This Day In History: General John Burgoyne Dies (1792)

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On this day in history in 1782, the British playwright and general, John Burgoyne, dies. His military reputation suffered irreparable damage when he surrendered with his forces at Saratoga to the Continental Army.

He had a second career as a playwright and but his play The Heiress, released in 1786, secured him a place in the literary pantheon.

Burgoyne was born in London and educated at a private school for the elite and his joined the army as a teenager. He was something of a controversial figure. He eloped with the daughter of a wealthy and well-connected Earl. Burgoyne caused a scandal and was forced to give up his commission and had to flee to France.

The Seven Years’ War allowed  Burgoyne, to retrieve his reputation. His father-in-law helped him return to the army.  Burgoyne was to serve with distinction and he showed himself to be a capable soldier and leader of men. Near the end of the war he was elected to the House of Commons, he also began to take his writing more seriously.  In 1775, his first dramatic play, The Maid of the Oaks, was performed. In 1777, Major General Burgoyne  was in command of the force that guarded Canada against the American rebels.  Burgoyne

Burgoyne achieved a victory at Ticonderoga, New York, on July 5, 1777, over the patriot forces. This earned him a promotion.  However, as he extended his supply lines ever further south, he found himself trapped at Saratoga. This was partly because of  General William Howe decision  to take Philadelphia instead of joining up with  Burgoyne at Albany as planned. Burgoyne became increasingly isolated. The Patriots achieved some minor victories and this led to his position becoming precarious. Burgoyne’s troops were surrounded by Patriots  and forced to surrender.

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Canadian and British troops battle Patriot Forces in Canada

Burgoyne negotiated with the Americans and he was taken into captivity with his army. They were treated well and eventually released after the end of the war.

The striking Patriot victory over Burgoyne is commonly thought to be the turning point in the War of Independence in the Americans favor. The General returned to London and was widely vilified and was something of a figure of fun. However, he was a determined character and he soon made a new career for himself. He redeemed himself at least in the eyes of the public with his plays, which were hugely popular at this time. His works are not performed now.

Burgoyne was never able to live down the surrender at Saratoga, even though he had been badly let down by General Howe. It could be argued that Burgoyne’ was the scapegoat for the failure in America, from the British perspective and if Howe had followed the plan, the outcome of the Revolutionary War could have been different.

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