Fought eighteen days apart in the fall of 1777, the two Battles of Saratoga were a turning point in the American Revolution. On September 19th, British General John Burgoyne achieved a small, but costly victory over American forces led by Horatio Gates and Benedict Arnold. Though his troop strength had been weakened, Burgoyne again attacked the Americans at Bemis Heights on October 7th, but this time was defeated and forced to retreat. He surrendered ten days later, and the American victory convinced the French government to formally recognize the colonist’s cause and enter the war as their ally.
September 19, 1777, and October 7, 1777
The word Saratoga is shorthand for two battles that gave the coup de grace to the 1777 British invasion from Canada during the American Revolutionary War. After capturing Fort Ticonderoga with almost laughable ease, the British army, led by overconfident General John Burgoyne, crawled south at a tortoise pace, giving the rattled Americans time to regroup under Horatio Gates. To support him, General George Washington sent Benedict Arnold, his best infantry commander; Colonel Daniel Morgan and his crack regiment of Virginia riflemen; and two brigades of Continentals from the Hudson Highlands. They raised Gates’s strength to about sixty-five hundred men. Equally important was Colonel Thaddeus Kosciusko, the Polish engineer, who built excellent field fortifications on Bemis Heights overlooking the Hudson River.
On September 19, Burgoyne attacked. The fiery Arnold prodded Gates out of his defensive mentality, winning permission to lead Morgan’s men and Henry Dearborn’s light infantry into the woods to block a British flanking column. For most of the afternoon, a furious struggle raged around and across a clearing called Freeman’s Farm; Arnold poured in fresh regiments until the jittery Gates broke off the action, leaving the battered British in possession of the ground. After fortifying his camp and waiting in vain for reinforcements from New York, Burgoyne attempted another assault on October 7. Ignoring orders from the jealous Gates to remain in his quarters, Arnold joined the fighting and led an attack that captured key strong points, forcing the British to retreat to Saratoga (modern Schuylerville). There, surrounded by a belated outpouring of militia, Burgoyne surrendered ten days later.
The Reader’s Companion to Military History. Edited by Robert Cowley and Geoffrey Parker. Copyright © 1996 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.