The Battle of Saratoga refers to the two battles which were held near the town of Saratoga in Saratoga County, New York in September and October of 1777. According to historian Edmund Morgan, America’s decisive victory at Saratoga “was a great turning point of the war, because it won for Americans the foreign assistance which was the last element needed for victory”. Know more about this landmark battle through these 10 interesting facts.

 

#1 The battle was part of Great Britain’s campaign to isolate New England

New England region of US which initiated the Revolutionary War was proving troublesome for the British. British command devised a plan according to which General John Burgoyne, commanding a large army, was to invade America from Canada by advancing down the Hudson Valley to Albany; while British troops under Sir William Howe were to march up the Hudson Valley from New Jersey. The purpose of this was to isolate the rebellious New England colonies from middle and southern colonies. It would also give Britain command of Hudson River and demoralize Americans and their allies.

Portrait of General John Burgoyne by Sir Joshua Reynolds
General John Burgoyne who led the British forces at Saratoga

 

#2 John Burgoyne’s campaign fell into difficulties after initial success

In June 1777, Burgoyne started his campaign to gain control of upper Hudson Valley. On his way south he captured Fort Ticonderoga which caused uproar in American public as it was considered impenetrable. But soon the campaign fell into trouble. As Burgoyne marched further south his supply lines from Canada became long and unreliable. Also William Howe, who was supposed to march north and meet Burgoyne, decided to capture Philadelphia instead. Despite these factors, Burgoyne didn’t retreat back to Ticonderoga and continued to move southwards to Albany.

Portrait of General Horatio Gates by Gilbert Stuart
General Horatio Gates who led the American forces at Saratoga

 

#3 Jane McCrea’s murder stiffened America’s resolve against Burgoyne

An important part of Burgoyne’s plan was to use the Native Americans against the American army. However after the troops he sent to get supplies from Vermont were attacked and defeated, the Native American contingent decided to leave. On the other hand, the American army he was to confront was growing in size due to calls from state governors but mainly because of the Jane McCrea case. Jane McCrea was a woman who was brutally slayed supposedly by Native Americans under the command of Burgoyne. Burgoyne took no action against them and the case led to nationwide outrage leading to increase in number of people joining the army.

The Death of Jane McCrea by John Vanderlyn
The Death of Jane McCrea by John Vanderlyn

 

#4 Thaddeus Kosciusko’s fortifications played a key role in the battle

American forces under Major General Philip Schuyler were retreating after they lost Fort Ticonderoga but they made sure that the British had to rely on supplies from Canada by burning the supplies and crops in line of Burgoyne’s advance. In August, Major General Horatio Gates took over command of the forces from Philip Schuyler. Gates ordered his army to march north in September and they selected a site called Bemis Heights, about 15 km south of Saratoga, to build defensive works. The excellent fortifications, which were designed by Polish engineer Colonel Thaddeus Kosciusko, played a crucial role in the battle.

Tadeusz Kosciuszko
Tadeusz Kosciuszko

 

#5 The British gained ground in the first battle but suffered significantly more casualties

By mid-September the British forces crossed the Hudson and headed for Saratoga. The situation was such that the British had to fight the Americans if they were to proceed to Albany. The first battle of Saratoga known as Battle of Freeman’s Farm took place on September 19, 1777. Burgoyne moved a part of his force to flank the American forces which he expected would remain at Bemis Heights but his move was anticipated. The Battle was a minor success for Burgoyne as the British forces managed to gain control of Freeman’s Farm. However while Burgoyne’s army suffered nearly 600 casualties, American losses were about half of that.

Freeman's Farm battlefield
Modern view of the battleground of Freeman’s Farm

 

#6 American forces convincingly won the second battle leading to Burgoyne’s surrender

The second battle of Saratoga known as Battle of Bemis Heights took place on October 7. The American army convincingly defeated the British forces and they were made to retreat back to the position they held before Freeman’s Farm battle. The British forces suffered 500 casualties in the battle compared to 200 suffered by the Americans. By the end of the battle the British were outnumbered 3:1. Burgoyne was soon surrounded at Saratoga and ten days after the Battle of Bemis Heights he surrendered his entire army, numbering 5,800.

Surrender of General Burgoyne by John Trumbull
Surrender of General Burgoyne – At the center John Burgoyne (in red) and Horatio Gates (in blue)

 

#7 The defeated soldiers became known as the Convention Army

Burgoyne didn’t agree to an unconditional surrender but laid out terms which were titled Convention of Saratoga. According to it the defeated soldiers would surrender their weapons, return to Europe and pledge never to fight in the conflict. However the treaty was cancelled by the Congress when Burgoyne refused to provide names and description of the captured soldiers to make sure they didn’t return. The British, German and Canadian soldiers were imprisoned and became known as the Convention Army. Burgoyne returned to Britain where he was widely blamed for the defeat and was never given another commanding position in the British Army.

 

#8 Saratoga’s American hero Benedict Arnold later became a British spy

Benedict Arnold was an American general and one of the commanders in the Battle of Saratoga. In the Battle of Freeman’s Farm he was instrumental in stopping the advance of the British and in the Battle of Bemis Heights he led fiercely forcing the British to retreat. During the battle he also suffered leg injuries that ended his combat career for several years. Unfortunately it is not for this that he is remembered. Embittered by lack of recognition for his efforts in the war and corruption charges against him, Arnold entered into secret negotiations with the British and plotted to hand over command of his port at West Point to them. The plot was exposed which led to Arnold switching sides officially.

Benedict Arnold
Benedict Arnold

 

#9 Battle of Saratoga is considered the turning point of the American War of Independence

America’s decisive victory over the British at Saratoga was critical in their ultimate triumph in the War of Independence. The comprehensive victory gave France the confidence that America could win the war and this resulted in the formal Franco-American alliance in 1778. French entry into the war changed the dynamics completely and later American successes in the war owed a lot to the financial and military assistance given by the French. Also the victory at Saratoga was the greatest by America till that point and it came at a crucial time to raise the spirits of the Americans who had recently suffered setbacks at Brandywine and Philadelphia.

Franco-American Alliance treaty
Original Franco-American Alliance treaty, signed 6 February 1778

 

#10 The site of the battle is now a historic park

As a result of the military success at Saratoga, George Washington, leader of the revolutionary forces in the American War of Independence, declared December 18, 1777, as a national day “for solemn Thanksgiving and praise”. It was the nation’s first official observance of a holiday with that name. The site of the Battles of Saratoga, the first significant American military victory of the American Revolutionary War, is preserved by the Saratoga National Historical Park. In 1966 the park was listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

5 COMMENTS

  1. This was very helpful and interesting- I had to find “interesting facts” about the Battes of Saratoga and this was definitely very helpful. I enjoyed reading!

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