When the British attacked again, they were desperate and fierce.
As more patriots joined the Americans, Burgoyne found himself outnumbered and nearly out of supplies. He refused to retreat to Ticonderoga, but Gates and the Americans stood between him and Albany.
So, on October 7, 1777, he attacked. Once again, the fighting lasted until it was too dark to see, but, while the first battle had seemed like a tie, the second was clearly an American victory.
The next morning, Luke hitched up David and Jonathan and began the grim task of gathering up the wounded in the wagon and bringing them to where doctors could do their best.
Among the wounded who had lain on the battlefield all night, he found his father, his leg broken by a musket ball. John Van Gelder had dragged himself to a tree and was sitting up, but was grateful to get a drink from Luke’s canteen.
After Luke brought that wagonload of men to the top of the hill, he went by the militia camp to let Sylvie know, so she could come and sit up with their father while Luke continued to bring in wounded men.
The Americans waited that day and the next to see if Burgoyne would attack again, but the British pulled back to the banks of the Hudson and began to plan a retreat to Fort Edward.
That plan could never work.
The Americans had them surrounded, and Morgan’s men followed along in the brush nearby, firing on anyone who left the British camp. Burgoyne was trapped, and, even if he could sneak his troops past the Americans, he did not have enough food for the march to Ticonderoga.
So it was that, on October 17, the Van Gelders stood with the New York militia and watched as nearly 6,000 soldiers marched past, unarmed, prisoners who would eventually be sent back to England or Germany.
Both armies behaved with dignity: The British and Germans marched along the road in proper military order, and, as they passed, the Americans stood in their formations respectfully, though an American fife and drum corps did play “Yankee Doodle,” the song with which the British had once teased them.
Then there were quick good-byes to their friends from Virginia, as Morgan’s Rifles headed south, their work in New York done, now ordered to join General Washington, who was about to make his winter quarters in Pennsylvania at a place called Valley Forge.
John Van Gelder’s leg was splinted, and he’d made himself a crutch, but climbed into the cart with other wounded militia members from Fort Ann and Fort Edward, as Luke and Sylvie walked alongside the horses.
Two days later, they arrived home.
Sylvie built a fire in the fireplace to take the chill off the empty house, then went to the barn where, sure enough, the rooster and his small flock of hens had survived on scraps.
She selected one of the hens and began to ready it to go into the pot with the last of their army rations.
Meanwhile, John Van Gelder sent Luke to the sawmill to dig into the pile of sawdust and chips near the back door. There, Luke found two large sacks of oats hidden away. He reburied one and brought the other back to the house.
“Feed the horses,” John said, “but not too much. We don’t want them getting bloat after going on hay and promises for so long.”
“But what are we going to do, Pa?” Luke asked. “This is only two or three weeks’ worth of oats for the horses and, if we eat those chickens, we’ll be out of meat just as winter’s coming on.”
His father nodded. “This is going to be a very hard winter for many of our neighbors,” he agreed. “But that old sow and her pigs may still be out there in the woods. Even one of them would be enough.”
Then he continued: “Give the horses two days’ rest, then go down to Schenectady to fetch home your grandfather, your mother and the little ones. I’ll give you some of my militia pay and you can see what supplies you can get down there. You and your grandfather will have to run the mill until I’m back on my feet, but that will bring in something. People won’t have money, but we can barter for goods.”
“I was paid, too,” Luke said, but his father cut him off.
“You save that money,” he ordered. “We’re supposed to get land in exchange for our service, and the day may come when you’ll want to set out on your own. A little land, a little money will make a good start.”
Then he turned to Sylvie. “As for you, young lady, what are your plans for the future?”
Sylvie looked surprised, and her father laughed. “A certain young man asked my permission to write to you.”
“Tim?” she asked.
“Well, I thought he was the one you’d want to hear from,” her father laughed again. “I told him he could start writing in March, when you turn seventeen, but only if he promised to leave the army when this war is over. I’d be proud to have a blacksmith come courting, even from far Virginia. But I think you’ve followed the gun enough for one lifetime.”
Then he looked at both children. “I think we all have.”
Click here to read Chapter Seven, The First Battle
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Text copyright 2017, Mike Peterson – Illustrations copyright 2017 – Christopher Baldwin
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