intervention, in an act of forgiveness, Burgoyne was then reinstated at the outbreak of the Seven Years' War (known to English speakers in North America as the French and Indian War), and in 1758 he became captain and lieutenant-colonel in the Coldstream Guards.
After the death of his wife in 1776, Burgoyne had four children by his mistress Susan Caulfield; one was Field Marshal John Fox Burgoyne, father of Hugh Talbot Burgoyne, VC.
Seven Years War
In 1758 he participated in several expeditions made against the French coast, including the Raid on Cherbourg. During this period he was instrumental in introducing light cavalry into the British Army. The two regiments then formed were commanded by George Eliott (afterwards Lord Heathfield) and Burgoyne. This was a revolutionary step, and Burgoyne was a pioneer in the early development of British light cavalry. Burgoyne admired independent thought amongst common soldiers, and encouraged his men to use their own initiative, in stark contrast to the established system employed at the time by the British army.
In 1761, he sat in parliament for Midhurst, and in the following year he served as a Brigadier-general in Portugal, winning particular distinction by his capture of Valencia de Alcántara and of Vila Velha de Ródão following the Battle of Valencia de Alcántara, playing a major part in repulsing a large Spanish force bent on invading Portugal.
In 1768, he became a member of Parliament for Preston, and for the next few years he occupied himself chiefly with his parliamentary duties, in which he was remarkable for his general outspokenness and, in particular, for his attacks on Lord Clive, who was at the time considered the nation's leading soldier. He achieved prominence in 1772 by demanding an investigation of the East India Company alleging widespread corruption by its officials. At the same time, he devoted much attention to art and drama (his first play, The Maid of the Oaks, was produced by David Garrick in 1775).
Early American War of Independence
In the army he had become a major-general. On the outbreak of the American War of Independence, he was appointed to a command, and arrived in Boston in May 1775, a few weeks after the first shots of the war had been fired at Lexington and Concord. He participated as part of the garrison during the Siege of Boston, although he did not see action at the Battle of Bunker Hill, in which the British forces were led by William Howe and Henry Clinton. Frustrated by the lack of opportunities, he returned to England long before the rest of the garrison, which evacuated the city in March 1776.
In 1776, he was at the head of the British reinforcements that sailed up the Saint Lawrence River and relieved Quebec City, which was under siege by the Continental Army. He led forces under General Guy Carleton in the drive that chased the Continental Army from the province of Quebec. Carleton then led the British forces onto Lake Champlain, but was, in Burgoyne's opinion, insufficiently bold when he failed to attempt the capture of Fort Ticonderoga after winning the naval Battle of Valcour Island in October.
The following year, having convinced King George III and his government of Carleton's faults, Burgoyne was given command of the British forces charged with gaining control of Lake Champlain and the Hudson River valley. The plan, largely of his own creation, was for Burgoyne and his force to cross Lake Champlain from Quebec and capture Ticonderoga before advancing on Albany, New York, where they would rendezvous with another British army under General Howe coming north from New York City, and a smaller force that would come down the Mohawk River valley under Barry St. Leger. This would divide New England from the southern colonies, and, it was believed, make it easier to end the rebellion.
From the beginning Burgoyne was vastly overconfident. Leading what he believed was an overwhelming force, he saw the campaign largely as a stroll that would make him a national hero who had saved the rebel colonies for the crown. Before leaving London he had wagered a friend ten pounds that he would return victorious within a year. He refused to heed more cautious voices, both British and American, that suggested a successful campaign using the route he proposed was impossible, as the failed attempt the previous year had shown.
Underlining the plan was the belief that Burgoyne's aggressive thrust from Quebec would be aided by the movements of two other large British forces under General Howe and Sir Henry Clinton who would support the advance. However, Lord Germain's orders dispatched from London were not clear on this point, with the effect that Howe took no action to support Burgoyne, and Clinton moved from New York too late and in too little strength to be any great help to Burgoyne.
As a result of this miscommunication, Burgoyne ended up conducting the campaign largely single-handedly. Even though he was not aware of this yet, he was still reasonably confident of success. Having amassed an army of over 7,000 troops in Quebec, Burgoyne was also led to believe by reports that he could rely on the support of large numbers of Native Americans and American Loyalists who would rally to the flag once the British came south. Even if the countryside was not as pro-British as expected, much of the area between Lake Champlain and Albany was underpopulated anyway, and Burgoyne was skeptical any major enemy force could gather there.
The campaign was initially successful. Burgoyne gained possession of the vital outposts of Fort Ticonderoga (for which he was made a lieutenant-general) and Fort Edward, but, pushing on, was detached from his communications with Quebec, and eventually hemmed in by a superior force, led by Horatio Gates. Several attempts to break through the enemy lines were repulsed at Saratoga in September and October 1777. On 17 October 1777, Burgoyne surrendered his entire army, numbering 5,800. This was the greatest victory the colonists had yet gained, and it proved to be the turning point in the war.
Rather than an outright unconditional surrender, Burgoyne had agreed to a Convention that involved his men surrendering their weapons, and returning to Europe with a pledge not to return to North America. Burgoyne had been most insistent on this point, even suggesting he would try to fight his way back to Quebec if it was not agreed. Soon afterwards the Continental Congress, urged by George Washington, repudiated the treaty and imprisoned the remnants of the army in Massachusetts and Virginia, where they were sometimes maltreated. This was widely seen as revenge for the poor British treatment of Continental prisoners.
Following Saratoga, the indignation in Britain against Burgoyne was great. He returned at once, with the leave of the American general, to defend his conduct and demanded but never obtained a trial. He was deprived of his regiment and a governorship which he held. Following the defeat, France recognised the United States and entered the war on 6 February 1778, transforming it into a global conflict.
While Burgoyne at the time was widely held to blame for the defeat, over the years responsibility for the disaster at Saratoga shifted to Lord Germain, the Secretary of State for the Colonies. Germain had overseen the overall strategy for the campaign and had significantly neglected to order General Howe to support Burgoyne's invasion, instead leaving him to believe that he was free to launch his own attack on Philadelphia.
In 1782, however, when his political friends came into office, he was restored to his rank, given a colonelcy and made commander-in-chief in Ireland and a privy councillor. After the fall of the Rockingham government in 1783, Burgoyne withdrew more and more into private life. His last public service was his participation in the impeachment of Warren Hastings. Burgoyne is buried in Westminster Abbey, in the North Walk of the Cloisters, where he was a student as a child and where he spent the remaining years of his life.
In his time Burgoyne was a notable playwright, writing a number of popular plays. The most notable were The Maid of the Oaks and The Heiress. Had it not been for his role in the American War of Independence, Burgoyne would most likely be foremost remembered today as a dramatist.
Burgoyne appears in the historical novel Jack Absolute by Chris Humphreys set during the Saratoga campaign, and in its prequel The Blooding of Jack Absolute and sequel Absolute Honour.
Burgoyne is a major character in George Bernard Shaw's play The Devil's Disciple, and was portrayed by Sir Laurence Olivier in the 1959 film of that play. Olivier, like Burgoyne, is buried in Westminster Abbey, albeit Poets' Corner.
Burgoyne (and supposed mystical events leading to his capture) was the subject of the January 28, 1975 CBS Radio Mystery Theater play "Windandingo".1
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