Second Battle of Saratoga, Summary of the Battle of Bemis Heights
The Second Battle of Saratoga — also known as the Battle of Bemis Heights — was fought between the United States of America and Great Britain on October 7, 1777, during the Saratoga Campaign of the American Revolutionary War.
After the American Invasion of Canada failed, the Continental Army was forced to retreat to New York and took shelter at Fort Ticonderoga. In October 1776, the Battle of Valcour Island took place, where a small fleet of American ships, under the command of Benedict Arnold, slowed the British advance and forced them to put off the invasion of the Hudson River Valley until the spring of 1777.
The British plan, which is known as Burgoyne’s Campaign of 1777, was led by Lieutenant General John Burgoyne. The plan was to capture Albany, New York, which would allow the British to cut New England off from the Southern Colonies.
Burgoyne started the campaign on June 14 and quickly captured Fort Ticonderoga. However, the American forces escaped by different routes, and Burgoyne pursued them to Skenesborough, Fort Anne, and Hubbardton. Although the British won the battles that took place at each location, they suffered significant casualties and used up supplies faster than anticipated.
As Burgoyne pressed on toward Albany, his plan started to collapse. General William Howe decided to take his army from New York and attack Philadelphia. Then, on August 16, American forces dealt the British a crushing defeat at the Battle of Bennington.
A few days later, General Barry St. Leger, who had invaded the Mohawk River Valley, was forced to retreat at the Siege of Fort Stanwix and temporarily abandon the campaign.
Meanwhile, American forces under the command of General Horatio Gates gathered near Saratoga and built defensive works at Bemis Heights. Despite his troubles, Burgoyne decided to push forward, and he marched north of the position of the Continental Army.
On September 19, Burgoyne sent three columns out to engage the American forces and a long, fierce battle took place at Freeman’s Farm. As night fell, the Americans, led by Arnold, were forced to withdraw.
Burgoyne received word that General Sir Henry Clinton might be able to march from New York City to reinforce him, so he camped two miles from the Continental Army and waited for three weeks.
During that time, American reinforcements arrived and the size of the army grew. On October 7, Burgoyne sent men out to scout the American positions to see if he could launch an attack on the American line.
Another intense fight raged for hours before Arnold rode into the field of battle. He rallied the men and when the British lines broke, he chased after them and captured the extreme right of the British line.
Burgoyne was forced to withdraw, which ended the Second Battle of Saratoga and gave the Continental Army its most important victory in the Northern Theater of the American Revolutionary War.
Second Battle of Saratoga at Facts
- Date Started: The Second Battle of Saratoga started on Tuesday, October 7, 1777.
- Date Ended: The battle ended on October 7, 1777.
- Location: The battle took place on the farm of John Freeman, which was west of the Hudson River and north of Bemis Heights.
- Military Campaign: The battle was part of the Saratoga Campaign of 1777.
- Who Won: The United States of America won the Second Battle of Saratoga.
Second Battle of Saratoga Key Events
Burgoyne called a Council of War on October 4 and made the decision to attack the American line.
On the morning of October 7, Burgoyne sent nearly one-third of his army and some artillery out to begin the attack.
The Americans expected the attack, and the alarm was raised along the entire line.
Gates sent men out to meet the British advance force, which formed a battle line in Barber’s Wheatfield.
American forces attacked and an intense battle raged while Gates and some of the other officers, including Arnold, watched from Bemis Heights.
Arnold was impatient and finally decided to take action. He defied Gage’s orders and rode into the battle.
British General Simon Fraser was shot and mortally wounded during the battle. The British line eventually baroque and their forces retreated.
Arnold chased after the British and when he saw an opportunity to attack the British redoubts at Freeman’s Farm, he took advantage.
The Americans were able to capture one of the redoubts, although Arnold was shot and wounded.
As night fell, the British were forced to evacuate the other redoubt they had built and eventually withdraw, giving the Americans the victory.
Second Battle of Saratoga Overview
After the Battle of Freeman’s Farm, Arnold wanted to renew the fight the next day, but Gates declined Arnold’s request.
Burgoyne Decides to Hold His Positions
Burgoyne also wanted to attack the next day but found out General Henry Clinton was going to attack Fort Clinton and Fort Montgomery and then march to join him at Saratoga. Clinton estimated he would be there by the end of September. This opened up the possibility that Gates would have to send troops to help defend the forts, which would weaken his army at Saratoga.
Burgoyne also received a message from General Howe that informed him he had beaten the Continental Army and George Washington at the Battle of Brandywine.
Burgoyne delivered the good news to his army and decided to wait to attack. Over the next three weeks, there were minor skirmishes between scouting parties, patrols, and picket lines.
While Burgoyne waited for Clinton, he started to run low on supplies and he had a significant number of sick or wounded men in the hospitals in the British camps. To make matters worse, his Indian allies started to desert and some of them moved over and joined the Americans.
Arnold and Gates at Odds
Tension in the American camp was high. Many of the officers and men were upset over the report Gates had sent to Congress about the Battle of Freeman’s Farm, because he left Arnold’s name out. To the men, it looked like Gates was taking credit for stopping the British advance.
Arnold and Gates had a heated argument and Gates removed Arnold from command. He replaced him with General Benjamin Lincoln. Arnold threatened to leave the camp, but legend has it his men begged him to stay and even signed a petition supporting him.
Despite the disagreement between the officers, the American army continued to grow as militia forces marched to Bemis Heights and joined with Gates. On July 22, Benjamin Lincoln arrived with 2,000 men.
As the size of the army grew, the officers became impatient. They knew they had the advantage in terms of men, and wanted to attack. However, Gates was content to hold the American positions.
Burgoyne Decides to Take Action
By the end of September, Clinton had not arrived, and Burgoyne was faced with two choices. He could attack the Americans or withdraw. He called a Council of War and discussed options with his officers. Most of them agreed the best option was to leave but Burgoyne thought that would be an embarrassment. He decided to launch a final attack on the American line.
On October 7, General Simon Fraser moved out from the British camp with 1,500 men — roughly one-third of Burgoyne’s army. He moved toward the left flank of the American line. Burgoyne prepared to attack the center of the American line and sent men to attack the American rear.
Fraser marched into Barber’s Wheatfield and had his men form a line. Fraser was in the center, with the Hessian troops. On his right was the Light Infantry under the command of General Lord Balcarres. On his left were Major John Dyke Ackland and the British Grenadiers.
Gates Sends Morgan and Dearborn to Meet the British
When Gates realized the British were advancing, he sent men out to meet the British. Around 2:00 in the afternoon, American forces led by Daniel Morgan and Henry Dearborn moved into position and engaged the Light Infantry on the right of Fraser’s line. Morgan’s riflemen and Dearborn’s infantry worked together. The riflemen would fire, then reload. As they reloaded, the infantry would charge with bayonets.
The Americans also attacked the center and the left of the American line. General Ebenezer Learned led the attack on the center, while General Enoch Poor led the attack on the left.
Arnold Grows Impatient
While the fight intensified, Gates, Arnold, and Lincoln were having lunch at the Gates’ headquarters on Bemis Heights. Arnold asked Gates for permission to join the fight and lead his men in the battle Gates was concerned that if he allowed Arnold to go, the fight would escalate and force Gates to send the entire army in to engage the British.
On the British right, Morgan and Dearborn were able to push back the British advances. Morgan’s men attacked with a ferocity that caused the British troops to panic. Morgan’s attack was followed by another from Dearborn, and it led to the collapse of the right of the British line.
Poor and his men pushed on the British left, and Ackland responded by ordering a bayonet charge. As they advanced on the Americans, they received heavy fire. Ackland was wounded and many of his grenadiers were wounded or killed. Poor and his men captured the British batteries, turned the guns around, and fired on the British. Control of the batteries went back and forth between the British and American forces but they were eventually controlled by the Americans.
Arnold Defies Gates
Back at Bemis Heights, Arnold decided to defy his orders from Gates and take action on his own and rode to join his men. He rode into the battle to the cheers of his men. He rallied his men and led them in a charge against the
Fraser tried to organize his men in Barber’s Wheatfield. While he shouted orders, one of Morgan’s riflemen shot him in the stomach. Fraser fell from his horse, mortally wounded. When he fell, his men ran from the field.
By that time, both flanks were overwhelmed and around 3,000 New York Militia led by General Abraham Ten Broek arrived. The British line broke, and the men fled toward Freeman’s Farm.
Arnold Makes a Bold Decision that Wins the Battle
Arnold chased after the British, which is exactly the kind of action Gates was afraid of. Arnold saw the two redoubts and the fortifications and ordered Enoch Poor to attack Balcarres Redoubt. The British in the redoubt put up a good fight and pushed Poor back.
Arnold took men from Learned’s brigade and attacked the Hessians at the Breymann Redoubt, which was on the extreme right of the British line. Morgan attacked the right while Learned’s men attacked the left. Arnold galloped back and forth across the line, shouting orders to his men.
The Americans overran the redoubt and the Hessians evacuated. The Americans chased after them. In the chaos, the Hessians were firing on each other. Von Breymann killed some of his own men before he was shot and killed himself by friendly fire.
The Americans also suffered a blow when Arnold was shot in the leg — the same one he had injured at the Battle of Quebec. The shot went through his leg and killed his horse, which fell on him and pinned the leg underneath.
As the sun set, the fighting came to an end and the Americans held the redoubt on the British flank.
Second Battle of Saratoga Results
- The outcome of the Second Battle of Saratoga at Bemis Heights was an American victory and a major turning point in the American Revolutionary War.
- Simon Fraser died from his wounds later that night.
- Burgoyne was forced to evacuate the Balcarres Redoubt because the Americans held the Breymann Redoubt.
- The next day, October 10, Burgoyne ordered the retreat. The army marched north to Saratoga where it was surrounded by Gates and the Continental Army.
- On October 13, Burgoyne was faced with two choices: fight or surrender. He chose to surrender and offered to negotiate with Gates.
- The two sides negotiated for two days. Burgoyne insisted that his men be allowed to return to their homes in Europe, which Gates agreed to.
- On October 17, Burgoyne officially surrendered.
- When the French learned about the surrender, they agreed to help support the United States against Britain.
Second Battle of Saratoga Interesting Facts
The Second Battle of Saragota took place on essentially the same ground as the Battle of Freeman’s Farm, which is north of Stillwater, New York, and south of Saratoga, where the British surrendered. Saratoga is present-day Schuylerville, New York.
The British fortified their positions at Freeman’s Farm and built two redoubts. The first was the Balcarres Redoubt or the Light Infantry Redoubt, which was named after General Lord Balcarres. The second was the Breymann Redoubt, which was named after Lieutenant Colonel Heinrich von Breymann.
Legend has it that the rifleman who shot Simon Fraser was Timothy Murphy.
Burgoyne was nearly killed several times during the battle.
Benedict Arnold was the only officer from the Continental Army that was wounded during the battle.
Congress revoked the terms of the agreement between Burgoyne and Gates after some of the men from the army escaped. Most of Burgoyne’s men spent the rest of the war as prisoners.
The surrender of the British Army at Saratoga was the first time in history a British army ever surrendered.
Arnold’s role in the battle is largely ignored, because of the treason he committed a few years later. A monument of a boot stands at the site on the battlefield where he was shot in the leg.
Second Battle of Saratoga Military Commanders
American Military Leaders
- Horatio Gates
- Benedict Arnold
- Daniel Morgan
- Henry Dearborn
British Military Leaders
- John Burgoyne
- Simon Fraser
- Lord Balcarres
- John Dyke Ackland
Second Battle of Saratoga Significance
The Second Battle of Saratoga is important to the outcome of the American Revolutionary War and the history of the United States because American forces, led by Benedict Arnold, pushed British forces out of their defensive positions at Freeman’s Farm, which forced them to retreat and abandon Burgoyne’s plan to take Albany. The victory at Bemis Heights led to Burgoyne’s surrender at Saratoga, which convinced the French to enter the war in support of the United States.
Second Battle of Saratoga Timeline
This timeline shows how the First Battle of Saratoga at Freeman’s Farm fits into the events of the Saratoga Campaign.
- July 2–July 6, 1777 — Siege of Fort Ticonderoga
- July 6, 1777 — Battle of Skeneseborough
- July 7, 1777 — Battle of Hubbardton
- July 8, 1777 — Battle of Fort Anne
- August 2, 1777 — Siege of Fort Stanwix
- August 6, 1777 — Battle of Oriskany
- August 16, 1777 — Battle of Bennington
- September 19, 1777 — First Battle of Saratoga, Freeman’s Farm
- October 7, 1777 — Second Battle Saratoga, Bemis Heights
- October 17, 1777 — Surrender of Burgoyne’s Army