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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Saratoga and "Best Measures"

In the last post I commented on the relatively genteel manner in which the commanding officers at Saratoga dined and toasted each other, while many had died or been wounded on the battlefield at Saratoga.  The first  action occurred here, at Freeman's Farm, on September 19, 1777.  It was a scene of frenzied actions, of back and forth across the battlefield, exemplified by Benedict Arnold's wild courage.

But it was also marked by a quieter kind of courage and duty, shown by Hessian commander Baron von Riedesel.  Riedesel's memoirs, apparently describing the action in the third person, note that "About 1 o'clock, a brisk cannonade and fire of musketry was heard, and general Riedesel presumed that general Burgoyne's column was then engaged with the enemy.  The fire again commenced towards 3 o'clock, and became much hotter.  General Riedesel finding himself without any intelligence from general Burgoyne, despatched captain Willoe to him.  This officer returned in about three quarters of an hour, and brought orders to general Riedesel to take the best measures to preserve the artillery, baggage and batteaux, and to repair immediately afterwards to general Burgoyne's relief, with as many troops as he should be able to take along, and to attempt an attack on the right flank of the enemy."

I like this excerpt; written by Riedesel in the third person, it provides an aura of detachment and objectivity.  I particularly like the part about Riedesel not knowing what is going on, and spending forty-five minutes until orders return from Willoe, telling him to take "best measures." One imagines Willoe tearing back and forth along this battlefield, finding Burgoyne, expressing Riedesel's concerns, getting instructions, and racing back.  No cell phones, no radios, no "walkie talkies"--communication the old fashioned way.  And reliance on the human being in the field, in life and death circumstances, to take "best measures."

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