O the student of history, as well as to all of patriotic thought, the scenes of the Colonial and Revolutionary Wars have a special interest.
It was with somewhat of patriotic and reverential feeling that the writer strolled along the road from Lake George
and past Bloody Pond
with his grandson, and told the little boy the story of the old struggle for supremacy in that gateway of the north, and how his
three times great grandfather had gone over the same route to Fort William Henry
, also not omitting the story of Burgoyne
's southward march over the same historic ground.
And again, how impressive were the hours spent in the old Marshall house at Schuylerville (the home of a daughter's friend). There the Baroness Reidesel
found shelter, descending to the cellar for safety during the cannonade of one of the world's decisive battles.
Then the visit to the Saratoga
battle monument, whose lofty shaft fitly commemorates the struggle of an eventful day, will never be forgotten.
In enduring bronze on three sides stand the figures of Schuyler
, but the empty niche on the fourth speaks eloquently, but sadly, of the one who fought so bravely till wounded.
Empty it must ever remain; only the name of Arnold
suggests the reason why. Historians
accord to Arnold
exceptional bravery on that day, and better had it been for him had the enemy's wound been fatal.
's command was an officer whose memory Medford
ever delights to honor—John Brooks
Certainly it was with a feeling of satisfaction that we looked across the hills to the scene of the heroic charge, and remembered the part the Medford
doctor and the Massachusetts
men took therein.
Nearly a century ago an episode occurred in Medford
that recalled that battle day. It is worthy of record in Medford
annals, and we can do no better than to quote it entire, as given by Gen. W. H. Sumner
Historical Collection, Vol.
III. [p. 10]
N the year 1816, General Brooks
having been declared governor by the two branches of the Legislature, I was invited out to breakfast with him at Medford
on the day fixed for his inauguration.
and one or two others were present.
I shall never forget the day, which was one of the pleasantest in June.
There was a cavalcade formed in Boston
, which proceeded to Medford
, under the command of General Sullivan
, to escort the popular governor into Boston
to the State House
, where he was to take the oath of office.
The inhabitants of Medford
, being desirous of rendering all honor to their beloved townsman, had watered their streets, that there might be no dust, and crowded the windows and tops of the houses to see the cavalcade.
They had previously appointed peace officers to serve on the occasion, who stopped all carriages at the ends of the various streets that entered the village, so that the procession should be uninterrupted.
It was understood that the escort would arrive at Medford
at nine o'clock. We sat down to breakfast at eight.
While at our meal General Brooks
saw through the window a tall old gentleman, dressed in his Sunday clothes, with a cocked hat and a long cane.
He said to Colonel Hall
: ‘Pray look out at the door and see if that is not Captain Bancroft
who is passing by. I think it is, and that he is come down to witness the ceremonies of this occasion, and is going by my house, being too modest to present himself.
Pray go out and ask him in.’
He was right in his conjecture, and Colonel Bancroft
(for, after he was discharged from the army, he took command of a regiment of militia, which he held a long time) modestly entered the side door.
This was the distinguished officer who commanded a company in the Eighth Regiment, under the command of Colonel Brooks
, in the battle of Bemis' Heights
, between the armies of Generals Gates
, during the Revolutionary War
, on the 7th of October, 1777.
After the usual salutations between these two officers, who had so much distinguished themselves on that occasion, General Brooks
asked Colonel [p. 11] Bancroft
to take a cup of coffee and remain till the procession came up, and added, ‘There is no man whom I am more glad to see on this occasion than yourself.’
To which the other answered (the parties, forgetting their present rank, addressed each other by the titles they held in the Revolutionary army): ‘There is no one, Colonel Brooks
, who rejoices in it more than I do. I breakfasted at Reading
, and came down on purpose to witness the ceremonies of this occasion.
The choice of a governor which the people have made delights my heart.
I can truly say that if you make as good a governor as you did colonel of a regiment, you will render yourself distinguished, and the people will be blessed in your administration.’
Tears flowed down their cheeks as they clasped each other's hands.
To the remarks of Captain Bancroft
, Colonel Brooks
replied (they still shaking hands heartily), ‘I thank you, Captain Bancroft
, for your kind expressions of confidence.
I did not seek the office to which the people have elected me, and I fear I do not possess the qualifications for it; but I can truly say that if, in the office of governor, I have such support as I had as colonel of a regiment in taking Breyman
's Fort on Bemis' Heights
, I shall hope to do the State
The cavalcade now entered the streets of Medford
amid the acclamations of the citizens.
mounted his charger, and by his request, I rode by his side as volunteer aid. On the way, as we were ascending Winter Hill
, General Brooks
Perhaps you do not know, sir, the reason why the meeting between Captain Bancroft and myself was so affecting.
I will explain.
On the 7th of October, the day of the last battle with General Burgoyne, General Arnold and several officers dined with General Gates.
I was among the company, and well remember that one of the dishes was an ox's heart.
While at table we heard a firing from the advanced picket.
The armies were about two miles from each other.
The firing increased.
We all rose from the table, and General Arnold, addressing General Gates, said, “ Shall I [p. 12] go out and see what is the matter?”
General Gates made no reply, but, on being pressed, said, “I am afraid to trust you, Arnold.”
To which Arnold answered, “ Pray let me go; I will be careful, and if our advance does not need support I will promise not to commit you.”
Gates then told him he might go and see what the firing meant.
Arnold lost no time in advancing with his brigade, and finding that the attack was serious, engaged the left of the enemy's right, where, meeting with great obstacles, he ordered me (I was then commanding the Eighth, or Jackson's Regiment, as it was commonly called) to get a position on the enemy's right flank.
This was protected by Breyman's Fort, mounting several brass pieces, and was rather a breastwork, or redoubt, with guns mounted on three sides, than a fort.
I advanced under cover of the woods, and as the regiment deployed out of them in front of the fort, the enemy, surprised at our sudden appearance, fired a volley of musketry at us. Seeing what they were about to do, as their heads rose above the parapet, the company on the left flank of the regiment, which was most exposed, immediately covered themselves from the discharge by dropping down behind a partridge log. I thought the volley had shot them all down, and rode to them in great haste to ascertain what was the matter.
I was greatly agitated, and met Captain Bancroft, who commanded the left wing.
He, also, had quit his place to see what disaster had occurred.
At this moment the company all rose up and we were relieved from our apprehension.
I was still, however, greatly agitated, and speaking sharply to Captain Bancroft I said, “What business have you here, sir?”
The captain said, “I came to see what had happened to the company on the left.”
I said, “You are out of place, sir.”
With the submissive spirit of a good soldier he replied, “ I am ready to obey your orders, Colonel.”
With great perturbation I responded, “My orders are that you advance and enter those lines, sir.”
The captain, smarting under the reproof, quickly gave the word, “ Come on, my boys, and enter that fort.”
Then, [p. 13] leading the way himself, he made a rapid movement forward, and his company ascended the parapet.
Surprised at the suddenness of the assault, the enemy retired from the fort and the whole regiment entered it.
General Arnold, whose energy gave spirit to the whole action, having been wounded in the foot, Brigadier-General Learned assumed the command of the brigade.
As the day was far spent the men threw themselves down to rest, when General Learned called the officers together, and in hearing of the men, said, “I have called you together, gentlemen, to see whether you agree with me in opinion that it is best to return to our position.
I am clearly of opinion that we cannot hold this place till morning; we may all fall a sacrifice in the attempt.”
The officers of my regiment were the only ones who dissented from this opinion.
I said I thought it was time enough to retreat when the enemy appeared.
“If he does not attempt to retake the fort it will be an everlasting disgrace for us to abandon it; and if he does and we cannot defend it, there will be no dishonor in retreating.
At any rate, my men are fatigued, and want rest and refreshment before they can move anywhere.”
The soldiers cheered us as we returned from the council.
Shortly afterwards General Learned (who was a weak man), called another council to advise with the officers again, and as I was going to the meeting my men said, “For God's sake, Colonel, don't retreat; we have taken the work, and we are able to keep it,” and cheered again.
At the second council but one other officer sided with me. Before the council broke up an officer (who turned out to be an aid-de-camp of General Gates) rode up in great speed, and cried out, “Who commands here?”
The answer was, “Brigadier-General Learned.”
As he appeared the officer said, “My orders from General Gates are that you should retain possession of this fort at all hazards,” and rode back with as much speed as he came up. “There now, Colonel Brooks,” said General Learned, “ I dare say you like that, and as your regiment had a principal hand [p. 14] in taking the work, I will commit to them the defence of it.”
It is sufficient to say that this great trophy of the victory over General Burgoyne's army remained in the hands of the regiment all night, and the American troops were never afterwards dispossessed of it, for, after the battle General Burgoyne fell back, and about a fortnight afterwards surrendered his whole army to General Gates.
It is somewhat remarkable that, at the dinner at General Gates's that day the chief point of discussion among the officers was, whether we should commence the attack, or receive General Burgoyne behind our breastwork at the lines should he attempt to advance.
Arnold contended for the former, saying “ that the assailant had the advantage, for he can always take his own time and choose the point of attack, and if repulsed, he has only to retreat behind his own lines and form again.”
General Gates said on the contrary, “If undisciplined militia were repulsed in the open field, and the enemy pressed upon them in their retreat, it would be difficult to form them again, even behind their own breastworks, for if they were under a panic they would keep on retreating, even after they had passed their own lines.”
The opinion expressed by General Arnold in this discussion was probably the cause why Gates was afraid to trust him to go out when the firing was first heard, lest he should bring on an engagement in the open field, and contrary to his own opinion of its expediency.
In reading Governor Brooks
' story, as thus related by his auditor, we may well raise the query, ‘What would have been the effect had his regiment fallen back, as his superior officer wished?’
and admire his good judgment in remaining and holding the ground thus won. What wonder that in the hour of his honorable advancement (nearly forty years later), that the memory of that crucial time should have so visibly affected those two worthy men!
bit of Medford