The War for America: 1775-1783

By Piers Mackesy | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VII
THE MORROW OF SARATOGA

I. Resignation of the Commanders-in-Chief

The defeat at Saratoga is the clearest turning point of the war. It marked the beginning of a general war waged throughout the world; and it was the beginning of North's real parliamentary troubles. In the House of Commons and the Lords a hurricane broke over the heads of the Ministers. For a time the country gentlemen held firm, and Lord North maintained his large majority. But as the session dragged on and war with France drew near, these supporters began to fall away, and at the beginning of March an Opposition motion on the Budget was defeated by only six votes in a House of 288. Much of the political trouble turned on the treatment of the generals.

Saratoga was marked by the resignation of all the Commanders-in-Chief in America, and was the beginning of what was soon to become a characteristic misfortune of the war: bitter feuding between the Ministers and their naval and military commanders. By the end of 1777 both Carleton and Sir William Howe had resigned; and their example was to be followed by Lord Howe in the course of the coming year.

Carleton's resignation was not a consequence of the disaster, but of his feud with Germain. When he learnt that he was to hand over the bulk of his army to Burgoyne, he had treated it as a mark of disapprobation for his withdrawal from Lake Champlain, and replied to the Secretary of State in language of intemperate violence, reflecting with savage irony on Germain's military knowledge and personal integrity. 'An officer entrusted with the supreme command ought, upon the spot, to see what was most expedient to be done, better than a great General at three thousand miles distance . . . A little reflection on the nature of this climate will, I hope, convince your Lordship . . . a little military reasoning might prove . . .' He accused Germain of having intended from the start to remove him at the first opportunity, and in the meantime to make his situation intolerable by every kind of slight, censure and disregard. 'Constitutionally I am not inclined to think it possible, that, from private enmity . . . a Secretary of State should avail himself of the trust, confidence and power of his office, to insult the authority of the King his Master, in a distant province'.

Carleton was moving from insolence to hysteria, but his letter measures the

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