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Background and Facts
Location: Near Saratoga, New York, on the Hudson River in eastern New York state, just west of the Vermont border (about 160 miles northwest of New York City).
September 19, 1777 - Battle of Freeman's Farm
October 7, 1777 - Battle of Bemis Heights
Outcome: American Victory; British General Burgoyne surrendered his Army to American General Gates on October 17, 1777.
Significance: Convinced the French to join the war on the American side. French naval blockade at Yorktown in 1781 resulted in final British defeat and American Independence.
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1777 - A Bad Year for the American Cause
The year 1777 was not a good one for the American struggle for independence. Although George Washington fought successful battles at Trenton and Princeton, New Jersey, the Continental Army remained a ragtag collection of disheartened, starving and discouraged men freezing in Valley Forge. The British High Command decided that this was a good time to strike.
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The British Plan to Split the Revolution in Two
The plan was simple: A British force under the command of General John Burgoyne would come down from Canada, land on the shores of Lake Champlain in New York and join forces with an army commanded by British General Henry Clinton, proceeding north from New York City. The two armies would join in Albany, capture the headwaters of the Hudson and control the length of the river. This would essentially isolate eastern New England from the rest of the colonies and split the revolution in two.
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What Went Wrong
No battle plan, it is said, survives contact with the enemy. Burgoyne’s force, after some initial successes at Lake Champlain, bogged down in the rugged country north of Albany. Facing supply problems, Burgoyne dispatched 1,000 troops east towards Vermont for forage for supplies. The Americans detected this movement and proceeded to annihilate the force, which Burgoyne could not afford to lose. In the meantime, General Clinton’s expedition bogged down after encountering American resistance and never joined up with Burgoyne.
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General Burgoyne's Defeat
A force of 20,000 Americans occupied the high ground around the Hudson, and Burgoyne decided to go inland and defeat the rebels in the field. After a pitched battle (the Battle of Freeman’s Farm, September 19), the Americans were repelled and the British held the battlefield. Unfortunately, the victory was costly in men, and Burgoyne was ill equipped for the battle at Bemis Hill that would follow.
On October 7, 1777, Burgoyne attacked the Americans on the high ground at Bemis Heights. The attack, with the help of a heroic (and not-yet-traitor Benedict Arnold), the British flank was pushed in, and Burgoyne retreated to his encampment. As he tried to break out and escape north, he realized that his predicament was hopeless. He surrendered his entire Army to American General Horatio Gates on October 19th -- a stunning turn of fortune for the American cause.
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Thoughts for Essay Topics
♦ In the planning and American strategy before the Battle of Saratoga, Benedict Arnold quarreled bitterly with General Gates over battle strategy. Gates stripped Arnold of field command, but Arnold rejoined the battle anyway and was instrumental in turning the tide against the British.
♦ After the victory, the normally timid General Gates (he was called “Granny Gates" by his subordinates) received full credit for the outcome, even though the aggressiveness on the part of his subordinates (including Arnold) was what turned the tide. This was especially galling to Benedict Arnold, who collected yet another grievance against the Continental Army leadership. Arnold would eventually betray the Americans and join up with the British.
◊ Discussion/Essay Item: What if Arnold had received the recognition he felt he deserved?
♦ The heroics of Benedict Arnold at the Battle of Saratoga provide an interesting study of history’s “what-ifs." For example, Arnold was shot in the leg during the battle.
◊ Discussion/Essay Item: What if Benedict Arnold had died at Saratoga and not lived to become a traitor? How would he be remembered today?
♦ Also, consider the following:
◊ What if General Clinton had been successful in linking up with Burgoyne?
◊ What if the British had won the Battle of Saratoga?
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