The Battle That Changed the War

The Battle of Saratoga is considered to be a turning point of the American Revolution. A British general named John Burgoyne led his troops from the British occupied area of Quebec down into the New England colonies in an attempt to separate the colonies from the Southern colonies. Their main objective was to take the Hudson River valley to complete this task. This battle is sometimes called the Battles of Saratoga because it comprised of two battles that were fought on the same ground but took place eighteen days apart from each other. These battles are called The Battle of Freeman's Farm and The Battle of Bemis Heights. The victory for the Americans at Saratoga is what made the French join them after already aiding the Continental Army by supplying them with guns, ammunition, and most notably the de Valliere cannon which had an essential role in the combat of this glorious battle. The British forces planned to take the North, or the New England colonies, so that it would sever the head of America, leaving the rest of the British military action a simple objective. The South was much less dense in population than in the North, so less people meant less military strength. Things did not turn out how they planned, however.

General Burgoyne was in a difficult situation before this decisive battle occurred. Instead of proceeding North from New York City to meet Burgoyne to help in the attack, General William Howe sailed with his troops on a campaign to capture Philadelphia. Also, after the British loss at Bennington most of his Indian support disappeared. This made Burgoyne's situation a very hectic and difficult one. Our honorable Continental Army made fortifications near Saratoga at a site called Bemis Heights. This position was strategically selected for its defensible terrain and because of it provided a commanding view of the area. This position was also overlooking the only road to Albany, which would be marched on by British soldiers soon. A Polish engineer named Thaddeus Kosciusko, who was a good friend of Thomas Jefferson because of their common philosophical views, was the designer of the defensive works at Bemis Heights.

General John Burgoyne, A.K.A. Gentleman Johnny

On September 18, 1777, the Burgoyne and his army, moving south, reached a point about four miles away from the American defensive line, and skirmishes erupted between some leading elements of the Redcoats and American scouting parties. With these skirmishes continuing, Burgoyne separated his men into three large groups; the middle column would attack the heights head-on, and the remaining two would flank around. Benedict Arnold suspected this kind of maneuver, so he took troops around to meet the British and catch them in open field, specifically the farm property of Loyalist John Freeman, to catch the American troops by surprise. They did not expect the Continental Army that awaited them in the woods. When the British cam in sight, with incredible sharpshooting skills, took out many of the British military officers deliberately. This was the first time that this tactic was utilized by the Americans in battle. Until nightfall on September 19, phases of intense fighting and breaks in the action occurred. When darkness came, the Americans retreated back to their defenses, leaving the British on the field. The British had gained the field of battle, but would soon taste utter defeat.

In the period from September 19 to October 7, 1777, a break in the fighting took place. General Burgoyne received a letter from General Sir Henry Clinton saying that he was going to make a push on Fort Montgomery in an attempt to distract the American forces. Burgoyne sent a letter in return asking him to come to his aid. Burgoyne waited for Clinton's army to arrive, but he knew he was not coming soon. General Gates of the American Army had been receiving consistent intelligence from those who fled the British lines, and he had also intercepted Clinton's response to Burgoyne's plea for help. Burgoyne's situation was not becoming any better.

British troops moved in on the morning of October 7, 1777, only to run into even more American forces than there were in the previous battle. The opening fire came around 2 to 2:30 P.M. from the British grenadiers. American soldiers under the command of Enoch Poor were ordered not to return fire. Shortly after this, a British bayonet charge occurred, causing the Americans to open fire from close proximity. In the first hour of fighting, Burgoyne had lost nearly 400 hundred men and had most of the grenadiers' command captured by the American Army. Benedict Arnold at this point disobeyed his orders to stay at camp due to Gates relieving him of field command and rode onto the battlefield. He ended up with an injured leg as a result of this action. The Americans proceeded toward the British camp and by nightfall had taken control of it. Burgoyne moved what was left of his forces back farther on October 8. He was surrounded at Saratoga on October 13 and surrendered his army on October 17.

The Americans won a crucial battle in the Revolutionary War that day. Nearly 1,000 of the British had been killed, and only 500 Americans were killed or wounded. With this victory, the world view of American military became much more positive. The Battle of Saratoga was the deciding factor in causing the French to join forces with the American Army. America saw hope after this battle. The Continental Army had just defeated the most powerful military in the world. Nothing could stop them now.


1. What effect did the victory at the Battle of Saratoga have for the Americans?
2. How did this battle change the way the British and the rest of the world perceived America?
3. What would have happened if this was a British victory?