"Kidnapping General Charles Lee," Christian McBurney
The meeting will be held in the Westhampton Room, Heilman Center (dining hall--building 34 on the campus map), University of Richmond, at 6:00 p.m. with dinner available for purchase in the dining hall beginning at 5:00 p.m. It is not necessary that you purchase dinner in order to attend the meeting.
University of Richmond campus map:
"The Convention Army," Larry Arnold
Many military historians regard the Saratoga
Campaign and subsequent surrender of John Burgoyne’s army as one of the most
important events in military history---but what happened to Burgoyne’s troops
after the surrender?
At the March 18, 2015 meeting of the American
Revolution Round Table of Richmond, historian Larry Arnold described the 5-1/2-year odyssey undertaken by Burgoyne’s army from the time of the Saratoga
surrender to when the last soldiers were freed at the conclusion of the
American Revolution. Arnold is a former seasonal and volunteer ranger at
Saratoga National Historical Park and now serves as a licensed battlefield
guide at Saratoga.
On October 17, 1777 Burgoyne surrendered his
army to the American commander Horatio Gates. According to Arnold, the
surrendered army numbered approximately 7,000 soldiers. These soldiers
consisted of approximately 3,400 British, 2,500 Hessian and 1,100 Canadian and
“Burgoyne lost the battle but won the surrender
terms,” joked Arnold. “He insisted on the surrender being called a convention,
and his troops being called the Convention Army instead of prisoners-of-war.”
Under what was officially called the Convention
of Saratoga, Burgoyne persuaded Gates to parole Burgoyne’s troops immediately
and allow them to march toward Boston for the purpose of boarding British ships
and returning to England. In return the British promised the Americans that
none of Burgoyne’s troops would return to North America during the war.
However, nothing in the agreement prevented the
British from using Burgoyne’s troops in Europe against France or other enemies
of the British Empire. In addition nothing in the agreement prevented Great
Britain from using Burgoyne’s troops as garrison soldiers throughout the
Empire, which would then free up other garrison troops to sail to North America
“Today there is evidence that the British never
intended to honor the Convention of Saratoga,” said Arnold. “It appears that if
Burgoyne’s army had sailed, they would have gone to New York City and broken
As the Convention Army marched from Saratoga
toward Boston, American civilians flocked along roads to gawk at the
surrendered troops. Along the way some communities were hospitable toward
Burgoyne’s troops, and provided shelter for them in homes and in barns. In
other communities they did not. The lack of food and shelter was a common
problem, and 12 of Burgoyne’s troops died from exposure along the march.
In early November 1777 the Convention Army and
their American guards reached the outskirts of Boston where they camped in
Cambridge. Meanwhile America’s military and political leaders were having
second thoughts about the terms of the surrender agreement which Gates had
negotiated on behalf of America.
George Washington was one of the earliest
critics who urged Congress to reconsider the terms of the Convention of
Saratoga before Burgoyne’s soldiers boarded British ships in Boston Harbor.
Congress agreed, and officially delayed the embarkation in order to negotiate
additional surrender terms. According to Arnold, Congress used the Convention
Army during the negotiations as “a pawn”.
Among the amendments to the Convention of
Saratoga which Congress proposed were names and detailed physical descriptions
of all officers serving in Burgoyne’s army. This procedure would officially
identify those officers not eligible to return to North America who would be
severely punished if they illegally returned and got captured again.
Congress also wanted not just Burgoyne, but King
George III to ratify the Convention of Saratoga. This in effect would force
King George III to recognize publicly the United States as a country and not
just as 13 colonies rebelling against the British Crown.
The negotiations continued for approximately one
year before breaking down completely. Congress then declared the Convention of
Saratoga null and void.
During the one year of negotiations, Burgoyne’s
army remained encamped in Cambridge. However, desertions were quite common.
Some of the troops escaped and blended into American communities where they
frequently married American women. Others deserted the Convention Army and
joined the Continental Army to receive an enlistment bounty, and then deserted
once again at the first opportunity to rejoin another British army.
“ American formations were so small that they
continued to enlist British prisoners,” said Arnold. “Hundreds of Convention
soldiers deserted the Continental Army and then went back to the British.
America simply didn’t have the resources, policies or even the will to stop
In May 1778 Burgoyne was officially exchanged
and William Phillips became the new commander of the Convention Army. After the
British strengthened their grip on Newport, RI in August 1778 the Americans
decided to move the Convention Army away from the Boston area in the event
British troops advanced from Newport toward Boston.
Thomas Jefferson asked Congress to send the
troops to Charlottesville, well beyond the reaches of any British navies and
coastal armies. Jefferson was also anxious to receive these British captives
since they were still getting paid by their government, and therefore would
pump hard currency into the Charlottesville economy.
In November 1778 American guards marched the
Convention Army across five states and 700 miles to Charlottesville. Desertions
continued along the march, especially in Pennsylvania where many Hessian
captives escaped and easily blended into the German-speaking communities of
The Convention Army reached Charlottesville in
January 1779 after a brutal winter march. Their numbers were down from 7,000 at
Saratoga to approximately 4,000 in Charlottesville, due mainly to desertions.
During their captivity in Charlottesville, the Convention Army desertions
continued and large numbers of soldiers suffered from a shortage of food and
adequate shelter. Soldiers also worked for food on farms throughout the
In November 1780 William Phillips was exchanged
for Benjamin Lincoln, the American commander who surrendered his army at
Charleston, SC in May 1780. James Hamilton became the third and final commander
of the Convention Army.
When Benedict Arnold’s British forces raided
Richmond in January 1781, American guards moved the Convention Army to
Winchester. Once the Americans realized that Arnold was merely conducting a
raid and not an occupation of Central Virginia they moved the Convention Army
back to Charlottesville.
Lord Charles Cornwallis’ army marched into
Central Virginia in May 1781, forcing the Americans to move the Convention Army
permanently to new prisoner camps in Frederick, MD and the Pennsylvania
communities of Lancaster, Reading and York. Once again there were many
desertions along the march and in the new prisoner communities.
The number of British prisoners in these new
camps grew by approximately 5,000 men after Cornwallis surrendered his army at
Yorktown in October 1781. Major food and shelter shortages continued to plague
the camps, and large numbers of prisoners continued to escape toward British
lines in New York City and as far west as the British frontier outpost in
When the war officially ended in 1783, the last
remnant of the Convention Army marched to New York City where most of them
returned to England. Of the approximate 7,000 soldiers who surrendered at
Saratoga, only 1,000 stayed in the Convention Army until the end of the war.
Many of the troops who deserted the Convention
Army remained in the United States after the Treaty of Paris was signed. According
to Larry Arnold, 58% of Hessians remained in the United States while 35% of the
During the business portion of the roundtable
meeting, the following topics were discussed:
1. Roundtable officers, committee chairmen and
general members announced various upcoming meetings, conferences and museum
exhibits related to the American Revolution to be held in Richmond and other
parts of Virginia. (See the ARRT-Richmond homepage for more details on many of
2. Nominations are now open for the 2015
ARRT-Richmond Preservation Project. Anyone wishing to nominate a project to
receive this year’s annual donation by ARRT-Richmond should contact President
Bill Welsch prior to the May 20 ARRT meeting, or he/she can nominate a project
from the floor at the May 20 meeting. Online voting will take place shortly
after the May meeting.
The July roundtable meeting will move to August 12 in order to accommodate the
speaker’s schedule and a special partnership with the University of Richmond’s
Osher Institute. September’s meeting will be held on September 16, as