General John Burgoyne (February 24, 1722 – August 4, 1792) was a British army officer, politician and dramatist. During the American Revolutionary War, on October 17, 1777, at Saratoga he surrendered his army of 9,000 men.
In 1743 Burgoyne eloped with Lady Charlotte Stanley, the daughter of one of Britain's leading politicians Lord Derby, 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.
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, 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.
At the same time, he devoted much attention to art and drama (his first play, The Maid of the Oaks, being produced by David Garrick in 1775).
In 1776, he was at the head of the British reinforcements that sailed down the Saint Lawrence River,with the intention both of relieving Quebec, which was under siege by the Continental army, and of subsequently invading the colonies from Canada. The British successfully relieved the besieged garrison, but their attempts to invade New York failed, largely, Burgoyne believed, because of a lack of boldness on the part of the British commander.
The following year, having convinced King George III and his government of General Carleton's faults, Burgoyne took his place. In 1777 he was given command of the British forces in Canada and charged with the implementation of a plan largely of his own creation that would see Burgoyne and his force crossing Lake Champlain before advancing on Albany, New York, where they would rendezvous with another British army coming north from New York city and thereby, it was believed, end the entire war virtually at a stroke.
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 Canada 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 the orders dispatched from London were not clear on this point, meaning that Howe took no action to support Burgoyne, while Clinton moved from New York too late and in too little strength to be any great help to Burgoyne.
This left Burgoyne to conduct the campaign largely single-handedly. Even though he was not aware of this yet, he could still be reasonably confident of success. Having amassed an army of over 7,000 troops in Canada - 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 Canada, and hemmed in by a superior force, led by Horatio Gates, at Saratoga. Several attempts to break through the enemy lines were repulsed. On October 17, 1777, his troops, 5,800 in number, laid down their arms. The success was the greatest the colonists had yet gained, and it proved the turning-point in the war in the Northern Theatre.
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 recognized the United States and entered the war on February 6 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 George Germain, the Secretary of State for the Colonies. Germain had overseen the overall strategy for the campaign and had significantly neglected to order General William Howe, commander of another, larger army in North America, to move and support Burgoyne's invasion, instead leaving him to believe that he was free to launch his own attack on the rebel capital at Philadelphia. As a result Burgoyne was left stranded and outnumbered at Saratoga.
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 being 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.
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