The Saratoga Campain of 1777 took place from June to October and ended in an American victory when the British army surrendered at Saratoga. It was a major turning point in the American Revolutionary War and helped convince the French to recognize the United States of America as an independent nation and provide military support in the fight for independence.
Saratoga Campaign Summary
The Saratoga Campaign of 1777 was a series of battles fought between the United States of America and Great Britain, primarily throughout the northeastern portion of the Province of New York. The British plan was devised by British General John Burgoyne and intended to divide the American Colonies, isolate New England from the others, and end the American Revolutionary War. The campaign started on June 14, 1777, when the British army left Fort St. John, and ended on October 17, 1777, when Burgoyne, surrendered to the American commander, General Horatio Gates, at Saratoga. The campaign was important to the history of the United States because the American victory convinced the French to recognize the United States as an independent nation and to provide military support.
This painting by John Trumbull depicts the surrender of John Burgoyne to Horatio Gates at Saratoga. Image Source: Wikipedia.
Quick Facts About the Saratoga Campaign
- Planned By: The Saratoga Campaign was planned by British General John Burgoyne, and is also known as Burgoyne’s Campaign of 1777.
- Date Started: The Saratoga Campaign started on Saturday, June 14, 1777.
- Date Ended: The campaign ended on Friday, October 17, 1777.
- Location: The campaign took place in upstate New York, around Lake Champlain and Lake George, and throughout the Hudson River Vally, Hudson Highlands, and Mohawk River Valley.
- Who Won: The United States of America won the Saratoga Campaign.
History and Overview of the Saratoga Campaign
In the fall of 1776, British forces pushed the American Northern Army out of Canada, from Quebec City all the way to Lake Champlain in New York. The British, under the command of Guy Carleton, chased after the Americans but were delayed by the Battle of Valcour Island. At that battle, a small American navy, led by Benedict Arnold, gave the army enough time to take refuge at Fort Ticonderoga and other fortifications. By the time the British broke through it was too late in the year to continue the chase. The British withdrew and in November and December 1776 they started to plan their next campaign against the United States.
British Armies in North America
At the time, the British had two armies in North America. One was in Quebec, under the command of Carleton. The second army was in New York and New Jersey and was under the command of General William Howe. Howe had invaded New York City, taken control, and forced General George Washington to evacuate during the New York-New Jersey Campaign.
William Howe Proposes a Plan
In November, Howe wrote a letter to Lord Germain, the British Secretary of State for the Colonies. Howe, who had replaced General Thomas Gage as Commander-in-Chief of the British forces in North America, was stationed in New York City. He told Germain that if Britain would send reinforcements he would be able to capture Albany and then move on to Philadelphia. Soon after, Howe changed his mind and sent Germain another letter and told him he wanted to focus on Philadelphia. He changed his mind because he believed the position of the Continental Army, which was in Morristown, New Jersey, left Philadelphia vulnerable to an attack.
John Burgoyne Proposes a Plan
Another British General, John Burgoyne, had similar ideas but wanted to focus on New England. Like many British officials, he believed New England was the source of the rebellion and if it could be brought under control the war would end and order could be restored.
Burgoyne proposed his plan, in writing, to Lord Germain on February 28, 1777. Burgoyne proposed sending a large force, under his command, out of Canada and into western New York. He would capture Albany and then march into the Hudson Valley, where he would join his army with Howe’s. He believed if he was successful, and the British were able to take control of the Hudson River Valley then they would isolate New England from the rest of the colonies, effectively cutting the United States in two. It would allow the British would be able to restore order to New England and the other colonies would fall in line.
John Burgoyne planned the British campaign of 1777. Image Source: Wikipedia.
Burgoyne’s plan was ambitious and would require long supply lines from Canada and New York City. First, he wanted to divide his force in two. He would lead the first group, of 8,000 men, south toward New York. He would move from Montreal to Lake Champlain, and then into the Hudson River Valley. The second group, of 2,000 men, would be led by Barry St. Leger. St. Leger would take his men and go east from Lake Ontario into the Mohawk River Valley. St. Leger was meant to be a diversion. Burgoyne intended to meet up with St. Leger at Albany, and then march to meet with Howe. Second, Burgoyne’s plan required Howe to leave New York City and march north to the Hudson River Valley.
Lord Germain’s Orders Create Confusion
Germain approved Burgoyne’s plan, along with Howe’s plan. It meant that Howe had to take Philadelphia and then return to New York in time to meet with Burgoyne.
On May 18, 1777, Germain sent instructions to Carleton and Howe that instructed Howe to complete his Philadelphia Campaign “in time for you to co-operate with the army ordered to proceed from Canada and put itself under your command.” However, the letter reached Howe after he had launched his campaign, and he was not prepared to take Philadelphia and then return to meet with Burgoyne. By the time Howe made it to Philadelphia, it was too late for him to provide any help to Burgoyne. It is unclear if Burgoyne knew that Howe was going to move on Philadelphia first, instead of Albany.
The fact that Germain put Burgoyne in charge of the army in Quebec instead of Carleton was also a problem. Carleton outranked Burgoyne and was offended. Later, when British reinforcements were needed at Fort Ticonderoga and Crown Point, Carleton refused to send them.
American Preparations for 1777
The Continental Army spent the winter of 1776–1777 at Morristown, New Jersey. General George Washington and his officers, including General Philip Schuyler, were focused on New York City, and the movements of Howe’s army. They knew the British were sending Burgoyne with reinforcements but were unsure of where they were going. The lack of intelligence on the part of the Americans kept them from sending reinforcements to key defensive installations like Fort Ticonderoga. However, they did send reinforcements, under the command of Colonel Peter Gansevoort, to Fort Stanwix in the Mohawk Valley and they sent regiments to Peekskill, New York. The regiments at Peekskill could be sent to Ticonderoga, Fort Stanwix, or another location, as needed. American forces were positioned throughout the area known as the Hudson River Highlands, and the commanders were Schuyler and Major General Israel Putnam. General Arthur St. Clair was in command of defenses at Fort Ticonderoga.
Burgoyne Assembles His Army — June 13
A significant portion of Burgoyne’s army was already in Quebec, along with several regiments of Hessian troops that were under the command of Major General Friedrich Adolf von Riedesel. After Burgoyne arrived with the rest of his men, they added Canadian volunteers and some warriors from Native American Indian tribes that were allied with the British. All of them converged on Fort St. John to prepare to set out to execute Burgyone’s strategy, split the colonies, and end the war. On June 13, 1777, Carleton and Burgoyne held a ceremony where the army was reviewed and Burgoyne was officially given the command. Six ships and a fleet of boats were assembled to transport the troops down the Richelieu River.
Burgoyne’s Campaign of 1777 Begins — June 14
The next day, June 14, the Burgoyne’s invasion force was launched. The advance force was led by Brigadier General Simon Fraser, which included two divisions under the command of Major General William Phillips and Riedesel.
St. Leger’s Expedition Begins — June 23
St. Leger and his men left Montreal on June 23. They sailed from Montreal down the St. Lawrence River, to the southern shore of Lake Ontario, and made their way to Oswego.
Siege of Fort Ticonderoga — July 2–July 6
Burgoyne’s army traveled south, crossed Lake Champlain, and toward Fort Ticonderoga. The fort was under the command of Arthur St. Clair, and General Philip Schuyler ordered him to hold the fort as long as he could. While St. Clair waited for Burgoyne to arrive, he made plans for his garrison of around 3,000 men — regulars and militia — to escape.
On July 1, British forces arrived north of the fort. Some crossed Lake Champlain on boats, others marched down the side of the lake. British infantry led by General Simon Fraser took control of the heights on Mount Defiance, which was called Sugar Loaf at the time, and started to move artillery into position. However, St. Clair was unaware the British had control of the heights. The position provided the British with an opportunity to fire down on the fort with their artillery.
General Arthur St. Clair evacuated Fort Ticonderoga. Image Source: Wikipedia.
On July 4, the Americans celebrated the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence but did so quietly. On the night of the 4th, the Americans were alerted to the presence of British forces on Mount Defiance.
The next day, St. Clair called his officers together for a Council of War and they decided to evacuate the fort. Late in the night of July 5th, into the early morning of July 6th, the Americans evacuated Fort Ticonderoga. St. Clair has his men load supplies and artillery onto boats and sent them in the direction of Skenesborough. The rest of the army crossed to Mount Independence and then marched down the Hubbardton Road.
Burgoyne sent forces out from his main body to pursue the Northern Army and ordered ships to sail toward Skenesborough. He also garrisoned Fort Ticonderoga and the surrounding locations with around 900 men, which decreased the strength of his army as he prepared to move on to Albany.
Throughout the colonies, there was outrage over the fact that St. Clair abandoned Ticonderoga without a fight. Reverend Thomas Allen wrote, “Our men are eager for the battle, our magazines filled, our camp crowded with provisions, flags flying. The shameful abandonment of Ticonderoga has not been equaled in the history of the world.” The loss of the fort would eventually cost Schuyler his command of the Northern Department.
Battle of Skenesborough — July 6
Skenesborough was located on the southwest shore of Lake Champlain, and the British ships pursued the Americans, who were led by Captain James Gray. When the Americans arrived, they stretched an iron chain across the lake in an effort to keep the British ships from moving in on them. However, the British shot the chain down with their cannons and easily captured Skenesborough, including the American ships that still remained. The Americans did what they could to destroy their fortifications and retreated further south to Fort Anne, which gave the British the victory at the Battle of Skenesborough.
Battle of Hubbardton — July 7
British General Simon Fraser chased after St. Clair and caught up with him outside of Hubbardton. St. Clair left Colonel Seth Warner and his regiment — the Green Mountain Boys — in Hubbardton along with Colonel Nathan Hale and the 2nd New Hampshire Regiment, to help protect the rear of the army, which had not arrived in Hubbardton. St. Clair took the main force and marched to Castleton. Fraser attacked early in the morning of July 7. The Americans took a strong defensive position on Monument Hill and pushed back several British attacks. However, British reinforcements arrived and forced the Americans to retreat. Although the British won the Battle of Hubbardton, they suffered heavy losses at the hands of Warner’s Regiment that hampered Burgoyne’s plan to capture Albany. The outcome was a strategic victory for the Americans because Fraser lost so many men that he could not continue his pursuit of St. Clair. Warner and his men stayed in the area and conducted raids on British forces and Loyalist farms.
Battle of Fort Anne — July 8
British troops, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel John Hill, pursued Gray and his force from Skenesborough to Fort Anne. When the Americans arrived at the fort, they were reinforced by 400 men from the New York Militia. Early in the morning of July 8, an American deserter stumbled into the British camp and told Hill the garrison at Fort Anne was 1,000 men. Hill sent a message to Burgoyne that he was outnumbered and requested reinforcements. However, the deserter was actually a decoy, sent by the Americans to trick Hill into delaying the attack on the fort. Burgoyne responded to Hill’s message by sending reinforcements.
Meanwhile, the Americans launched an attack on the British camp and started the Battle of Fort Anne. The Americans had the advantage until British reinforcements led by Captain John Money arrived and tricked the Americans into thinking they were being attacked by a force of Indian warriors. The fact is, Money was leading a group of Indians, but they refused to engage the Americans. So Money shouted “war cries” himself, which fooled the Americans, who thought they were about to be overrun, and caused them to retreat back to the safety of the fort. The Americans believed they were outnumbered and decided to evacuate the fort and move south to Fort Edward.
Burgoyne Issues New Orders — July 10
On July 10, Burgoyne issued a new set of orders, despite the increasing weakness of his army. He was losing men with each battle or skirmish, and also had to leave men to garrison and protect Fort Ticonderoga and other places. He ordered most of the army to march from Skenesborogh, then to Fort Anne, and then to Fort Edward. He had the artillery loaded onto ships and boats so it could be taken down Lake George to Fort Edward. He sent General Riedesel and his Hessians toward Castleton, primarily as a diversion, to make the Americans think the British were headed toward the Connecticut River.
Meanwhile, Schuyler went to Fort Edward, which had a garrison of about 700 regulars and 1,400 militia. He decided to make Burgoyne’s march as difficult as possible. He ordered the men to chop down large trees to block the road. He also had them destroy bridged and dam streams. The tactics worked. It slowed the British and also forced them to use up supplies.
St. Leger Arrives at Oswego — July 14
St. Leger had about 300 British regulars and 650 Canadian and Loyalist militia. When he arrived at Oswego, he was joined by around 1,000 Indian warriors. The Indians were led by John Butler and the Iroquois war chiefs Joseph Brant, Sayenqueraghta, and Cornplanter. The Indian warriors were from various tribes, but mostly Mohawks and Senecas.
With the main road blocked by trees that had been cut down, St. Leger had his men cut a new road. While that went on, he found out there was an American expedition carrying supplies to Fort Stanwix. St. Leger sent Brant and a small force out to intercept the supplies.
Burgoyne and St. Leger Advance — July 24–25
Burgoyne was forced to cut his own road through the wilderness too, which took about two weeks. He finally left Skenesborough on July 24 and arrived at Ford Edward on July 29. During the delay, Schuyler had abandoned the fort and moved to Stillwater, New York. When Burgoyne arrived, he was joined by a group of Indian warriors under the command of St. Luc de la Corne and Charles Michel de Langlade. The next day, July 25, St. Leger left Oswego and headed southeast to Fort Stanwix, which was on the Mohawk River.
Siege of Fort Stanwix Begins — August 2
In April, Schuyler sent Colonel Peter Gansevoort to occupy the fort and make repairs, to help defend against the British invasion. Gansevoort had Continental Army forces with him from New York and Massachusetts. In mid-June, Oneida Indians warned the Americans they could expect an attack from the British, who were planning to invade the Mohawk River Valley. Brant and his men arrived at Fort Stanwix on August 2, but he was too late and the supplies had already arrived. They began a siege of the fort, which was under the command of Colonel Peter Gansevoort. St. Leger arrived with his men on August 3.
Burgoyne Learns Howe is Going to Philadelphia — August 3
On August 3, messengers from Howe finally reached Burgoyne at Fort Edward and delivered a letter that Howe had written on July 17. The letter said Howe was going to sail with his army to capture Philadelphia, and that General Henry Clinton would be responsible for British forces in New York City. This caused significant issues for Burgoyne’s supply lines, so he decided to act on a suggestion from Riedesel and sent his men out to find supplies that could be taken by force.
Battle of Oriskany — August 6
About 75 miles downriver, General Nicholas Herkimer of the Tryon County Militia learned about the British attack on the fort. He organized a group of about 800 men and boys, along with Oneida Indian scouts. St. Leger sent Sir John Johnson and a small force of Loyalists and Mohawk warriors to confront Herkimer. Johnson set up an ambush about six miles east of Fort Stanwix, and the Americans marched into it around 10:00 in the morning. The British force opened fire, and Herkimer was shot in the leg. He had his men prop him up against a tree, and he directed his men in battle from there. The fighting was intense and the Americans suffered heavy casualties and withdrew to Fort Dayton. Herkimer died there of his wounds on August 16. Although the British won the Battle of Oriskany, the casualties suffered by the Indians cast doubt on their relationship with the British. Eventually, Indians abandoned the Siege of Fort Stanwix.
Gates Replaces Schuyler — August 10
On August 10, Congress sent Gates to take command of the Northern Department. It also ordered states from Pennsylvania to Massachusetts to call out their militias.
Battle of Bennington — August 16
Burgoyne sent Lieutenant Colonel Friedrich Baum with support from Lieutenant Colonel Heinrich von Breymann toward Bennington, which was in the New Hampshire Grants. Burgoyne instructed Baum to seek out and capture supplies, then wait for reinforcements. Once the reinforcements arrived, he was to march to Albany. Burgoyne warned him that Seth Warner and his men were in the area, and he should expect them to engage. Baum’s army was important to Burgoyne’s operation, so much so that Burgoyne wrote, “your corps is too valuable to let any considerable loss be hazarded on this occasion.” What Burgoyne did not know was that General John Stark was also in the area with about 1,500 New Hampshire Militia. Stark attacked Baum’s camp on August 16, with support from Warner and the Green Mountain Boys. The Americans were able to breach the British defenses, despite intense hand-to-hand fighting. The Americans overwhelmed the British and Baum was mortally wounded. Many of Baum’s men — the Loyalists and Indians — fled from the field. British reinforcements arrived, but they also suffered heavy casualties. Around 100 of the 1,000 British forces escaped. The rest were killed or captured. The Americans also captured cannons and weapons. The loss of so many men and guns weakened Burgoyne’s army and Baum was unable to secure the supplies that were so important to Burgoyne’s plan. Baum said Stark and his men “fought more like hell-hounds than soldiers,” and died from his wounds. Washington commented on the victory at the Battle of Bennington and called it “the great stroke struck by General Stark near Bennington.”
This illustration depicts John Stark commanding troops at the Battle of Bennington. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Images.
Gates Arrives at Albany — August 19
On August 19, Gates arrived at Albany to take charge and immediately embarrassed Schuyler by excluding him from his first Council of War. Soon after, Schuyler left for Philadelphia and took his intimate knowledge of the area with him.
Siege of Fort Stanwix Ends — August 22
Benedict Arnold was at Stillwater, New York with a force of about 800 soldiers from the Continental Army. He prepared to march on Fort Stanwix and wanted to raise members of the Tryon County Militia to join him. Unfortunately, only about 100 men agreed. This led Arnold to devise a plot to trick St. Leger. Arnold sent an informant, a Dutchman named Han-Yost Schuyler, to the camp of the Mohawks who were with St. Leger. When Schuyler arrived, he told then Arnold’s force was significantly larger than it really was. The Mohawks believed him and passed the message on to St. Leger.
When word of the bloody Battle of Oriskany reached the British force at Fort Stanwix, Brant and the rest of the Indians withdrew. That, coupled with the news delivered by Arnold’s information, made St. Leger decide to end the siege and head back toward Quebec. On August 23, Arnold arrived at Fort Stanwix with reinforcements, and later that day, St. Leger learned Arnold’s force was not as large as he had been led to believe. This caused a significant problem for Burgoyne’s campaign.
American Forces Increase and Morale Improves
The good news about the American efforts at Bennington and Fort Stanwix helped improve morale throughout the region. In August and September, militia companies arrived at the Continental Army camps along the Hudson River. Washington also sent reinforcements from the Hudson Highlands, which included the rifle corps under the command of Daniel Morgan. General Benjamin Lincoln also raised a small force and was given orders to carry out attacks on British supply and communication lines.
American Defenses at Bemis Heights
On September 8, Gates ordered the army to move to Stillwater with the idea of setting up defenses there. However, the Polish engineer, Brigadier General Tadeusz Kościuszko, who was in charge of designing the defensive works, did not like the area. A new location was found — Bemis Heights — which was about 9-10 miles south of Saratoga. Kosciusko laid out defensive lines stretching from the river to the bluffs, which rose about 300 feet high over the Hudson River. Gates moved the army into position, facing north. The right of the American line, under the command of Gates, was on the heights. The center of the line was placed west of the heights, near a farmhouse, and was under the command of Brigadier General Ebenezer Learned. The left was further west and under the command of Benedict Arnold.
Burgoyne Arrives Near Saratoga — September 13–15
At the beginning of September, Burgoyne’s army was on the east bank of the Hudson River. He was faced with a critical decision about where to camp for the winter. He had two choices — he could return to Ticonderoga or he could move ahead and capture Albany. Burgoyne decided to push on to Albany. However, in order to do that, he needed to reduce his need for supplies and add more troops to his main army. To do those things, he decided to eliminate his line of communication to the north, up to Fort Ticonderoga, so he would not have to maintain the chain of forts between there and Albany. He ordered his forces to abandon the forts between his position and Skenesborogh and join him at Saratoga.
Afterward, he moved his army across the Hudson River, to the west side, just north of Saratoga. It took from September 13th to September 15th to complete the mission. Once the army was across, he marched south toward Saratoga. By September 18, his advance force was about four miles away from the American lines. Small skirmishes started to happen as small parties encountered each other.
Brown’s Raid on Ticonderoga — September 18
General Lincoln sent an expedition, under the command of John Brown, to attack Fort Ticonderoga. Brown was familiar with the area and was a member of Ethan Allen’s force that captured the fort on May 10, 1775. Brown’s force included Green Mountain Boys from Warner’s Regiment. On the morning of September 18, Brown attacked and captured an outpost near Lake George. Meanwhile, Captain Ebeneezer Allen and his men climbed Mount Defiance and overwhelmed the British artillery unit that was stationed there. Then Allen and his men fired on the fort with the British cannons. Brown demanded the surrender of the fort, but the British commander refused. The two sides traded cannon fire for four days. When Hessian reinforcements arrived, the Americans evacuated.
The First Battle of Saratoga, Freeman’s Farm, — September 19
The British army was north of the Americans. On September 19, Burgoyne sent three columns marching south toward Bemis Heights. The columns were under the command of, General Simon Fraser, General James Inglis Hamilton, and Baron von Riedesel. Fraser commanded the British right wing, which was moving toward Benedict Arnold and the American left wing. Hamilton had the center and intended to attack Gates on Bemis Heights. Von Riedesel was on the left and moved the artillery and supplies down the Hudson River and the road that ran alongside. Burgoyne accompanied Hamilton and the center of the British army, which started its advance started around 11:00 in the morning and moved in the direction of a farm, which was owned by a Loyalist named John Freeman.
Arnold wanted to attack first and asked Gates for permission to move out to meet them. Gates initially refused but finally agreed to let Arnold send a small force to meet the British. Colonel Daniel Morgan and his riflemen and Major Harry Dearborn and his infantry were sent out to meet the British.
Morgan’s men fired the first shots and inflicted heavy casualties on the British. Then the Americans formed a column near the southern edge of the farm while reinforcements arrived. The heated battle escalated throughout the afternoon, and both sides sent in reinforcements. Neither side was able to break the other. Arnold led a charge into the British line himself, but could not break through. Afterward, Arnold went to Gates and asked for more reinforcements, but Gates refused to send what he requested. Instead, Gates deployed troops to defend his headquarters, told Arnold to stay at Bemis Heights, and sent Learned and his men into position.
General Daniel Morgan led his men into the fight at the Battle of Freeman’s Farm. Image Source: Wikimedia.
Burgoyne sent von Riedesel into the fight, which allowed the British to take the field and push the Americans back. The British built defensive fortifications at the farm and fortified their crossing over the Hudson, but also suffered significant casualties, which Burgoyne could not afford. He needed reinforcement, but there were none coming. Meanwhile, American militia forces continued to join Gates and increase the strength of his force.
Gates Takes Credit for the Defensive Stand
Gates wrote to Congress and told them about the bold defensive stand his men had made at Freeman’s Farm. However, he was upset with Arnold, and left his name, along with those of some of the other field commanders, out of his report. This infuriated the officers, especially Arnold, because Gates took all the credit for himself. Arnold and Gates had been on friendly terms before Freeman’s Farm, but from that point on they were bitterly opposed to each other.
Battle of Diamond Island — September 24
After John Brown moved away from Ticonderoga, he sailed to Diamon Island on Lake George. Brown had heard the British had supplies, including gold, at a small outpost on the island. The island was fortified with cannons, gunboats, and troops under the command of Captain Thomas Aubrey. At 9:00 on the morning of the 24th, Brown and his men tried to land on the island. However, the British suspected the attack and had fortified the island. When Brown and his men approached, the British opened fire with the cannons. The only battle of the war that took place on Lake George ended with Brown forced to retreat to Skenesborough.
Both Sides Call for Reinforcements at Saratoga
Gates wrote to Lincoln on the day of Freeman’s Farm and ordered him to march to Saratoga. Lincoln reached Bemis Heights on September 22, but the last of his troops did not arrive until September 29. Meanwhile, General Henry Clinton wrote to Burgoyne on September 12 and told him he would send men, but only after he executed plans to capture Fort Montgomery. The day after Freeman’s Farm, Burgoyne learned that General Howe had beaten Washington at the Battle of Brandywine. The news was encouraging to Burgoyne and his men.
Battle of Forts Clinton and Montgomery — October 6
Clinton finally sailed out of New York City, north up the Hudson River, and attacked Fort Clinton and Fort Montgomery. In the process, Clinton dismantled the Hudson River Chain, a long iron chain that had been stretched across the river to keep the British ships from sailing further north. Fort Clinton and Fort Montgomery were both located on the west bank of the Hudson. General George Clinton and his brother, General James Clinton, commanded the forts, and General Israel Putnam commanded troops on the east side of the river, at Peekskill. The British fooled Putnam into thinking they were going to attack his position, and then turned and assaulted the two forts and took them in an intense but short battle. The Americans suffered a significant loss and the British eventually burned both forts and sailed back to the city. Clinton sent messages to Burgoyne to notify him of the victory, but the messengers were all captured. Burgoyne never knew. If he had, he might have delayed the attack on Bemis Heights and given more time for Clinton to join him.
The Second Battle of Saragota, Bemis Heights — October 7
On October 4th, Burgoyne held a Council of War and decided to launch an attack on the left flank of the American line. He hoped to break the left flank, scatter the American forces, and move on to Albany. The council met again the next day, and both Fraser and von Riedesel recommended the British retreat. Burgoyne refused to consider it, and they finally agreed to assault the left wing of the American army with roughly 2,000 men, one-third of Burgoyne’s army. On the morning of October 7th, the British moved out.
By that time, the American army had grown to roughly 15,000 troops, including Lincoln’s men. Despite the numbers, Gates only sent a small force, under the command of Morgan, out to meet them. Arnold was furious and insisted a much larger force was necessary. Gates ignored Arnold, and told him “You have no business here,” but when Lincoln suggested the same thing, he agreed and sent Colonel Enoch Poor and his brigade into the field.
When British artillery spotted Poor’s men, they opened fire and an intense battle started. While the intense fighting raged on, Arnold was with Gates and Lincoln at the headquarters on Bemis Heights. Gates had refused to give Arnold a command during the battle.
The British were overwhelmed, and Burgoyne gave the order to retreat, however, the courier carrying the message to the front lines was killed, so the order was never received.
Arnold was impatient and decided to take matters into his own hands. He rode into the battle just as Learned’s brigade moved to attack the British. Arnold took command and led the assault. As the British fell back to Freeman’s Farm, one of Morgan’s riflemen, Timothy Murphy, shot Fraser, who was mortally wounded. When the British reached the farm, they reorganized at two of the defensive positions they had built earlier, Balcarre’s Redoubt and Breymann’s Redoubt.
Arnold believed he had an opportunity to take the redoubts and decisively beat Burgoyne. He led an assault on the redoubts and overwhelmed the British. During the attack, Arnold’s leg was wounded when his horse fell on it, however, the British forces were forced to withdraw from the field, which gave Arnold and the American forces the victory at the Battle of Bemis Heights.
This illustration by Alonzo Chappel depicts Arnold’s leg pinned under his horse during the Battle of Bemis Heights. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.
Burgoyne Withdraws and Surrenders
Once again, the British had suffered significant casualties, including Fraser, who died of his wounds on the 8th. That night, Burgoyne finally relented and ordered his army to retreat north to their camp at Saratoga. It took two days to make the march to the camp, and the Americans harassed them along the way.
By the morning of October 13, the Americans had completely surrounded Burgoyne’s army was completely surrounded. He met with his officers and they voted to open negotiations with the Americans. On October 16, Burgoyne agreed to terms, which he insisted on calling a “convention” instead of a surrender. The next day, October 17, a ceremony was held. Burgoyne handed his sword to Gates. Gates took it, then gave it back to him. Then the British army marched out to surrender their arms, while the American musicians played the song “Yankee Doodle” as an insult to them. The song was written by a British doctor during the French and Indian War by a British doctor to mock colonial militia forces.
Outcome of the Saragota Campaign
The result of the Saratoga Campaign was a decisive American victory over Burgoyne and his army. The victory allowed the Americans to regain control of the Hudson River Valley and convinced France to begin negotiations with Benjamin Franklin.
Americans Regain Control of the Hudson River Valley
On October 18, most of the American troops marched South toward Albany to deal with Clinton. Over the next two months, the British withdrew from Ticonderoga and Crown Point, and Lake Champlain was free of the British presence.
Gates agreed to allow Burgoyne’s army to march to Boston and sail back to Europe on British ships, provided none of the men participated any further in the war. The so-called “Convention Army,” marched east, accompanied by American forces under the command of John Glover. The army arrived in Cambridge, Massachusetts on November 8, where they were placed in crude barracks that had been built during the Siege of Boston. More than 1,000 men had deserted the army, and Congress asked Burgoyne to give it the names of those that had escaped, but he refused. Congress responded by keeping the army in captivity for the remainder of the war.
Burgoyne and Riedesel were guests of Schuyler, who had gone to Saratoga to witness the surrender. Although the British had destroyed a significant number of Schuyler’s farms and land on the march to Saratoga, Schuyler treated Burgoyne well. In May 1778, Burgoyne was allowed to return to England on parole. He spent the next two years defending his actions in Parliament and the press. He was eventually exchanged for more than 1,000 American prisoners.
News Reaches France — December 4
On December 4, Benjamin Franklin, who was at Versailles, learned the British had taken Philadelphia but also that Burgoyne had surrendered. Two days later, King Louis XVI agreed to negotiations for an alliance with the United States.
The treaty was signed on February 6, 1778, and France declared war on Britain one month later, with hostilities beginning with naval skirmishes off Ushant in June.
Congress Declares a Holiday — December 18
Congress declared December 18, 1777, as a national day “for solemn Thanksgiving and praise” in recognition of Burgoyne’s surrender.
Treaties Signed with France — February 6, 1778
The United States agreed to two treaties with France. The first was the Treaty of Amity and Commerce. In that treaty, France agreed to recognize the United States as an independent nation and promoted trade between the two nations. In the second treaty, the Treaty of Alliance, France pledged military support to the United States against Britain.
Significance of the Saratoga Campaign
The Saratoga Campaign is important to the history of the United States because it ended with a significant defeat for the British, which convinced the French to provide military support to the Americans and to become the first foreign nation to recognize the United States as an independent nation.