Memoirs and Letters and Journals of Major-General Riedesel, During His Residence in America

Translated, from the original German of MAX VON ELLKING, by WILLIAM L. STONE. Albany : Munsell.
IN a former number of the Atlantic, we noticed Mr. Stone’s translation of the admirable Memoirs of Madame Riedesel, of which the present work may be said to be the complement. In all that relates to military affairs, it is, however, of far greater value. General Riedesel commanded the German auxiliaries who formed so large a part of Burgoyne’s luckless army of invasion. Here, therefore, we have the story of that momentous campaign from a point of view new to most American and English readers, and at the same time absolutely essential to a correct knowledge of one of the most critical periods of the War of Independence. Mr. Stone has by no means limited himself to the mere translation of his original. He has added illustrative papers found by him in Germany, and has carefully explored the site of the principal events, traced the stages of Burgoyne’s march, examined the several battle-grounds on the Hudson, corrected the errors of preceding writers, and established the landmarks in a manner so precise and satisfactory as to deserve the gratitude of every writer who may hereafter treat the subject. The failure of that grand effort to put down the revolt of the Colonies was plainly due in great measure to the incompetency, the indecision, and, as Riedesel more than intimates, to the drunkenness of Burgoyne.
Interesting and valuable as the book is from the military stand-point, it is no less so in the curious view it gives of society and manners in the various Colonies during the troubled period of the war ; for the captive German officers in this involuntary march from Saratoga to Boston, and from Boston to Virginia, had numberless opportunities of curious observation, which Riedesel, at least, seems to have used in a sufficiently candid spirit. Now and then, the generals in the American service moved him to astonishment, and he records the alacrity with which one of them, who had a pair of new boots, jumped from his horse, pulled them off, and swapped them, for a sufficient consideration, with a German officer, whose own were in the last extremity. The reader will be entertained with his account of New England life at the time of his enforced sojourn at Cambridge. It seems that the curious notion prevailed then as now, that shopkeeping is more respectable than farming, and that, in consequence, the cultivation of the soil was in a very languishing state. But we have no room to say more, and the book will best tell its own story. Here and there we find in it some anomalies of style, and the printer sometimes makes queer work of extracts in foreign languages ; yet, take it for all in all, it is the most valuable contribution that has been made to Revolutionary history for a long time.