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American Revolution: Battles of Saratoga

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American Revolution: Battles of Saratoga

Surrender of General Burgoyne by John Trumbull

Photograph Courtesy of the Architect of the Capitol

Battles of Saratoga - Conflict & Dates:

The Battles of Saratoga were fought September 19 and October 7, 1777, during the American Revolution (1775-1783).

Armies & Commanders

Americans

British

Battles of Saratoga - Burgoyne's Plan:

In the spring of 1777, Major General John Burgoyne proposed a plan for defeating the Americans. Believing that New England was the seat of the rebellion, he proposed cutting the region off from the other colonies by moving down the Hudson River corridor while a second force, led by Colonel Barry St. Leger, advanced east from Lake Ontario. Meeting at Albany, they would press down the Hudson, while General William Howe's army advanced north from New York. Though approved by London, Howe's role in the plan was never clearly defined and issues of his seniority precluded Burgoyne from issuing him orders.

Moving forward that summer, Burgoyne's advance initially met with success as Fort Ticonderoga was captured and his men began pressing south from Lake Champlain. Despite this, the plan began to unravel in quick succession as Burgoyne became plagued by supply issues. Dispatching a column to raid Vermont for supplies, it was defeated at the Battle of Bennington on August 16. The loss resulted in the desertion of many of Burgoyne's Native American allies. Burgoyne's situation was further worsened by news that St. Leger had turned back and that Howe had left New York to begin a campaign against Philadelphia.

Alone and with his supply situation worsening, he elected to move south in an effort to take Albany before winter. Opposing his advance was an American army under the command of General Horatio Gates. Appointed to the position on August 19, Gates inherited an army that was rapidly growing due to the success at Bennington, outrage over the slaying of Jane McCrea by Burgoyne's Native Americans, and the arrival of militia units. Gates' army also benefited from General George Washington's earlier decision to send north his best field commander, Major General Benedict Arnold, and Colonel Daniel Morgan's rifle corps.

Battles of Saratoga - Battle of Freeman's Farm:

On September 7, Gates moved north from Stillwater and occupied a strong position atop Bemis Heights, approximately ten miles south of Saratoga. Along the heights, elaborate fortifications were constructed under the eye of engineer Thaddeus Kosciusko which commanded the river and the road to Albany. In the American camp, tensions festered as the relationship between Gates and Arnold soured. Despite this, Arnold was given command of the left wing of the army and the responsibility for preventing the capture of heights to the west which dominated the Bemis position.

Crossing the Hudson north of Saratoga between September 13-15, Burgoyne advanced on the Americans. Hampered by American efforts to block the road, heavy woods, and broken terrain, Burgoyne was not in position to attack until September 19. Seeking to take the heights to the west, he devised a three-prong attack. While Baron Riedesel advanced with a mixed British-Hessian force along the river, Burgoyne and Brigadier General James Hamilton would move inland before turning south to attack Bemis Heights. The third column under Brigadier General Simon Fraser would move further inland and work to turn the American left.

Aware of British intentions, Arnold lobbied Gates to attack while the British were marching through the woods. Though preferring to sit and wait, Gates finally relented and permitted Arnold to advance Morgan's riflemen along with some light infantry. He also stated that if the situation required, Arnold could involve more of his command. Moving forward to an open field on the farm of Loyalist John Freeman, Morgan's men soon sighted the lead elements of Hamilton's column. Opening fire, they targeted the British officers before advancing.

Driving back the lead company, Morgan was forced to retreat into the woods when Fraser's men appeared on his left. With Morgan under pressure, Arnold funneled additional forces into the fight. Through the afternoon intense fighting raged around the farm with Morgan's riflemen decimating the British artillery. Sensing an opportunity to crush Burgoyne, Arnold requested additional troops from Gates but was refused and issued orders to fall back. Ignoring these, he continued the fight. Hearing the battle along the river, Riedesel turned inland with most of his command.

Appearing on the American right, Riedesel's men rescued the situation and opened a heavy fire. Under pressure and with the sun setting, the Americans withdrew back to Bemis Heights. Though a tactical victory, Burgoyne suffered over 600 casualties as opposed to around 300 for the Americans. Consolidating his position, Burgoyne put off further attacks in the hope that Major General Sir Henry Clinton could provide assistance from New York City. While Clinton did raid up the Hudson in early October, he was not able to provide aid.

In the American camp, the situation between the commanders reached a crisis when Gates did not mention Arnold in his report to Congress regarding the Freeman's Farm battle. Devolving into a shouting match, Gates relieved Arnold and gave his command to Major General Benjamin Lincoln. Though granted a transfer back to Washington's army, Arnold remained as more and more men arrived in camp.

Battles of Saratoga - Battle of Bemis Heights

Concluding the Clinton was not coming and with his supply situation critical Burgoyne called a council of war. Though Fraser and Riedesel advocated retreat, Burgoyne refused and they agreed instead upon a reconnaissance in force against the American left on October 7. Led by Fraser, this force numbered around 1,500 men and advanced from Freeman' Farm to the Barber Wheatfield. Here it encountered Morgan as well as the brigades of Brigadier Generals Enoch Poor and Ebenezer Learned.

While Morgan attacked the light infantry on Fraser's right, Poor shattered the grenadiers on the left. Hearing the fighting, Arnold dashed from his tent and took de facto command. With his line collapsing, Fraser tried to rally his men but was shot and killed. Beaten, the British fell back to the Balcarres Redoubt at Freeman's Farm and Breymann's Redoubt slightly to the northwest. Attacking Balcarres, Arnold was initially repulsed, but worked men around the flank and took it from behind. Organizing an attack on Breymann's, Arnold was shot in the leg. The redoubt subsequently fell to American assaults. In the fighting, Burgoyne lost another 600 men, while American losses were only around 150. Gates remained in camp for the duration of the battle.

Battles of Saratoga - Aftermath

The next evening, Burgoyne began withdrawing north. Halting at Saratoga and with his supplies exhausted, he called a council of war. While his officers favored fighting their way north, Burgoyne ultimately decided to open surrender negotiations with Gates. Though he initially demanded an unconditional surrender, Gates agreed to a treaty of convention whereby Burgoyne's men would be taken to Boston as prisoners and permitted to return to England on the condition that they not fight in North America again. On October 17, Burgoyne surrendered his remaining 5,791 men. The turning point of the war, the victory at Saratoga proved key in securing a treaty of alliance with France.

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