Editor’s Note: VFTB’s crack team of researchers and military historians has uncovered a never-before-seen collection of letters between two heroic British generals who served nobly during the American Revolutionary War: General John Burgoyne and General William Howe. (Yes, they are actual historical figures.)
This sampling of correspondence describes their strategy to defeat the rebellious colonials at the Battle of Saratoga in the fall of 1777.
While some may question the authenticity of these letters, (which I find astonishing), the circumstances around the build-up to this historic battle, which played a pivotal role in turning the tide of the Revolutionary War, are essentially true. – TEJ
17 August 1777
To My Esteemed Comrade, General Howe,
It has been a long, arduous passage from our wilderness encampment in the Canadian territory. But it is with great pride that I share the news of our brilliant victory over those scoundrel rebels of New York colony, as the King’s brave young soldiers clashed with those ruffians and overwhelmed their defenses at Fort Ticonderoga. As the sun sets, the colours of His Majesty King George’s Kingdom of Great Britain wave proudly against the smoke-filled skies.
I remain confident our plan to join forces, yours from the south and mine from the north, on the fertile plains of Saratoga will cut off those groggy, ill-mannered hooligan colonials from their New England brethren, thus ensuring for the two of us the highest honour. Perhaps a knighthood shall be in order, ol’ chum?
Long live our King.
General John Burgoyne
(P.S. my faithful wife Catherine, Duchess of Strathmore, enjoyed your jovial demeanor at our last encounter and asks of your wellbeing.)
31 August 1777
To My Noble Servant of Our King, My Esteemed, General Burgoyne,
It has been nigh to a fortnight since your correspondence informing me of your glorious victory over those vulgar plowboys of New York colony. Alas, I am still tethered to our encampment here along the banks of the Delaware, betwixt the shores of Philadelphia and Camden, seeking provisions and reinforcements. As soon as they arrive, it will be with the swiftest alacrity that I shall decamp and reconnoiter my forces to rendezvous with your fine men on the fields of Saratoga, where, God and the King be willing, we shall prevail and vanquish those pesky rabble-rousers, thus bringing to a rightful conclusion this senseless spillage of tea in our harbors. I shall send word of my impending arrival and look forward to joining forces before the next full moon.
Yours in the Service of our King,
General William Howe
(P.S. That is kind of the fair Duchess Catherine to ask. Pass on to your lovely wife, I am solid of spirits, except for of an odd rash of late. Do say, will the fair duchess’s carriage be following you south with each undoubted triumph?)
9 September 1777
My Dearest Comrade, General Howe,
I received word today of the delay of your force’s progress towards our sparsely furnished bivouac which I have gone to great pains to secure on the hills just south of Saratoga, not more than a modest horseman’s ride from Albany city. I look forward with bated breath for your updated arrival status.
Perhaps I failed to mention in my recent missive, but it now appears my original estimate of rebel forces numbering in the hundreds was off by the slightest of estimations, to wit a decimal point’s margin. It now seems they may be amassing as many as 3,000 troops. But these illiterate farm boys will be no match for the 7,700 well-trained forces under my command – not to mention the 8,000 good fighting men our King has chosen to serve under your illustrious and brave leadership.
I look forward to your arrival so that we can strategize how to bring this war to a swift conclusion. By the way, word has reached me the wretched rebels are being led by a new general, some chap going by the name of George Washington. I hear his biggest claim to fame involves the brutal annihilation of – wait for it – a cherry tree. I confess I enjoyed a hearty guffaw at the thought of this unfledged tree-cutter at the helm of this boorish legion of misfits.
Your Humble Comrade in Arms,
General John Burgoyne
(P.S. Interesting question, ol’ chap! But oddly yes, my dearest Catherine has insisted on being behind my every advancement south. I am unworthy of such unwavering support. Truth be told, in the past she nigh almost pushes me out onto the fields of battle half-prepared! Strangely she also is stricken with a nasty rash! Such a coincidence, eh?)
Dear General Burgoyne,
Please accept my humblest apologies for this tardiest of acknowledgements. Em, 3,000 American troops you venture? My, my…that number far exceeds what we anticipated I must say. As for my 8,000 battle-ready troops, I fear I may have failed to inform you that Pennsylvania is having a bumper crop of hops and barley this year. The Almanac’s prediction of a ghastly early frost means my men have been conscripted into the service of gathering as many bushels as possible for fear they will wilt.
Do say, is there any truth to the rumor that the colonial rascals have conscripted those bastard French fighters in service of their rebellion? If true, concern thyself not, as we both know the French proclivity for surrender at the mere mention of a bayonet, eh?
Fear not, dear hero. 1,200 of my finest fighters will lay down their spades and make haste in your direction…and the rest shall follow in the glory-march on Saratoga…. just as soon as they have completed painting the interior of my summer manor outside of Philadelphia. We shall surely celebrate the rebel’s downfall. Why not we meet at Saratoga’s house of Stars and Bucks on Kings Street?
Your Most Obliged and Devoted Compatriot,
General William Howe
(P.S. Per chance might Fair Catherine join us for a pumpkin spice latte? I understand it is to die for?)
26 September 1777
You can imagine my dismay upon reading that your support looks to be laggardly at best. One takes to wonder if ‘’General’’ is your rank or if it simply describes how you rank priorities such as in ‘’generally I like to be at war on time!!’’ You can ignore my previous report of 3,000 enemy combatants. The latest estimate has vaulted to 15,000, with more reinforcements en route from the western towns of Massachusetts Bay Colony.
And as to those cowardly French, yes, they be here! Thousands have joined forces with the colonial miscreants. They are like flies around the tails of your lazy cattle! And there is more bad news for my men. For reasons unfathomable, our intended receipt of cannonballs got re-routed to Cornwallis’s troops in Baltimore. How in the Devil’s Inferno did that happen? Good God, we aren’t even scheduled to do battle in Baltimore until Q3 1778.
Look, fine sir, you better get your infantry – all 8,000 of them – and let’s make that with their guns this time – and while we’re at it, dispatch a galleon filled to the mast with cannonballs – up to Saratoga posthaste. Otherwise, I’ll soon be paddling up a creek of shite.
(P.S. A latté at Stars and Bucks!? And no, my Duchess won’t be joining us!! Have you gone daft, man?)
4 October 1777
My Noble Comrade, General Burgoyne,
I’m not sure I appreciate the tone of your most recent communiqué, good sir. Our victory is inevitable and when it is, what are we going to eat and drink if we’ve paid no mind to the care of the King’s fields and barley for beer!? Nay, let us not neglect the unsung heroes of the farm, lest you posit apples fall out of the trees of their own accord, and grapes ferment by themselves! What shall ye say to our brave soldiers e’re they have mightily defeated the Yanks only to be told ye have no Beer! Fear a second revolution I’d conjecture!
As I wish I could be at your side in the moment of your impending triumph, alas, I will have to send you my sincerest regrets. My third quarter estimated property taxes are woefully in arrears (and you know how the King frets on his taxes!). This year, owing to my Virginia plantation profits, it’s going to be a most knotty calculation – you know, with all my slaves as dependents and such.
Oh, by the way, I’ll share a bit of reconnaissance…turns out this George Washington fellow is a bit of a bad arse after all. He appears to have a particular fondness for sneak attacks on Christmas night.
Wish I could join you in your moment of glory, ol’ chap.
(P.S. However did you enchant your fair Lady Catherine to follow you to the new world is a mystery that escapes me.)
General Rat Bastard,
Ta for attending to the care and feeding of the King’s beer and leaving me out to starve, you cowardly tosser. Thanks to your no show, “our” glorious triumph turned into a bloody route. And here’s a rather disagreeable data point: Those Frenchies can really bring it to battle, you contemptible prat. The entire battle was like shooting fish in a barrel – Care to wager a guess who the fish were in this metaphor, you daft wanker?
While you were furiously pencil-pushing your blasted tax returns, my men were dropping like flies on the blood-soaked acreage of Saratoga. So, yesterday, I had no recourse but to surrender, it being the only way to stop the carnage.
(P.S. If you ever make it up this way, let me know – so I can kick your damnable bloody arse, you son of a concubine. Speaking of which, on my return home, I found a note from my Lady Catherine, informing me she was off to visit her aunt in Philadelphia. I know of no such aunt. If I discover she be in repose with you, what I shall do to you shall make the Battle of Saratoga look like a game of cribbage, you rapacious scoundrel.)
That’s the view from the bleachers. Perhaps I’m off base.
For those history buffs out there, here’s the real story of the Battle of Saratoga*
Imagine an entire U.S. Army brigade surrendering to the Taliban, and you will have a rough sense of the impact of the Battle of Saratoga in the fall of 1777. A British force of 7,000 men ultimately surrendered to an army that their generals and military experts had totally dismissed as a rabble of untrained colonial ruffians.
In the best British tradition of contempt for the enemy, the British chose to mount an ill-advised overland expedition deep in the North American wilderness in autumn 1777, with no access to the massive force that could have been available from the mighty British Navy.
British General John Burgoyne led his 7,000 men down from Canada into Upstate New York, where he was planning to rendezvous near Albany with another force under General William Howe, who would be coming up from the south. The plan was to isolate the pesky New Englanders from the rest of the rebellious colonies. Divide and conquer, so to speak.
Unfortunately, instead of assisting Burgoyne, Howe, who had no love loss for his rival general, chose to remain in Philadelphia. Burgoyne had managed to recapture Fort Ticonderoga, but now found himself low on supplies, with winter approaching. Instead of retreating to Canada, he chose to press on towards Albany. Meanwhile, the Americans eventually mustered a force of 15,000 militia backed by reinforcements sent by General Washington, and overwhelmed Burgoyne’s forces. British casualties outnumbered American deaths two to one, compelling Burgoyne to surrender on October 17, 1777.
* Source: The National Interest: God Save the Queen: Great Britain’s Five Biggest Military Defeats
Tim’s buddy Mark Gravel (whose mental health has long been in question) conceived the idea and co-authored this post. Mark hails from Montreal, Canada. With a heart for community, Mark spends extra hours as a self-appointed and little-respected judge of street-entertainers. His self-described mission is to save them the pain of even thinking of auditioning for The Voice by belittling them well before their creative spark potentially blossoms to confidence which he feels only leads to more bad TV.
Check out my latest humor book: YOU’RE GROUNDED FOR LIFE: Misguided Parenting Strategies That Sounded Good at the Time
© Tim Jones, View from the Bleachers 2018