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Battle of Saratoga

The Battle of Saratoga occurred in September and October, 1777, during the second year of the American Revolution. It included two crucial battles, fought eighteen days apart, and was a decisive victory for the Continental Army and a crucial turning point in the Revolutionary War.

Battle of Quebec 

After a failed Canadian invasion known as the Battle of Quebec (December 1775 - May 1776) left much of the Continental Army beaten, sick and in retreat, the British hoped to quash rebellion once and for all by isolating the New England colonies from the other American colonies.

They also hoped to discourage potential American allies such as France from joining the fight. To accomplish this, the British Redcoats needed to take upstate New York and control the Hudson River. 

In the spring of 1777, the British ordered three of their armies to merge in Albany, New York. Only one army, however, commanded by General John Burgoyne, made the final push to its destination. Waiting for them was the heavily-fortified Northern Department of the Continental Army, commanded by General Horatio Gates. 

First Battle of Saratoga: Freeman’s Farm

The opposing armies came face to face on September 19 on the abandoned farm of Loyalist John Freeman near Saratoga, New York. Known as the Battle of Freeman’s Farm or the First Battle of Saratoga, the fierce fighting lasted for several hours.

Momentum changed sides several times, but neither side gained significant ground until Burgoyne ordered his column of German troops to support the faltering British line and forced the Americans to pull back. Still, the British suffered twice the number of casualties than the Americans and couldn’t continue their drive to Albany.

Battle of Bemis Heights

Burgoyne decided to stay put and wait for reinforcements from New York City. In the meantime, the number of Gates’ American troops increased to over 13,000 and continued to grow.

By October 7, with supplies dwindling fast, Burgoyne realized waiting for backup was in vain. He sent out a reconnaissance force to attack the American’s left flank in the wooded area of Bemis Heights, south of Saratoga. The Americans got wind of the movement, however, and forced the British to withdraw.

Burgoyne decided to take his army north to safety, but heavy rain and frigid temperatures slowed their retreat. Within two days, Gates’ soldiers surrounded what remained of Burgoyne’s army. Supporting the Patriot cause was Colonel Thaddeus Kosciusko, a Polish engineer who built strong field fortifications on Bemis Heights overlooking the Hudson River.

Out of supplies and out of options, Burgoyne surrendered his army to Gates on October 17. The battle became known as the Battle of Bemis Heights or the Second Battle of Saratoga.

Benedict Arnold

Benedict Arnold is infamous for betraying his country to the British, but he also played a heroic patriot’s role during the American Revolution, including the Battle of Saratoga. Despite being wounded in the leg in the Battle of Quebec and then helping delay a British invasion of New York in late 1776, Arnold was passed up for promotions. 

Frustrated, he resigned his commission in July 1777, but General George Washington, commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, refused his request and ordered him north to serve under General Gates.

At best, Arnold and Gates strongly disliked each other and often argued. After the Battle of Freeman’s Farm, Gates relieved Arnold of his command. During the Battle of Bemis Heights, however, Arnold supposedly defied Gates’ order and led an assault on horseback which helped the Americans win the battle. He severely wounded his leg again during the attack.

Arnold never felt appreciated by his country and eventually became a traitor, threatening everything he’d fought for during his time with the Continental Army. Yet his heroics at the Battle of Saratoga complicate his legacy.

Saratoga National Historical Park  

The Saratoga Monument in Saratoga National Historical Park honors key players of the Battle of Saratoga. Its southern niche is empty in recognition of Arnold’s conflicting roles of top general and turncoat.

A memorial statue of a lone boot, also located in Saratoga National Historical Park, represents Arnold’s actions and leg wound at Saratoga. Neither the Boot Monument nor the southern niche bears Arnold’s name. 

Who Won the Battle of Saratoga?

Despite being overcome during the Battle of Freeman’s Farm, the Continental Army persevered and won a decisive victory at the Battle of Saratoga. They decimated Burgoyne’s troops, cut off supply routes, and Burgoyne never received his promised and desperately needed reinforcements.

The Redcoats had planned a divide-and-conquer attack against the Americans in upstate New York. However, a series of British mishaps and delays, as well as offensive actions taken by the Continental Army, forced Burgoyne’s troops to fight Gates’ fast-growing army alone, greatly diminishing any possibility of British success.

Significance of the Battle of Saratoga 

The Battle of Saratoga was a turning point in the American Revolution. It gave the Patriots a major morale boost and persuaded the French, Spanish and Dutch to join their cause against a mutual rival.

France’s naval support eventually helped the Continental Army win the final Battle of Yorktown, leading to the end of the American Revolution.

Sources

Benedict Arnold. Mountvernon.org.
Saratoga: Freeman’s Farm/Bemis Heights. American Battlefield Trust.
Saratoga National Historic Park New York: Saratoga Monument. National Park Service.
Saratoga National Historic Park New York: History and Culture. National Park Service.
The Battle of Freeman’s Farm. Alabama Sons of the American Revolution.
The Battle of Saratoga. Saratoga.org.
The Battle of Saratoga. The Saratoga County Chamber.

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