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Saratoga Campaign

  • Time Period: 18 June - 17 October 1777
  • Area: Albany and Charlotte Counties , New York
  • Explanation: Operations relating to Burgoyne's campaign

The Saratoga Campaign was a 1777 initiative by the British Army in the Revolutionary War. The campaign was designed to divide the American forces by creating a British zone of control between the New England colonies and their neighbors to the south. The campaign ended in failure, when Lt. Gen. John Burgoyne surrendered a British army on October 17, 1777 after the Battle of Saratoga.

After Burgoyne helped defeat the American Invasion of Canada in late 1776, he returned to England in December. He began seeking political support for a plan to divide the American colonies by invading from Canada. Gen. Sir Henry Clinton was also in Great Britain trying to get authority for an independent command of his own.

Burgoyne wrote out his strategy as "Thoughts for Conducting the War on the Side of Canada". He submitted it to Lord Germain, and on February 20, 1777 he won approval and beat his rival for independent command. His plan was adopted, and he would personally lead the main thrust of the Saratoga campaign. Burgoyne was so confident of his success that a London gentleman's club recorded his bet of 50 guineas "...that he will be home victorious from America by Christmas Day, 1777".

The plan to separate the New England was based on the two anchors of occupied New York City and the recently secured Canada. Three forces would slice the resistance and meet at Albany. Burgoyne would command the main a force of British regulars and Hessian troops down the Lake road from Three Rivers, past Lake Champlain and Lake George, through the northern Hudson River Valley. Barry St. Leger would lead a second force, mainly Canadian forces and Indian allies, to advance from Fort Oswego, down the Mohawk River. Gen. William Howe and the navy would move up the Hudson from New York. When they met at Albany the separation would be complete.

Burgoyne returned to Quebec on May 6, 1777, bearing a letter from Lord Germain, introducing the plan, but somewhat lacking in details. This produced another of the conflict of command that plagued the British throughout the war. Nominally Lt. General Burgoyne outranked Maj. Gen. Guy Carleton, but Carleton was still the Governor of Canada. Carleton not only refused Burgoyne's request for enough Canadian troops to garrison Crown Point and Fort Ticonderoga, he required him to leave some of his regular forces as a Canadian garrison. He also seems to have neglected to tell Burgoyne of Howe's letter that advised of his inability to fully support the campaign. By June, all was ready and the campaign thrusts started out.

The Mohawk Expedition - Lt. Col. St. Leger sailed up the St. Lawrence, crossed Lake Ontario to arrive at Oswego without incident. He had about 300 regulars, supported by 650 Canadian and Tory militia, and they were joined by 1,000 Indians led by John Butler and the Mohawk war Chief Joseph Brant. Leaving Oswego on July 25 they marched in good order to lay siege to Fort Stanwix.

Battle of Fort Stanwix - St. Leger started the siege on August 4, demanding the surrender of the garrison, commanded by Col. Peter Gansevoort. His offer was refused, and that same day Gen. Nicholas Herkimer set out with 800 of the Tryon County militia to help Gansevoort. But St. Leger learned of his mission, and ambushed the relief expedition on August 6 at the Battle of Oriskany. During this battle, a sortie from the fort destroyed much of St. Leger's supplies and encampment. They now settled in for a siege. The Indian forces and some of the auxiliaries began to go home, since no loot was forthcoming and supplies were running short.

Meanwhile the American response was building. On August 10, Brig. Gen. Benedict Arnold had left Stillwater, New York with 800 men of the Continental Army from Schuyler's Northern Department. He expected to use local militia from the neighborhood of Fort Dayton, which he reached on August 21. Arnold could only raise about 100 militia, so he resorted to subterfuge. He sent agents, and staged the escape of a captive, who informed St. Leger that Arnold was coming with a large force.

On this news, Brant and the rest of St. Leger's Indians withdrew. They took most of his remaining supplies with them, and the expedition was forced to head back through Oswego to Canada. Arnold sent a detachment after them, and turned the rest of his force east to support the American forces at the Battle of Saratoga.

The Burgoyne Expedition - St. Leger's attack along the Mohawk and Howe's expected foray from New York City were both diversions to dilute the American defense. Burgoyne led the main assault south through the lakes and Hudson valley towards Albany. By June 13, 1777, he had assembled his forces at St. Johns.

He expected no repeat of last season's delay at Valcour Island, since he had an overpowering naval force. Besides last year's five sailing ships, a sixth had been built and three had been captured from Benedict Arnold after the Battle of Valcour Island. Besides these, he had 28 armed barges or gun boats and a large fleet of canoes and bateaux (flat-bottomed boats) for transportation.

His army had about 7,800 men and over 130 artillery pieces ranging from light mortars to 24 pound (11 kg) pieces. His regulars were organized into two divisions. Maj. Gen. William Phillips led the 3,700 British Regulars on the right, while Maj. Gen. Baron von Riedesel's 3,000 Brunswickers held the left. His regular troops started out in good condition, but were poorly equipped for wilderness fighting.

Battle of Fort Ticonderoga - Moving down Lake Champlain, Burgoyne's combination of naval, artillery, and infantry forces seemed sufficient to overwhelm any American defense. The American Maj. Gen. Philip Schuyler had agreed that Fort Ticonderoga probably couldn't be held against this force. But, he ordered Brig. Gen. Arthur St. Clair to make the first American defense there, and to hold out as long as possible before withdrawing. So, on June 24 Burgoyne took Crown Point without opposition. He strengthened its defenses and began construction of a magazine, or supply depot to support his attack on Fort Ticonderoga.

Burgoyne and Schuyler both expected the taking of Ticonderoga to be a major operation. But the British found a way to get artillery onto the hilltop known as Sugar Loaf overlooking the fort. St. Clair managed to withdraw at night, and Burgoyne's men occupied the main fortification and the Mt. Independence works on July 6. Although a later investigation cleared both Schuyler and St. Clair of any wrongdoing in this surrender, it did cause the Continental Congress to replace Schuyler with Maj. Gen. Horatio Gates as commander in the Northern Department.

Battle of Hubbardton - After losing Ticonderoga, St. Clair's force withdrew in good order. Burgoyne sent forces out from his main body to pursue them. They caught up with elements of the retreating Americans at least three times. The major incident is reported as the Battle of Hubbardton, while others occurred at Fort Anne and Skenesboro. In aggregate these actions cost the Americans about half again as many losses as those of the British forces. Still, St. Clair brought most of his men out safely to join with General Schuyler at Fort Edward, and the Americans proved they were still capable of standing up to the British regulars. Burgoyne's advance seized Fort Anne on July 7 while his main force landed at Skenesboro on July 8.

The campaign so far had been largely a British success, but now things began to go wrong. Burgoyne had taken some losses, and even if the 220 men killed or wounded were minor for the his accomplishments, they weakened the invasion. He had left 400 men to garrison the magazine at Crown Point, and another 900 to defend Ticonderoga. He could have returned to Fort Ticonderoga and then sailed to the south end of Lake George, but this might appear to be a withdrawal. He made the fatal mistake of deciding to proceed overland to Fort Edward. He thought he would need his artillery and supply train to keep enough firepower to avoid a repeat of the kind of loses taken at Bunker Hill.

Schuyler and St. Clair meanwhile decided to simply make this passage as difficult as possible. Their main weapon in this phase of the campaign would be the axe, and they were superior with its use. It is much easier to fell large trees in the enemy's path than it is to remove them after they are down. They would draw out and tire his troops and use up his supplies. When Benedict Arnold joined them on July 24, he gratefully supported their plan, before being sent west to stop St. Leger at Stanwix. The tactic worked well, as Burgoyne was building a road through the wilderness for his guns. His progress was reduced to about a mile a day. He occupied Fort Edward on July 29 with no major battles. Schuyler had withdrawn to Stillwater, New York and the Americans were prepared to repeat the tactic of delay from Fort Edward to Saratoga.

Battle of Bennington - The delaying tactics established by Schuyler, St. Clair, and Arnold had succeeded in several ways. The British General Burgoyne was not ready to force the issue, and had to leave more men in his rear to secure his lines of communication. His Indian allies became impatient and began more raids on frontier families and settlements. These increased rather than reduced American resistance. The death of Tory settler Jane McCrae resulted in the most widely known one of these incidents. Each day that went by, the Americans gained strength as militia units and even individuals arrived. Schuyler sent Benedict Arnold west to relieve Fort Stanwix and used the time to have Thaddeus Kosciusko build defenses on the Bemis Heights between Saratoga and Albany to block Burgoyne from his objective.

Burgoyne was running low on supplies, especially horses to work on his road and draw guns and supplies. So he was forced to send out detachments to forage. Since the Hessian dragoons suffered most from lack of horses, he sent Colonel Baum's regiment into western Massachusetts and New Hampshire, along with the Brunswick dragoons, and gave his main body a few days rest. The detachment never returned, and the reinforcements he sent after them came back ravaged from the Battle of Bennington, fought on August 15.

While the tactic of delay worked well in the field, the result in the Continental Congress was a different matter. Maj. Gen. Horatio Gates was in Philadelphia when Congress discussed their shock at the fall of Ticonderoga, and was more than willing to help assign the blame to reluctant Generals. Some in the Congress had already been impatient with Washington, wanting a large, direct confrontation that might eliminate occupation forces but which Washington feared would probably lose the war. John Adams, the head of the War Committee, praised Gates. Over the objections of the New York delegation, Congress sent Gates to take command of the Northern Department.

Battle of Saratoga, Battle of Freeman's Farm, Battle of Bemis Heights - The Battle of Saratoga entered America history as a single event. Actually, it was a month long series of maneuvers punctuated by two battles. Burgoyne had paused in Saratoga, New York to await word of Howe's and St. Leger's forces and rest after his difficult passage through the wilderness. Facing supply problems, and realizing that no help was coming, he had to take the offensive. He crossed to the west bank of the Hudson by a pontoon bridge about eight miles south of Saratoga, and two miles north of the heights being fortified by the Americans.

Gates arrived at the developing works on the Bemis Heights and took command on August 19. He was cold and arrogant in manner, and refused to give Schuyler any subordinate command, so Schuyler resigned the next day. Gates did endorse Schuyler and Arnold's general plan, and Kosciuko continued his work on the fortifications.
Arnold returned on August 24, and was surprised to find Gates in command. Their disagreements started almost immediately. Arnold wanted to use the fortification as a redoubt, sallying out to attack from the cover of woods, a tactic that favored the Americans, and falling back to the fort as needed. While Gates had some cannons from the French, Burgoyne's firepower greatly outclassed the Americans, and the British and Hessian forces were adept at siegecraft.

Except for cannon, the forces were relatively balanced. Burgoyne was down to about 7,000 men, while Gates had the Continental Army reinforcements sent by Washington and arriving militia to total about 8,000 men. Gates put Arnold in command of his left division, farthest from the river. The right wing under Gen. Benjamin Lincoln was held by militia and artillery that overlooked the river road. Gates himself commanded the center with the strongest Continental regiments.

Gates gave Arnold permission to send out reconnaissance. When Burgoyne finally moved on the American positions on September 19, Arnold precipitated the Battle of Freeman's Farm which stopped that advance. But when Arnold attempted to lead Enoch Poor's brigade in support of the attack, Gates ordered him back to headquarters, and the battle was not decisive. Burgoyne fell back and started his own fortifications behind a ravine about 3 miles north of Bemis Heights.

After this battle, Gates took some of Arnold's regiments away to reinforce the center. Arnold offered his resignation, but was stopped by a memorial signed by every line officer excepting only general Lincoln. However, Gates removed him from command, so he was now attached to headquarters with no assignment. Lincoln's men, supported by militia, made an attack at Fort Ticonderoga, while American sharpshooters continued to harass the British positions.

Militia units continued to arrive as the American force swelled to over 10,000 men. With his supply lines threatened and his position becoming desperate, Burgoyne launched his next attack on October 7. With messengers riding into and out of headquarters, and the sound of gunfire from Daniel Morgan and Henry Dearborn's regiments, Arnold paced at headquarters, ignored by Gates. Finally, he mounted and galloped towards the fight, with no orders. Gates sent a rider to order him back, but he never caught Arnold, who took charge in the Battle of Bemis Heights, and drove the British back to their starting positions.

On October 8, Burgoyne withdrew to Saratoga. He and Gates took a week to negotiate the terms of surrender. Burgoyne's Indian allies faded into the woods, and several loyalist units made it back to Canada. Gates was generous in the terms, which were called the "Saratoga Convention." Burgoyne was allowed to keep his colors, and his men marched out of their camp on October 17, 1777 to surrender their arms. The convention called for the return of his army to England.

But after the surrendered army marched to Massachusetts, the Congress decided not to honor the terms. The army was kept for some time in sparse camps throughout New England. Although individual officers were exchanged, most of the "Convention Army" was marched south to Virginia, and remained prisoners for years.
As Canadian and surviving British forces withdrew, the Americans regained Fort Ticonderoga and Crown Point without incident.

The effect of the victory was enormous. Gates became known as the "Hero of Saratoga." The victory also gave the fledgling American country, shocked with the occupation of Philadelphia, some much needed momentum. Not long after France learned of the victory, she declared war on Britain, finally officially joining the war. Spain and Holland soon did the same. The loss also further weakened the current British government under Lord North. For the British, the war had now become much more complicated.

Battles (see Battles Page for more battles)
Fort Stanwix
Burgoyne Expedition
Fort Ticonderoga
Freeman's Farm

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