I’ve been interested in the Revolutionary War for a while, and my favorite battle is the Battle of Saratoga.
Saratoga was one of the first major battles that the Continental Army won. It was an embarrassing for the British. It was also the major battle Benjamin Franklin needed to have the French join the war.
The battle was between two brilliant generals; General Horatio Gates, on the American side, and Major General John Burgoyne, on the British side. Horatio Gates was born in England to a servant. Once he grew up, he joined the military in hope of becoming a great general, but the British wouldn’t let him become a general when most officers in the British army could, so Horatio Gates moved to America and joined the local militia. He quickly became their leader, and led them into battle in the French and Indian war. Gates became a general in the Continental army when the it was made, but the leader of it, George Washington, was a rival of Gates. Gates was made commander of the Northern American army, which was part of the Northern Department. He commanded 4,000 men. He was called ‘Granny Gates’. John Burgoyne was born in England to a wealthy family. He was a gambler, a drinker, and a fine diner. Once in the army, Burgoyne quickly became a General. Soon afterword, Burgoyne became part of the best generals in England. He was a major-general. Burgoyne came over to America after Governor-general Thomas Gage stepped down from being commander of the British forces in America. He wasn’t alone. Burgoyne came over as one of the three generals competing to be the new commander of the British forces in America. The other two were major generals William Howe and Henry Clinton. Burgoyne was not made commander. Instead, William Howe was. Burgoyne was made commander of Canada which ment Guy Carlton, one of his main rivals, was demoted from his position as commander of Canada. Burgoyne was called ‘Gentlemen Johnny’ by his soldiers. He commanded over ten thousand troops.
John Burgoyne’s action in the war started in early 1777, and it would be his last action. He decided to lead a campaign down the Hudson River. His plan was to move his 8,700 troops down the Hudson River while William Howe moved his 13,000 troops up the river. Also, Brigadier General St. Leger would come down just west of Burgoyne with 1,500 soldiers plus a thousand Indians.
But Howe had other ideas. He wanted to attack Philadelphia, the capital of the rebels. But what Howe wanted was what was inside of Philadelphia, Continental Congress. Plus, if Burgoyne took the Hudson River, he would get the credit for defeating the Rebels. Howe made his choice. He would abandon Burgoyne and attack Philadelphia. The thing that stood in his way was Washington’s 9,000 soldiers. He decided that it would be easier to defeat Washington than Gates and his third in command.
Gates, on the other hand, wasn’t getting any reinforcements. He was stuck with his 2,800 soldiers. Benedict Arnold, the third in command of the Northern Army, was still with the leader of the Northern Department, Philip Schuyler. Schuyler was in charge of all troops in the North, but Gates was now pushing him out. As a last ditch plan, Schuyler sent 1,200 soldiers from Gates’ army under the command of Benedict Arnold to stop St. Leger and his force. Unfortunately, Schuyler was fired right after Arnold left, and Gates stepped into Schuyler’s position.
A month after he set out on his campaign, Burgoyne reached Fort Ticonderoga. He versed 1,500 militia. Burgoyne’s light troops started small skirmishes with the Americans. There were three hills surrounding the fort, but the Americans could only defend two. The steepest, Mt. Defiance, was left undefended. Burgoyne had fifteen cannons along with a company of light troops (50 men) go up Mt. Defiance. From the top, the British aimed their cannons down into Fort Ticonderoga. The Rebels were forced to surrender.
After this decisive victory, Burgoyne placed 2,000 men to defend the fort. Burgoyne continued with the rest of his troops. He made a fatal mistake. Before he left Fort Ticonderoga, Burgoyne had told his Indians to raid nearby houses. One of these houses was a small cottage owned by Jane McCrea.
Jane McCrea was the wife of a British officer. She was a loyalist. She was the target of a band of five Indians. The Indians set her house on fire. Militia with muskets loaded tried to rescue McCrea. Suddenly, McCrea was killed. No one knows who killed her, but it became powerful propaganda for the Americans. They called Burgoyne a murderer. But in truth Burgoyne was even more horrified than any American. Burgoyne said that “I would rather put my commission in the fire rather that be blamed for a young lady’s murder,”. Burgoyne quickly stopped the Indians, but it was too little too late.
Gate’s force grew to 10,000 men by the fall. Burgoyne’s force was now only 6,000 strong. Burgoyne finally found out that Howe wasn’t coming up the Hudson River. He also found out that St. Leger had been stopped by the defenders at Fort Stanwix. The fort had gotten 500 reinforcements, boosting the force there to 1,700 men. St. Leger had lost half of his men and was now retreating to Quebec. Even though he wasn’t getting any help, Burgoyne continued his march South to Saratoga. It was a grueling march. The British slowed to a mile a day because of the deep forest they were marching in. Also, sharpshooters shot at British officers.
Burgoyne finally marched 2,000 of his soldiers to a piece of land South of Saratoga. Sharpshooters were following them to the field. Five-hundred men died because of the sharpshooters, including 24 officers. Still, Burgoyne kept moving.
Burgoyne sent out 1,500 light troops commanded by Brigadier General Simon Fraser. Fraser was Burgoyne’s second-in-command. He was facing 2,400 men led by Benedict Arnold. The two forces began the battle which would be called The Battle of Saratoga. Fraser and his soldiers charged at the Americans, devastating their lines. Arnold ordered his best sharpshooter he had, Tim Murphy, to fire at Fraser. It took three shots to hit the General. Without Fraser, the British fled. But before the British were gone, they shot Arnold in the leg. Arnold barely survived being crushed by his horse. When his second in command asked him “Where are you hit?” Arnold answered “My leg. I wish it had been my heart.”
Fraser died at 8:00 a.m. in the morning. General John Burgoyne, after months of marching, surrendered to his old comrade in arms, General Horatio Gates. Burgoyne went home after his loss. Meanwhile, Gates was hailed as a new American hero. But the real victor of Saratoga, Benedict Arnold, was given no credit. It was a slight to his honor.
William Howe, commander of all British forces in America, went home. His replacement was Henry Clinton. Washington could now stop worrying about a force attacking from Canada and could attack Clinton head on without worrying about other British forces.
But no one knew who would win. The British saw it as something that would make the was longer. To the Americans, it was the turning point. But other battles, such as Monmouth and Yorktown, would be the ones that would win the war.