Battle of Saratoga

The Battle of Saratoga was more than a battle, it was a series of month-long maneuvers that resulted in two battles: the Battle of Freeman’s Farm and the Battle of Bemis Heights. The commanding officers of the Continental Army were:  Horatio Gates, Benedict Arnold, Benjamin Lincoln, Enoch Poor, Daniel Morgan and Ebenezer Learned. Horatio Gates had just replaced General Philip Schuyler who was blamed for the fall of Fort Ticonderoga to the British.

The British commanding officer of the Saratoga Campaign was John Burgoyne, also known as “Gentlemen Johnny”. He had a high rapport with his men and was known to live a life of luxury and enjoyed drinking and gambling. He had been met with incredible opposition before the battle of Saratoga had taken place. Upon leaving Quebec and approaching Fort Ticonderoga and Fort Edward, General Schuyler had used scorched earth tactics on him to slow his march. This worked as Burgoyne’s marched slowed to a crawl. He would recapture Fort Ticonderoga, but then meet defeat at the Battle of Bennington. This battle depleted his forces.

To make matters worse for General Burgoyne, his Indian allies had grown restless and murdered the daughter of a loyalist family, Jane McCrea. This caused the rebels to rally around the Continental Army. Enlistments went up and swelled its numbers to approximately 8,000 soldiers.

British Preparations

General Burgoyne’s strategy was to split the American colonies in half.  He planned an invasion from Canada in which he would take Fort Ticonderoga, then Fort Edward and eventually take Albany. This would open up another front for George Washington to defend.  If Burgoyne’s ambition would be realized then it would cripple the American forces and most likely lead to a surrender. In June of 1777 he set his plan into motion. Once his plan was set into motion General William Howe was to march his forces and meet up with Burgoyne. The pincer attack would crush the rebellion.

Admiral Richard Howe and General William Howe had a different plan and received permission to execute their strategy from England. From the outset of the war the Howe’s main focus was capturing colonies and restoring order to each one. It was a slower process, but it seemed to have some success. The British had successfully captured New York, the most important port in the colonies, and set their sights on Pennsylvania. By capturing Philadelphia Howe would control two of the largest economies in the colonies.

With Howe out of the picture Burgoyne was then met with another setback at the Battle of Bennington. This battle would result in many of his men being captured and the loss of his Indian allies. His force continued to dwindle and by the first battle his strength was at a mere 7,200 men. While the Americans were at 9,000 and growing.

American Preparations

The Northern Department of the Continental Army under Major General Philip Schuyler had been in a state of steady retreat after Burgoyne’s capture of Fort Ticonderoga. This led to many in Congress being disgruntled with General Schuyler which resulted in him being given a different assignment and Major General Horatio Gates taking command. Once Gates was in command the Continental forces began to rise based on many facts such as: the death of Jane Mcrae, local governors encouraging militia support, the success of the Battle of Bennington and Commander-in-chief George Washington sending many of his forces to Gates to keep Burgoyne in check.

General Washington decided to keep a close watch on Howe who was in Philadelphia so he sent Gates some of his best men. He sent an aggressive field general named Benedict Arnold, an newly formed elite rifle corps under Daniel Morgan, General Benjamin Lincoln and 750 men of Israel Putnam‘s men. Upon their arrival, Gates and his men moved towards Bemis Heights.

Battle of Freeman’s Farm

The invasion of the British northern army had not went as General Burgoyne had planned. He had lost most of his indian support and much of his loyalist support due to the circumstances surrounding the murder of Jane Mcrae. This murder also ignited the colonists and General Horatio Gates had recruits pouring into fight the British. He also was left alone as General William Howe had found it pertinent to capture the rebel city of Philadelphia rather than support Burgoyne. Burgoyne had also lost many men at the Battle of Bennington. All of this left the British General weakened and vulnerable.

Gates began organizing his line and assigned the fighting general, Benedict Arnold to lead the left arm of the army. Arnold and Gates had a mutual respect, yet mutual dislike for each other. Both had personalities that tended to clash and both always believed to be right and had a hard time taking counsel. Gates and Arnold disagreed with how the Saratoga campaign should be run and since Gates outranked Arnold his opinion would be the one to survive. Even-so Benedict Arnold would go on to play the most important role of the battle.

Arnold understood a couple things that Gates seemed to miss and they would play a pivotal role in the Battle of Saratoga:

  1. One of the Continental Army’s greatest strength was its guerilla warfare and marksmanship,
  2. How to arrange and use colonial militia effectively
  3. How to inspire men to fight
  4. How to intimidate the enemy
Arnold also understood the importance of the American left and what it meant for the rest of the army if Burgoyne was able capture it.  In order to control the Saratoga battlefield it would be important to control the heights and Arnold as well as Burgoyne understood these things. Around 10 AM on September 19, Burgoyne ordered his army to advance in an attempt to flank Gates and his army. Arnold seeing this petitioned General Gates to move his army in order to meet Burgoyne. Horatio Gates would grant permission, albeit reluctantly.
Arnold then sent a Daniel Morgan’s elite rifle corps and Henry Dearborn’s light infantry on reconnaissance. They discovered the British forces in the field of Loyalist John Freeman. Morgan and his men began cutting down trees in order to slow the advance of the British. The sound of gunfire prompted the British to send some of their artillery in that direction. Morgan and Dearborn were waiting and well hidden.
Morgan and his men took aim and unleashed a devastating barrage of fire and picked off most of the officers. Morgan and his men then charged, unaware that they were heading right into Burgoyne’s main army. British General Fraser arrived to reinforce the advance and pushed Morgan’s men back into the woods. Gates then sent reinforcements to aid Morgan and his men. The fight then paused as both armies began maneuvering.
The battle would continue and go through stages of hard fighting and breaks in the action. Morgan and his men continued to devastate the British and almost broke the line. However in a calculated risk, the British left 500 men to guard an important supply and the rest of the men came to reinforce the line. This move worked as the British were able to drive the Americans from the field. Darkness set in and the fighting stopped. Burgoyne had taken the field, but at the cost of 600 men.

Battle of Bemis Heights

After the Battle of Freeman’s Farm, Burgoyne still remained a formidable foe but a much weaker one. His numbers were around 5,000 men and many of his advisors advised retreat. Burgoyne went against his advisors and sent men to assess whether or not he could attack the American left flank. Burgoyne’s men began assessing the position of the Americans at around 11 AM that morning.

General Horatio Gates was alerted to the movements of Burgoyne and quickly dispatched Daniel Morgan’s elite sharpshooters to the flank as well as Enoch Poor’s men of New Hampshire and Learned’s men of New York and Massachusetts. Gates also placed 1,400 men in reserve and used another 1,400 men from Benjamin Lincoln when the fighting because fierce. Approximately 8,000 men were in action that day and none of these men were commanded by Benedict Arnold who was one of the heroes of Freeman Farm. He and Gates had a fight prior to the Battle of Bemis Heights over strategy. Gates had dismissed Arnold who was one of the best Field Generals in the entire War.

The Battle begins with British grenadiers opening fire on the Americans around 2:30 pm. In response the American’s held their fire as they were out of range of British fire. Poor and his man sat and waited for the British to move closer and when they did they unleashed the first devastating volley of the battle. The British commanders Acland and Williams fell and the Americans capture valuable pieces of British artillery. The grenadiers were routed.

On the left side of the American’s the British were engaged by General Daniel Morgan and his guerilla tactics. While hiding behind trees and taking cover Morgan’s rifleman inflicted heavy casualties onto the British army. The British army continued to try and move west, but Morgan and his men continually broke them up. During these exchanges the British commander Fraser fell. With the death of Fraser and the arrival of timely American reinforcements the British had no other choice then to begin a disorganized retreat. Burgoyne himself was almost killed during the retreat when three bullets his his horse, his hat and his coat.

The first phase of the attack was over and Burgoyne had lost 400 men along with many valuable field commanders.

Once the second phase had ended Benedict Arnold arrived at the scene of the battle. Gates had dismissed him but Arnold defiantly returned to the battlefield to serve as a soldier rather than a commander. Upon learning of this Gates sent Major Armstrong to find and order Arnold to leave the field. Armstrong was unable to catch up with him until the battle had been decided.

Arnold led the American chase, and then led Poor’s men in an attack on the Balcarres redoubt. Balcarres had set up his defenses well, and the redoubt was held, in action so fierce that Burgoyne afterwards wrote, “A more determined perseverance than they showed … is not in any officer’s experience”. Seeing that the advance was checked, and that Learned was preparing to attack the Breymann redoubt, Arnold moved toward that action, recklessly riding between the lines and remarkably emerging unhurt. He led the charge of Learned’s men through the gap between the redoubts, which exposed the rear of Breymann’s position, where Morgan’s men had circled around from the far side. In furious battle, the redoubt was taken and Breymann was killed. Arnold’s horse was hit in one of the final volleys, and Arnold’s leg was broken by both shot and the falling horse. Major Armstrong finally caught up with Arnold to officially order him back to headquarters; he was carried back in a litter.

Arnold would deliver his famous quote that he wished the bullet had found his heart instead of his leg.

Burgoyne was surrounded and had little choice but to surrender to General Gates. The British had lost then entire Northern Army and had given legitimacy to the Continental Army.

Battle of Saratoga Results

The Battle of Saratoga had many results:

  • It brought France into the war, thus creating a world war for the British rather than a rebellion. The French supplied the Americans with large amounts of weapons, clothing, food and of course their powerful navy. This would mark the turning point of the war for the Americans.
  • It caused General Horatio Gates to gain support in Congress. Gates would become a rival of George Washington and many in congress would throw their support behind him to take over commander-in-chief instead of Washington. This plot known as the Conway Cabal fizzled and Gates would eventually be dishonored at the Battle of Camden.
  • It marked the last time that Benedict Arnold would fight for the American cause. After months of recovering from a broken leg, Arnold  began treasonous correspondence while governor of Philadelphia.
  • It would mark the last time a major British Army invaded from Canada during the American Revolutionary War.