The Tide of Revolutionary War Is Turning – The Battle of Saratoga

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The Battle of Saratoga was actually two separate battles that took place in September and October 1777, during the American Revolution. The two crucial battles, fought 18 days apart, were decisive victories for the Continental Army and are widely regarded as the crucial turning point in the War of Independence.

Continental victory was the driving force behind France’s entry into conflict alongside the Americans, convinced that they had a real chance of winning their independence. And as a result, France has provided loans, donations, arms, and supplies to General George Washington’s Continental Army.

British pliers

The American Revolution had been going on for more than two years and the British government, believing it would easily crush the colonial farmers in the rebellion against the Crown, wanted to end the conflict quickly.

The British Army planned to separate the New England colonies from the more loyalist colonies in the center and south by moving an army from Canada south to upstate New York. General John Burgoyne planned to move his men in a three-way pincer movement. The plan called for a northern pincer movement from Montreal, while the southern pincer was commanded into the Hudson River valley from New York. The West Gripper was ordered to march from Ontario to western New York along the Mohawk River.

General William Howe moved his army to Philadelphia from New York, instead of looking to Albany. Washington replaced Major General Phillip Schullyer with Horatio Gates as head of the Continental Army troops in Stillwater, New York. He also sent MG Benedict Arnold and MG Benjamin Lincoln north to join Gates.

Battle of Freeman’s Farm. (BritishBattles.com)

Polish engineer

Gates’ army was growing day by day, as local commanders of the various militias answered the call and joined them. On September 7, Gates ordered his men to move north about 10 miles south of Saratoga to a strategic location known as Bemis Heights.

The army spent a week building defensive positions in the area. The Polish-Lithuanian military engineer, statesman and military leader Colonel Tadeusz Kościuszko helped with the construction. Kościuszko is now a national hero in Poland, Lithuania, Belarus and the United States.

Kościuszko’s expertise was in the construction of military fortifications and he was also responsible for the construction of fortifications in West Point, NY. During the First Battle of Fort Ticonderoga, his recommendations were ignored and the British seized the heights, forcing the Continental Army to retreat. But he executed a brilliant late campaign and slowed down the British advance by cutting and chopping down trees, barring streams and destroying bridges to allow the Continental Army to escape.

Its fortifications at Bemis Heights made any British attack on Saratoga desperate. The defensive positions dominated the heights overlooking the battlefield and commanded the only route to Albany.

Battle of Freeman’s Farm

On September 16, Burgoyne’s army reached the edge of the Continental positions as small skirmishes between the two armies broke out. Gates and Arnold began to quarrel as their egos hampered the preparation. Despite this, Gates gave the left flank command of the defenses to Arnold, while he commanded the right.

The battle began on September 19, as British forces approached the abandoned farmhouse of loyalist John Freeman. Arnold had deployed snipers under the command of Daniel Morgan, and they methodically shot almost all of the British officers in the forward company.

The fighting raged all day. Morgan’s men killed so many British gunners that they occupied the guns for some time, before being repulsed by subsequent British attacks. However, they continued to take a heavy toll on the British officers. A late afternoon attack by the German Hessians pushed back the Americans and gave the British control of the land.

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The British had suffered 600 losses against 300 for the Americans. With the size of the Continental Army continuing to increase, this was a ratio Burgoyne could not continue to endure, so he had to withdraw and wait for reinforcements. Burgoyne hoped General Clinton would arrive with men, food and supplies from New York.

In the days between battles, the ongoing feud between Arnold and Gates exploded after Gates’ report of the battle did not mention Arnold at all, despite Arnold and his troops leading all the fighting. Gates eventually relieved Arnold of command.

When Burgoyne realized that Clinton would not be coming, he sought advice from his senior officers. Some pushed for a retreat which Burgoyne rejected, calling it “shameful.” Instead, he decided to attack the left flank of the Americans with 2,000 men. But Gates’ troops now numbered 12,000 and held the heights. More importantly, Gates was aware of Burgoyne’s situation, having captured several deserters as well as Burgoyne’s correspondence with Clinton pleading for help.

Battle of Bemis Heights

Reenactment of the Battle of Saratoga. (First regiment on foot)

Both sides maneuvered to position themselves all morning. The British were moving their artillery through a wheat field, but their flanks were dangerously exposed. Shortly after 2 p.m., British grenadiers attacked when their artillery fire was ineffective.

The Americans held fire until the British were at close range. It was only then that they opened fire, devastating the British charge. Most of the grenadiers were killed, wounded or captured; six of the 10 guns were also captured. Burgoyne was nearly killed when Morgan’s snipers hit his horse, hat, and vest with well-targeted shots. The British suffered around 400 casualties.

The Americans were supported by the arrival of General Arnold who went to the battlefield and led a mounted charge that helped the Americans break through the British lines and force them to retreat. His leg was again seriously injured in the attack and he was brought back to headquarters on a litter.

Burgoyne withdrew to the lines he had occupied in early September, but his troops were soon surrounded by far superior American forces. The British surrendered on October 17. Burgoyne never again received command of a significant British force.

“Everyone’s astonishment”

As one British officer wrote after the battle, the British learned that the nascent US military was not going to give in easily. They now had a new respect for the colonials.

“The courage and stubbornness with which the Americans fought amazed everyone, and we are now fully convinced that they are not that despicable enemy that we had hitherto imagined, unable to keep a regular engagement and that they would only fight behind mighty works, ”the officer wrote.

Arnold’s reputation was restored, but he remained bitter in the army. While in command of American forces in Philadelphia, he was committing treason by offering to hand over the defenses of West Point to the British.

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