A Doomed Army

Silverwood Blog HopWelcome to the SilverWood Books Blog Hop!
A few of our authors have come together to share a variety of articles and items of interest on their blogs for your enjoyment. There are some lovely giveaway prizes, and – to stay in keeping with the Spring and rebirth theme at this time of year – some colourful Easter eggs. Feel free to collect the eggs, and use them where you like. They were drawn by SilverWood author Peter St John who writes the ‘Gang’ series about a boy who was evacuated to a village near Ipswich during WWII. Meet Peter and his characters on the Blog Hop, along with a host of eggcellent SilverWood authors. 😉 Have fun!
Helen Hart
Publishing Director, SilverWood Books

A Doomed Army

Doing research for a novel can be a very physical occupation. Apart from testing the edibility of the herbs, (most of which we would call today, “weeds”), that I had read Anglo Saxons ate as part of their staple diet, I have narrowly eluded a bear in Lapland, been blown off course in a gale trying to reach the Viking settlement of Hedeby, (now called Haitabu) and found myself the only one out of costume in a giant Viking re-enactment on the island of Bjorko. Most recently, I decided that I ought to get a better understanding of the physical strain of medium distance walking, to help me to get in tune with an event in my new book, “The Wessex Turncoat”. I had once done a fifty mile route march, but that was many years ago when I was much younger and fitter. Now I wanted a smidgen of the feel of the strain of walking around nine miles day after day on rough, muddy tracks on steep, hilly ground. Why?

The American revolutionary flag showing 1 stripe for each of the 13 colonies. Photo taken at re-enactment of the Battle of Saratoga, 2013.

The American revolutionary flag showing 1 stripe for each of the 13 colonies. Photo taken at re-enactment of the Battle of Saratoga, 2013.

In October 1777 a British army capitulated to the Americans at Saratoga. The terms of the capitulation, a so called “convention”, required the half-starved British to march the 200-odd miles to Boston, to embark for England. Two of the conditions of the Convention were that the 3,500 soldiers and the hundreds of women and children camp followers would be well fed by the Americans and that the soldiers, who were now known as “Convention Prisoners” must undertake never to serve in America again.

The march from Saratoga to Boston, or more accurately Cambridge just outside of the town, was an extreme test for an exhausted army. The men had just fought two battles against a numerically far superior army. The first engagement was a Pyrrhic victory, the second a defeat. The soldiers had been on half rations and the women and children on quarter rations, for weeks. Many were seriously wounded and did not survive the journey; many more had minor wounds which impaired their mobility. The late October weather was cold, with frequent rain and snow showers making the walk particularly hard for the women and children who were undernourished and poorly clad. They had had no supplies of cloth or clothing since leaving Canada four months before. One American lady observer said, “I never had the least idea that the creation produced such a sordid set of creatures in human figure – poor, dirty, emaciated men. Great numbers of women, who seemed to be beasts of burden, having bushel-baskets on their backs, by which they were bent double. The contents seemed to be pots and kettles, children peeping through grid irons and other utensils – some very young infants, who were born on the road – the women barefoot, clothed in rags. Such effluvia filled the air while they were passing, that had they not been smoking all the time, I should have been apprehensive of being contaminated”.

Three weeks after leaving Saratoga, the ragtag procession arrived at Cambridge only to find that their accommodation consisted of an abandoned collection of dilapidated huts, some with no roofs, most with no doors or windows. Everyone hoped that their stay in Cambridge would be a short one, before they were repatriated. Their hopes were dashed when Congress decided that they would not be permitted to return home. This was bad enough, but worse was to follow. Their captors informed them that they were to be transferred further from the coast, where there was no hope of a rescue by the British navy. The Americans decided that the new place of imprisonment would be Charlottesville in Virginia and that the wretched prisoners would be marched the six hundred miles to get there, in the middle of winter. Over three hundred soldiers escaped from their captors before the pitiful column reached its destination.

The hardships endured by the defeated army continued for several more years until in 1783 those who had not escaped, deserted or died were released.

The defeat at Saratoga did not immediately cause Britain to lose its thirteen American colonies, the war continued for another six years, but it gave the French and the Spanish the confidence to enter the war on the side of the Americans. This ultimately led to British capitulation.

The Wessex Turncoat will be published in June 2014.

And there are a host of other exciting and interesting articles – hop forward to the next SilverWood Author
for more interesting articles, some colourful Easter eggs to collect, and a few Giveaway Prizes

Helen Hollick :  Let us Talk of Many Things  – Fictional Reality

Alison Morton : Roma Nova – How the Romans Celebrated Spring

Anna Belfrage : Step inside… – Is freezing in a garret a prerequisite?

Edward Hancox : Iceland Defrosted – Seaweed and cocoa

Lucienne Boyce : Lucienne Boyce’ Blog – The Female Writer’s Apology

Matlock the Hare :  Matlock the Hare Blog –  Pid-padding the self-published Pathway…

Isabel Burt : Friday Fruitfulness –  Flees for the Easter Hop…

John Rigg : An Ordinary Spectator – Television Lines

Debbie Young : Young By Nature – The Alchemy of Chocolate

Peter St John : Jenno’s Blog –  My Village

Caz Greenham : Caz’s blog Spot – title to be decided

Helen Hart : SilverWood Books Ltd

12 replies
  1. Alison Morton
    Alison Morton says:

    Good points, Michael. The sheer physical slog of military action is often ignored as it’s not at all glamorous, just b***** miserable!
    Romans used forced marches to get from A to B at impressive speed, but there were considerable casualties from both fatigue and blows from the centurions’ vine sticks. And who wanted to be left dumped by the road for the enemy to pick off?

  2. Helen Hollick
    Helen Hollick says:

    Leaving a quick comment as I’m battling flu 🙁 this post looks so interesting, I’m calling back when I feel a bit better to devour it! (as you know I have a special interest in this period!)

  3. Ginger Dawn Harman
    Ginger Dawn Harman says:

    Wow! What an interesting blog post! So much debate still if the action at Saratoga effectively put an end to the British presence in the North. Yet, Burgoyne’s campaign began successfully with the capture of Fort Ticonderoga, but quickly slowed due to logistical problems and harassment by Patriot forces. I wonder if they marched those prisoners right through where I live!

  4. Anna Belfrage
    Anna Belfrage says:

    If I were you, I’d stick with munching the weeds… The sad story above just goes to prove that to the victor go the spoils, and rarely is the victor generous or kind to its vanquished opponents. Poor women, who must have had so many children (and men) die away from them. Poor men, incapable of protecting their families. Great post, tweeted!

  5. Jenno Bryce
    Jenno Bryce says:

    Cripes, Michael, Oi reckon as ‘ow war is real ‘orrible, even when it’s over. By the way, PStJ got captured by the Americans once. It were Thanksgivin’, wot ‘ee was a-celebratin’ wiv ’em, when they decided as ‘ow ‘ee must be a Redcoat spy. They chucked ‘im in prison an’ all, but there was lots o’ noice people in the prison from the USA wot gave ‘im plenty o’ good food an’ drink. So in the end ‘ee reckoned as ‘ow Americans were pretty good after all…

  6. Debbie Young
    Debbie Young says:

    Gosh, what dedication in the line of duty, Michael – I’m tempted to call it “method writing”, echoing the idea of “method acting”. The story I’ve written for this blog hop is about chocolate – I’m now realising I’ve missed a trick by not using “method writing” as an excuse for eating chocolate before I wrote it! Very interesting post and a very beautiful blog design – that photo is gorgeous, and goes so well with the logo for the blog hop too!

  7. John Rigg
    John Rigg says:

    A sorry tale indeed, evocatively described. With my family historian hat on, can I ask if you know if any records were kept of who these people were. From my (limited) knowledge of American genealogical sources, I sense that there is good information available on the names of those who fought for the Independence cause. Probably not, I suspect, in the case of the losers and their followers.

    • Michael Wills
      Michael Wills says:

      Thanks for your comment John. Yes, there are records of some of the Convention Prisoners, but as far as I know, there is no list of those who were still in captivity in 1783 when the war ended. Bear in mind too that almost half of the prisoners were German, mainly Hessian, they had fought with the British.
      I recommend that you read a book called “Escape In America”, by Richard Sampson. I found it quite fascinating.
      One other thing I should point out is that most if not all the commissioned officers were released in exchange for American officers held by the British. This was a privilege not afforded the other ranks!


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