Battles of Saratoga
General Horatio Gates
October 7-17, 1777

The plan of campaign for the British in America in 1777 sought to isolate New England by occupying the Hudson Valley. General John Burgoyne, the author of the plan, coming down from Canada via Lakes Champlain and George, was to meet Viscount Howe, marching up from New York at Albany. A third, but much smaller force, under Barry St. Leger, was to advance from Oswego down the Mohawk valley and join the other two columns. The plan failed because Howe, the British commander-in-chief, marched on Philadelphia, George Germaine, Viscount Sackville, the secretary of state, having failed to give him definite instructions. Burgoyne, with about 8,000 men, including seven regiments of British regulars and 3,000 Germans, reached Ticonderoga July 1, which was evacuated by its weak garrison July 6. He reassembled his army after the pursuit at Skenesborough and marched through the woods and swamps to Fort Edward, which was evacuated by the American commander Major General Philip Schuyler, who retreated across the Hudson to Stillwater, 30 miles above Albany on July 31. The march was most laborious, involving the construction of 40 bridges, and necessitated a long halt at Fort Edward. Had Burgoyne taken his army back to Ticonderoga and transferred it to Fort George, a direct road led to Fort Edward. With this route he could have reached Albany by the 16th.

A German detachment, on the advice of "Colonel" Skene, who was also responsible for the recent march, was sent to Bennington to seize horses and supplies, but was surrounded and almost annihilated by the Green Mountain militia, under John Stark on 16 August. Burgoyne now became uneasy; he had left nearly 1,000 men to garrison Ticonderoga; he had heard from Howe of his intention to invade Pennsylvania; and he had heard that St. Leger was held up before Fort Stanwix. He would have been even more uncomfortable had he known that St. Leger had actually retreated on August 22. But he considered himself bound by his orders to press on to Albany.

Having collected 30 days' rations, he crossed the Hudson September 13, and encamped near Saratoga. The Englishman (turned American general) Gates, who had displaced Schuyler in command on August 19, was encamped 4 miles away, on Bemis's Heights, with 12,000 men and was daily receiving reinforcements. Burgoyne advanced to attack on September 19. But Benedict Arnold came out to meet him at Freeman's Farm. After four hours' fierce fighting, Arnold retired, and Burgoyne encamped on the battlefield, but he had lost over 500 men, including a large number of officers, victims of Morgan's sharp-shooters. On September 21, Burgoyne heard from General Sir Henry Clinton, who had been left in command in New York, that he was about to make a diversion up the Hudson. He sent a dispatch to Clinton on September 27 asking for orders but an answer was never received. Clinton started with a small force on October 3 and captured two forts on the west bank, but he never had any intention of penetrating to Albany.

Burgoyne had now under 5,000 "effectives" left, and his supplies were running short. He reckoned that they might last till the 20th. On October 7 he led out 1,500 men on reconnaissance, but the Americans made a fierce counterattack, and led by Arnold, inflicted a severe defeat upon the British army. Next day Burgoyne began his retreat, but Gates, with 20,000 men, surrounded him at Saratoga. Burgoyne opened negotiations on the 14th and the Convention of Saratoga was signed October 17. Burgoyne later insisted that it was not a capitulation, citing a precedent in the Seven Years' War.

Related documents:
Saratoga Battlefield
Biography of General John Burgoyne
Burgoyne letter to his nieces
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