General John Burgoyne
General John Burgoyne
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Burgoyne address the
“Gentleman Johnny Burgoyne,” a theatrical British General, was more interested in his social status, gambling and writing plays than he was in politics. Prior to the Revolution, Burgoyne had no desire to see Britain take action against the colonies. However, he was determined to make a name for himself, and given his military background, fighting in a war seemed like the way to do so.

His first tour of service was fairly successful. In 1777, he forced Americans to retreat from Canada, and the retreat was held for the remainder of the war. After this accomplishment, he returned to England and resumed his position in Parliament. Back in Britain, he devised a plan to attack New England on three fronts and isolate them from the rest of the colonies.

Burgoyne returned to America to implement his plan, marching south from Canada towards New York. The start of the campaign met with easy successes. However, his arrogance and choice of a slow land route turned on him. When the confident Burgoyne arrived in a settlement, he would loudly invite Americans to join the British cause. The invitations had the opposite effect. They cemented American opposition to his army and triggered pockets of military resistance that challenged Burgoyne throughout the march. In addition to local resisters, the General was being slowed down by an excessive amount of baggage. He had insisted on dragging heavy luxury items, like cases of champagne, through the thick New York woods. His mile-long train of carts, pulled by pack animals were almost impossible to maneuver through such dense wilderness.

The opposition and slow route allowed American General Major Horatio Gates to effectively corner Burgoyne. With few useful supplies and no reinforcements on the way, Burgoyne either needed to fight Gates’ army or starve his own troops. He chose battle and was forced to surrender at Saratoga. The American victory was a crucial success for the colonies – a turning point in the war that helped convince the French to support the American cause.

Defeated and embarrassed, Burgoyne returned to England. He held one more government office before the end of his life, but never truly regained his political stature. Instead, his later years were devoted to writing literature, which culminated in the successful publication of his play, The Heiress, in 1786.