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The Battle of Saratoga (First)/ Freeman's Farm

September 19, 1777 at Stillwater, New York

AMERICAN FORCES
Commanded by: Gen. Horatio Gates
Strength: 14,000
Casualties: Killed & Wounded: 350
BRITISH FORCES
Commanded by: Gen. John Burgoyne
Strength: 6,000
Casualties: Killed & Wounded: 600
CONCLUSION
Conclusion: British Victory
Saratoga campaign, 1777

General Burgoyne led the main expedition of the Saratoga Campaign south from Canada towards Albany, New York. They had taken all the positions and forces in their path. American resistance got firmer as the British crossed to the west bank of the Hudson River at Saratoga, New York and marched about nine miles farther south. The Americans had fortified the elevation known as Bemis Heights, 10 miles south of Saratoga.

The British advanced in three columns toward the heights 2 miles to their south. Major General Riedesel led the left column of Brunswickers on the river road, bringing the main artillery and guarding supplies and the boats on the river. General James Inglis Hamilton commanded the center which would attack the heights. General Simon Fraser led the right wing with his 24th Regiment of Foot and both the light infantry and grenadier battalions, to turn the American left flank. The American right was anchored by the Hudson River.

The American forces were not particularly well organized or prepared for this engagement. General Gates had just taken command of the Northern Department, after Burgoyne captured Ticonderoga. General George Washington had sent a number of experienced units north so that Saratoga's battles had regulars on both sides. Before this Burgoyne had mostly faced militia. But the American command structure was troubled. Benedict Arnold nominally had command of the left wing. However, he had no orders for battle and Gates would only authorize a reconnaissance.

On September 13-14, Maj. Gen. John Burgoyne's force crossed over to the west bank of the Hudson River. After they finished crossing, they moved southward.

On September 17, the British made camp near Sword's Ford, only 4 miles north of the American position on Bemis Heights. The Americans, under Maj. Gen. Horatio Gates, occupied a high bluff overlooking the Hudson River near Bemis's Tavern. On the right flank, Gates had 3,000 troops and the bulk of his artillery. A little to the west, near a farmhouse, Gates had placed his center, commanded by Brig. Gen. Ebenezer Learned. On the left flank, he placed several regiments, commanded by Brig. Gen. Benedict Arnold, and Col. Daniel Morgan's men.


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On September 19, The British had taken all the positions and forces in their path. American resistance got firmer as they crossed to the west bank of the Hudson River about 9 miles south of Saratoga. The Americans had fortified the elevation known as Bemis Heights. Burgoyne would make 2 attempts to sweep them aside.

The British were to advance in 3 columns toward the heights 2 miles to their south. Brig. Gen. Baron von Riedesel led the left column on the river road bringing the main artillery and guarding supplies and the boats on the river.

Brig. Gen. James Inglis Hamilton commanded the center which would attack the heights. Brig. Gen. Simon Fraser led the right wing with both the light infantry and grenadier battalions, to turn the American left flank. The American right was anchored by the Hudson River. The Americans forces were not particularly well organized or prepared for this engagement.

Gates had just taken command of the Northern Department after Burgoyne captured Fort Ticonderoga. Washington had sent a number of experienced units north, so that Saratoga's battles had regulars on both sides. Before this, Burgoyne had mostly faced the militia. Brig. Gen. Benedict Arnold nominally had command of the left wing. However, he not only had no orders for battle, Gates would only authorize a reconnaissance.

At 10:00 A.M., Burgoyne started his advance. The area was so thickly wooded with pine and hardwood and the terrain was uneven. The British plan of attack used 3 divisions. Brig. Gen. Simon Fraser was chosen to command 2,200 men on the right. He was to sweep west toward the vicinity of Freeman's Farm. Brig. Gen. James Inglis Hamilton commanded the 1,100 men of the center column, although Burgoyne himself would accompany this column and thus was the actual commander. This column would move south and then west and join with the right column. The left column had 1,100 men and was led by Maj. Gen. Friedrich von Riedesel and joined by Maj. Gen. William Philips. This column was to move south along the road adjoining the Hudson River. What the subsequent movements would be all depended on how the Americans responded.

Arnold had pleaded with Gates to allow him to attack Burgoyne's force instead of letting the British attack them. Gates finally agreed and let Morgan and his rifle company supported by 300 New Hampshire light infantry under Maj. Henry Dearborn to make contact. If they met the British, then Arnold could decide if he would attack.

By 11:00 A.M, after a cold and foggy morning, it was bright and clear when Burgoyne's columns got underway. An American patrol on the eastern bank of the Hudson River saw and reported the activity to Maj. Gen. Horatio Gates.

By 12:30 P.M., the advance guard of the center column had reached Freeman's Farm. Burgoyne halted here and awaited word from Fraser. Riedesel had been slowed while repairing bridges, but had reached a point due east of Freeman's Farm. Gates was content to make no response, but Arnold, who had recently returned from Fort Stanwix urged him to action. Gates sent out Col. Daniel Morgan and his rifle company supported by 300 New Hampshire light infantry under Maj. Henry Dearborn to make contact.

By 12:45 P.M., the first shots of the battle were fired when Morgan's men picked off every officer in Burgoyne's advance guard located at the cabin on Freeman's Farm. The first shots dropped every officer in the advance, and threw the others from the advance guard into a retreat, which brought on an unathorized charge by Morgan's men. The charge dissipated when they ran into Hamilton's main body.

Some of the British actually fired on their own men in the confusion following the charge by Morgan's men. Burgoyne decided to respond quickly and instead of waiting for word on Fraser's position, he signalled to the other 2 columns that he was moving out.

By 1:00 P.M., the center column had formed along the northern edge of the clearing at Freeman's Farm without opposition. Morgan and Dearborn had taken up positions along the southern edge of the same clearing, while some 7 regiments had moved forward from the American fortifications at Bemis Heights as reinforcements.

Both Morgan and Arnold preferred to strike while the British were in columns, moving through the woods. Arnold took advantage of his earlier orders which would permit an in-force reconnaissance, to order Morgan's and Henry Dearborn's light infantry battalion forward. As Morgan's Virginia riflemen came up to the clearing at Freeman's Farm, they found the advance party of Fraser's column in the field.

When they saw this Morgan's men charged recklessly forward. Supported by Dearborn's fire they managed to drive Fraser's light infantry back into the center column of Hamilton. But this enthusiasm broke when they ran into the grenadier batallion's bayonets, and the American advance became a quick retreat. This set the pattern for the remainder of the battle. Morgan was working hard to reform his regiment south of the field.

Knowing that Morgan was in trouble, Arnold ordered Enoch Poor's brigade of New York and New Hampshire regulars with Connecticut militia to extend the American left. He also ordered Gen. Ebenezer Learned, with 4 regiments of the Continental Army, to support Morgan toward the center. Burgoyne was not idle, and ordered Both Fraser and Hamilton to form up using the farm's fields as their rallying point.

As the British gathered in the field, massed fire from Poor's regiments drove them back, with serious losses. Again, the British repulsed an American charge. Arnold himself led a charge toward the center with 5 regiments, but could not succeed in separating Fraser's wing from Burgorne's other forces. Three times Arnold rode back to headquarters, begging Gates to attack or give him enough men to break the British. His only response was an order to release Alexander Scammel's 3rd New Hampshire regiment to guard headquarters, and finally an order removing Arnold himself from the battle. The final stroke of the battle belonged to the British.

Burgoyne ordered von Riedesel to leave a light guard with the column and advance on Freeman's farm. Riedesel led his Hessians, with artillery support through a ravine that the American's had thought impassible. This added force allowed the British to succeed in claiming the fields and the farm. Burgoyne had taken the farm, but suffered about 600 casualties, most of them to Hamilton's center column. Not only could he ill afford the men and equipment lost, he had lost the initiative. The British and Hessean forces constructed redoubts on the farm and fortified their original crossing point of the Hudson.

At the end of the battle, both sides were dug in about 2 miles apart. Burgoyne's force was down to about 6,000 effective men, and was short on supplies and rations. Gates still had about 7,000 men, with more militia arriving every day. Gates quickly reported a sharp action to the Congress and New York's governor. While the field commanders and men universally credited Arnold for their success, Gates best efforts were to ensure that no one other than himself got credit.

Arnold's protests were loudest in what he viewed as a slight to Learned, Poor, Morgan, and their men. The split between Arnold and Gates become deeper, and Gates ensured that Arnold had no command going into the battle.

Aftermath

Burgoyne had taken the farm but suffered nearly 600 casualties, most of them to Hamilton's center column. Not only could he ill afford the men and equipment lost, he had lost the initiative. American losses were nearly 300 killed and seriously wounded. The British and Brunswick forces constructed redoubts on the farm and fortified their original crossing point of the Hudson.

At the end of the battle, both sides were dug in about 2 miles apart. Burgoyne's force was down to about 6,000 effective fighters and was short on supplies and rations. Gates still had about 7,000, with more militia arriving daily.

Gates quickly reported the action to the Congress and New York's governor. While the field commanders and men universally credited Arnold for their success, Gates' best efforts were to ensure that no one other than himself received credit. Arnold's protests were loudest in what he viewed as a slight to Learned, Poor, and Morgan and their men. The rift separating Arnold and Gates grew deeper, and Gates ensured that Arnold had no command going in the Battle of Bemis Heights.

Casualties:

Burgoyne’s army suffered heavy casualties among the regiments of the Centre: 600 killed, wounded and captured. Of these 350 were from the 20th, 21st and 62nd. The 62nd suffered 285 casualties from a strength of around 340 in its line companies. The Americans took 350 casualties.

The British Army: The American Army:
  • Brigadier Simon Fraser’s Right Wing:
    • Major Lord Balcarres commanding the light companies of 9th, 20th, 21st, 24th, 29th, 31st, 47th, 53rd and 62nd Foot.
    • Major Acland commanding the grenadier companies of the same regiments.
    • 24th Foot.
    • Breyman’s Jägers.
    • Indians and Canadians.
    • Artillery Brigade of 8 cannon (6 and 3 pounders).Centre:

Brigadier Hamilton
9th, 20th, 21st and 62nd Foot.
6 cannon (6 and 3 pounders) commanded by Captain Jones.

Left Wing:

Commanded by Major General Phillips and Baron Riedesel:
Riedesel’s Regiment
Specht’s Regiment
Rhetz’ Regiment

Captain Pausch’s Hesse Hanau Company of artillery
Baggage guard:
47th Foot

Hesse Hanau Infantry

Right Wing:Under the personal command of General Gates:
Brigadier Glover’s Continental Brigade
Colonel Nixon’s Continental Regiment
Brigadier Paterson’s Continental BrigadeCentre:

Brigadier Learned’s Continental Brigade
Bailey’s Massachusetts Regiment
Jackson’s Massachusetts Regiment
Wesson’s Massachusetts Regiment
Livingston’s New York Regiment

Left Wing:

Commanded by Major General Benedict Arnold
Cilley’s New Hampshire Regiment
Hale’s New Hampshire Regiment
Scammell’s New Hampshire Regiment
Van Cortlandt’s New York Regiment
Livingston’s New York Regiment
Connecticut Militia
Morgan’s Riflemen
Dearborn’s Light Infantry

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