Revolutionary War Historical Article
King George III's Soldiers
Brigadier General Simon Fraser
By Donald N. Moran
Editor's Note: This article was reprinted from the February 2007 Edition of the Liberty Tree Magazine
The Fraser family of Balnain, Scotland, supported Bonnie Prince Charles, and like many Highland families, suffered heavily after their defeat at Culloden. Many had their houses destroyed and their estates confiscated. Alexander Fraser of Balnain was survived by two of seven children by his first wife, Jean Fraser of Foyers and by seven of eight children by his second wife, Jean Mackintosh of Kyllachy. Alexander's eldest son by Jean Mackintosh was Doctor Thomas Fraser who settled in Antigua and whose eldest son, Doctor William Mackinnon Fraser [1754 - 1807] succeeded as 5th of Balnain after his uncle Hugh Fraser died in 1735 and William died in 1775 both not having heirs. He obtained his M.D. at Edinburgh University, and started his practice in Southampton where, in 1783, he married Isabella, daughter of Cortland Skinner, Attorney General of New Jersey. He was a strong Loyalist and raised two battalions of militia and was appointed a Brigadier General in the American Revolution. He lost all of his property and in 1783 brought his family to England.
Alexander's second and youngest son was Simon who was born in 1729. The Christian name Simon was very common in the Fraser family, causing some confusion. Simon entered the Dutch service and in 1747 was wounded during the siege and capture of Bergen-op-Zoom by the French. His name appears in the Staten van Oorlag (war budgets) of 1750 - 1757 as a pensioned subaltern of the Earl of Drumlanrig's regiment of the Scots Brigade in the service of Holland.
Simon left the Dutch service and joined the British army in 1755 as a captain lieutenant in the 62nd Royal American Regiment [renumbered the 60th Regiment in January 1757]. In 1757 he transferred to the 63rd, renumbered the 78th Highland Regiment of Foot [Fraser's Highlanders], under Colonel Simon Fraser, Master of Lovat [1726 - 1782], his cousin. He was known as Lieutenant Simon Fraser, Junior, being the youngest subaltern of that name. He was at the siege and capture of Louisbourg in 1758 and, after being promoted to captain, was at Quebec in 1759.
According to the book, "The Fraser Highlanders" by Colonel J. R. Harper: "In the leading boat with General Wolfe sat Captain Simon Fraser and Captain Donald Macdonald of the Fraser Highlanders, both French speaking officers, with other staff officers” Harper goes on to say that “it was not Captain Simon Fraser of Balnain who replied to the sentry. According to The Life and Letters of Wolfe, it was the younger Simon Fraser, who spoke excellent French who had the exchange with before being permitted to pass.”
With Canada conquered, Simon was transferred to Germany on the staff of Ferdinand of Brunswick, and was commissioned a major in the 24th Regiment of Foot, and in 1768 became its lieutenant colonel. His next assignment was garrison duty in Gibraltar. Finally the regiment returned to the British Isles - - Ireland. There Simon was appointed aide-de-camp to Jeffrey Townshend, the Lord Lieutenant, and in 1770 was appointed Quartermaster General of Ireland. During this assignment he met and formed friendship with General John Burgoyne.
American Major General Richard Montgomery , a former British officer, captured Montreal on November 12th, 1775. With the lack of supplies, severe winter weather, and the troops' terms of enlistment due to expire on New Year's Day 1776, Generals Montgomery and Benedict Arnold launched a premature assault on Quebec in a blinding snowstorm on the last night of 1775. General Montgomery was killed and General Arnold was seriously wounded.
The expeditionary force was forced to retreat, therefore Canada remained in British hands. Almost losing Canada alarmed Sir Frederick North, British Prime Minister, enough for him to deploy a large expeditionary force to Quebec. This force of some 7,000 soldiers included five German Infantry regiments under Major General Baron Friedrich Adolphus von Riedesel [1738 - 1800] and nine British Regiments of the Line, including six from Ireland under Simon Fraser.
Lieutenant General John Burgoyne, who had served under Lieutenant General Sir Guy Carleton, went to England in the winter of 1776 to present a proposal to Lord George Saint Germain, the British Secretary of State for the American Colonies. The plan was to move a force south from Canada and recapture Fort Ticonderoga, while another force was to move north up the Hudson to Albany, where the two armies would meet. When successful, they would isolate New England, and end the war. This plan was reviewed by the King George, who approved it. General "Gentleman Johnny" Burgoyne was appointed commander of the British and German troops, replacing General Guy Carleton, who remained in Canada as its Governor.
General John Burgoyne arrived at Quebec on May 6th. He immediately set his plan in motion. His troops were assembled at St. John's, and on June 21st his army started up Lake Champlain towards Fort Ticonderoga. General Burgoyne was under the impression that General William Howe in New York had been ordered to support the plan but he was mistaken.
Burgoyne's attempt to push through to New York in 1777 resulted in an American victory that resulted in France entering the war and supporting our revolution.
One of the British mistakes that was to prove fatal was their ignoring the wilderness conditions in America. European tactics were useless against a countryside up in arms.
The Battle of Bennington on August 16th brought out the fighting population of northern New England, and the delays General Burgoyne experienced allowed General George Washington to deploy some of his Continentals from the lower Hudson River Valley to reinforce the Northern army under Major General Horatio Gates. As a result, Gates, an ex-British officer; with Benedict Arnold as his second in command, outnumbered Burgoyne's forces two to one.
At the Battle of Freeman's Farm on September 19th, Burgoyne took command of the center column; the left column was led by Baron von Riedesel, with General William Phillips [1731 - 1781] and the artillery in support. Simon Fraser, aided by Lieutenant Colonel Heinrich Breymann's reserve, commanded the right flank. General Burgoyne was everywhere, recorded Lieutenant William Digby of the Shropshire Regiment, and did everything that could be expected of a brave officer. Brigadier General Fraser gained great honor by exposing himself to every danger. So did Riedesel and Phillips. By nightfall, when the action ended, Burgoyne remained in possession of the field. But it was a costly victory since he lost so many brave soldiers and gained nothing but the honor of winning a battle.
Burgoyne's position was becoming more desperate every day. He sent urgent requests for help to General Sir Henry Clinton in New York, asking that supplies so urgently needed by his forces could get through to Albany.
Not having received a reply from General Sir Henry Clinton by October 4th, Burgoyne called a Council of War. Both Generals Riedesel and Fraser suggested retreat to Fort Edward; but Burgoyne was reluctant to withdraw and, since General Phillips did not commit himself either way, no firm decision was taken. On October 7th, leaving 800 of his men to protect his camp, Burgoyne set out with 1,500 men and ten pieces of artillery to what was to become the second battle of Saratoga, known as the Battle of Stillwater, or Bemis Heights. With Riedesel in the center, Phillips on the left flank and Burgoyne on the right, the Indians and Loyalists made their way through the forest to create a diversion at the back of the American lines. The Americans, under Colonel Daniel Morgan and his riflemen, attacked the left column, then extended the attack to the center, bringing 4,000 men into action.
General Fraser, while attempting to contain a simultaneous vicious attack on the British right, withdrew the 24th Regiment and light infantry to support the grenadiers. Seeing Fraser riding across the British lines, Arnold said to Morgan, "That officer upon a gray horse is of himself a host and must be disposed of'. Morgan passed the order on to Timothy Murphy, one of his riflemen, with the words, "That gallant officer is General Fraser. I admire him, but it is necessary that he should die. Do your duty." An American militiaman recorded that Murphy's bullets began to fly around Fraser. One shot cut the crupper of his horse; another grazed its ears. An aide-de-camp urged Fraser to withdraw; but he rode on and the third bullet ripped through his stomach, mortally wounding him.
The wife of the Hessian General, the Baroness Friederike von Riedesel [1746 - 1808], who had been with the German troops throughout the campaign serving as nurse recorded the horrors of war in her journal, published as Letters and Journals Relating to the War of the American Independence : " .. . About three o'clock in the afternoon. . . they brought in to me upon a litter poor General Fraser. . . Our dining table which was already spread was taken away and in its place they fixed up a bed for the general... I heard him often amidst his groans exclaim, 'Oh, fatal ambition! Poor General Burgoyne! My poor wife!' Prayers were read to him. Then he sent a message to General Burgoyne begging that he would have him buried the following day at six o'clock in the evening on the top of a hill which was a sort of redoubt."
General Simon Fraser died the next morning at 8:00 o'clock and, even though the redoubt was now within range of the advancing American artillery General Burgoyne complied with the dying wish of his comrade in arms. At sunset, the body of General Fraser was carried up the hill to the place of burial within the 'great redoubt'. His burial was attended only by the members of his family (staff) and the chaplain.
The Americans, not knowing what was going on, kept up their artillery fire on the redoubt. It is reported that when they realized what was happening, they ceased fire. The explanation probably came from a captured British soldier. As soon as American General Horatio Gates learned it was the funeral of General Fraser, he ordered the firing stopped and full military honors rendered. General Gates knew General Fraser before the war. Two hundred and ten years later, re-enactors, portraying the 78th Fraser Highlanders served as honor guard at the unveiling of a monument to the memory of Brigadier General Simon Fraser, at the Saratoga Battlefield.