Private of the Light Infantry Company; his cap is leather
bound with three rings of iron chain.
31st Foot was sent to Canada in 1776, following service
in West Florida and St Vincent. However, the flank companies were
detached to join Lieutenant General Burgoyne’s force, which
was to advance into the American colonies from the north, via
Albany, New York State. The 31st joined the 24th Foot and all
of the Light Infantry and Grenadiers of the British battalions
in North America, along with Canadian Rangers, Provincials and
Indians under the command of Brigadier General Fraser.
Private of Battalion Company in winter clothing on sentry
As the column moved south via Ticonderoga it lost men in swamps,
creeks and marshes, as well as from attacks by concealed riflemen.
They eventually crossed the River Hudson and arrived at a small
settlement near the Fishkill River called Saratoga. Burgoyne had
been attempting to link up with General Howe’s troops from
New York. The Americans at Saratoga were commanded by Major General
Horatio Gates and Benedict Arnold.
Burgoyne advanced against the rebel position in three columns
on the 17th September 1777, taking personal command of the centre.
Baron von Reidsel commanded the left column whilst Fraser commanded
the right, which was going to attack the enemy flank after a wide
detour. The left wing of Burgoyne’s army was overrun and
driven back and the Light Infantry, including the 31st, were sent
from the right to reinforce the left. Fraser withdrew his column,
but was mortally wounded and as the Hessians withdrew the Light
Infantry were exposed to attacks from the Massachusetts infantry.
By nightfall, when the action ended, the British regiments had
lost a third of their strength. Burgoyne claimed a victory, but
at great cost, baggage had been lost along with access to sick
and wounded. He planned another attack for two days later and
the troops were told to rely more on their bayonets for success,
but the Army was too weak for further action.
The Army re-crossed the River, where they awaited the enemy on
the northern bank. A series of skirmishes and serious attempts
to avoid being overwhelmed ensued, but the Americans’ strength
increased and they launched an attack with 20,000 men against
Burgoyne’s 3000. On 14th October 1777, General Burgoyne
sought terms from Gates and on the 17th, the remains of the force
marched out of their positions with full honours of war and laid
down their arms. The captives were held by the Americans until
1781, when the survivors of the 31st returned to England.