Battles of Saratoga Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Britain’s defeat at Saratoga marked the end of any realistic prospect of British victory in the Revolutionary War. It represented the failure of Britain’s plan to divide the colonies in half, isolating New England from the rest of America, and it began the series of events that would culminate with the British defeat at Yorktown.

Summary of Event

For the 1777 campaign of the American Revolution, the British devised a bold strategy designed to bring the war to an immediate end. The strategy involved military action in three different locales. The British navy was to transport William Howe and a large invasion force to Philadelphia, the seat of the Continental Congress, which they were to seize and occupy. Lieutenant General John Burgoyne would attack New York State from Canada, leading his troops down the Lake Champlain-Lake George waterway to assault and seize Albany. Finally, British forces would set out from their base in New York City up the Hudson River, meeting Burgoyne at Albany. The effect would be to split the colonies in two—in particular to seal off New England, where revolutionary fervor was greatest, from the colonies to the south. Although all participants agreed on the plan, the exact role each was to play and especially their coordination with one another was never made clear. [kw]Battles of Saratoga (Sept. 19-Oct. 17, 1777) [kw]Saratoga, Battles of (Sept. 19-Oct. 17, 1777) American Revolution (1775-1783);end of Saratoga, Battles of (1777) [g]United States;Sept. 19-Oct. 17, 1777: Battles of Saratoga[2320] [g]Canada;Sept. 19-Oct. 17, 1777: Battles of Saratoga[2320] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Sept. 19-Oct. 17, 1777: Battles of Saratoga[2320] Gates, Horatio Burgoyne, John Arnold, Benedict Clinton, Sir Henry Howe, William

George Washington, Washington, George Washington, George;Battles of Saratoga the American commander in chief, realized early the nature of the British plan but was powerless to do much about it. He felt compelled to try to protect Philadelphia, but his efforts led only to defeat by Howe. Recognizing the significance of the Burgoyne expedition, Washington sent Colonel Daniel Morgan’s detachment of sharpshooters north to join the American army defending Albany. Morgan’s unit at Saratoga helped to neutralize the Native American forces fighting on the British side and played a vital role in overcoming the British officers.

General Burgoyne’s army, about eighty-three hundred strong, was successfully advancing toward Albany. A large flotilla had been assembled, able to proceed by water down the Richelieu River to Lake Champlain, where it defeated American attempts to halt it. The British disembarked at the foot of Lake George and successfully seized the lightly guarded Fort Ticonderoga, [p]Fort Ticonderoga, New York from which the American force was compelled to withdraw. Burgoyne then proceeded overland toward the Hudson River, but the terrain, the weather, and the lack of adequate oxen and horses to draw his supplies slowed his advance substantially.

Foreseeing the need for more supplies and especially more animals, Burgoyne detached a force of Germans serving under him to invade Vermont and capture any supplies and animals they could find. This force was wiped out by the Americans at the Bennington, Battle of (1777) Battle of Bennington on August 16. The American victory did much to enhance American morale and to motivate recruits to join the American army defending Albany.

The American army, previously under the command of General Schuyler, Philip Philip Schuyler, was now turned over to General Horatio Gates. Gates’s talent was organization, not battlefield tactics, and he has been much criticized for taking a defensive posture against Burgoyne’s advancing army. However, he did realize the importance of a strong defensive position, and this led him to move the American forces northward, to a position above Stillwater on Bemis Heights, overlooking the Hudson River. The American forces heavily fortified their position.

On September 19, 1777, the opposing forces came face to face with each other. Burgoyne, recognizing the folly of attempting to advance further on the road to Albany, deployed his forces, by now reduced to about five thousand men. His plan was to attack the American left wing, on the heights, with his British troops, leaving the Germans to anchor the position on the road and along the river. The attack on the heights was fought largely in the woods, but partly in a clearing around an isolated farm called Freeman’s Farm. As a result, it is known as the Battle of Freeman’s Farm, or the First Battle of Saratoga. Saratoga, Battles of (1777) The American sharpshooters shot down the officers; the British suffered heavy casualties.

British lieutenant general John Burgoyne and his troops surrender to Horatio Gates, commander of American forces, at Saratoga.

(C.A. Nichols & Company)

Burgoyne regrouped his forces to consider what to do next. He had received little news of the cooperating army, under Sir Henry Clinton, that was supposed to advance up the Hudson River and meet him at Albany. He did learn that many of the supplies he had left behind at Fort Ticonderoga had been seized by American forces, leaving him with only enough supplies to last until mid-October. Burgoyne therefore staged a second, hotly contested attack on the American positions at Bemis Heights on October 7. This became known as the Battle of Bemis Heights, or the Second Battle of Saratoga. Benedict Arnold again led the Americans in battle, and the British were unable to overcome the American forces. Unable to advance, Burgoyne on October 8 ordered his army to retreat toward Saratoga.

Meanwhile, American forces had seized more of the territory along the British line of retreat to Canada. Burgoyne’s army was effectively surrounded. On October 13, Burgoyne began to negotiate terms of surrender with Gates, negotiations that were completed on October 16. Under the terms of the Convention of Saratoga, the British troops laid down their arms on October 17. They were to be marched to a port of embarkation and sent back to Europe, on condition that they would take no further part in the conflict. In the end, the Continental Congress reneged on this commitment, and the captured troops spent the rest of the war in prisoner-of-war camps in America.

Significance

Burgoyne’s invasion of New York represented the heart of Britain’s military strategy in the colonies in 1777 and its only hope to bring the war to a swift conclusion. When Gates defeated Burgoyne at Saratoga, this hope came to an end. The British were forced to regroup while they strove to find a new strategy for success. At the same time, the Americans—although they did not know the extent to which Britain’s plans had relied upon Burgoyne’s success—sensed that a turning point had been reached, and their hopes for victory greatly increased. France, meanwhile, impressed by the colonists’ success, officially recognized the United States of America as an independent nation, opening the door for its support of the revolution. This support led eventually to the American victory at Yorktown and the end of the Revolutionary War.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Fuller, J. F. C. The Decisive Battles of the Western World. Vol. 3. London: Eyre & Spottiswode, 1955. Chapter 9 discusses Saratoga. Credits Burgoyne for honesty and courage and notes his popularity with his troops, but blames him for some tactical errors. Asserts that Benedict Arnold, Gates’s subordinate, should receive credit for the U.S. victory.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Glover, Michael. General Burgoyne in Canada and America: Scapegoat for a System. London: Gordon & Cremonesi, 1976. An exoneration of Burgoyne that lays the blame for Burgoyne’s defeat on General Clinton, for his failure to communicate effectively with Burgoyne, and on the British ministers.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hargrove, Richard J., Jr. General John Burgoyne. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1983. A balanced judgment, noting Burgoyne’s virtues and his weaknesses. Contains a first-rate account of the battles of Bennington and the two at Saratoga, making clear the reasons for the outcome.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Howson, Gerald. Burgoyne of Saratoga: A Biography. New York: Times Books, 1979. A scholarly attempt to rescue Burgoyne’s reputation. Asserts that Burgoyne was a competent, careful officer. Attributes Burgoyne’s defeat to inadequate appreciation of American capabilities and terrain, coupled with poor strategic planning and coordination on the part of the British military authorities.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ketchum, Richard M. Saratoga: Turning Point of America’s Revolutionary War. New York: H. Holt, 1997. This popular history recounts Burgoyne’s military campaign, using participants’ diaries, letters, and memoirs to provide detailed descriptions of the battles. Includes an account of the feud between Horatio Gates and Benedict Arnold.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lunt, James. John Burgoyne of Saratoga. New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1975. A popular account with a balanced judgment on Burgoyne. Describes Burgoyne’s attempt to rescue his reputation and transfer the blame to the contemporary British ministry and, to some degree, to Howe.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Mintz, Max M. The Generals of Saratoga: John Burgoyne and Horatio Gates. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1990. Depicts the Saratoga battle as a competition between Generals Burgoyne and Gates, and asserts that Gates was the hero. Stresses the numerical superiority of the American army.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Morrissey, Brendan. Saratoga, 1777: Turning Point of a Revolution. Illustrated by Adam Hook. Oxford, England: Osprey, 2000. Illustrated military history of what many historians believe was the decisive battle in the Revolutionary War.

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