Saratoga campaign

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"The Surrender of General John Burgoyne at Saratoga " by John Trumbull

The 1777 Saratoga campaign was a British Army operation in the American War of Independence . The campaign was to divide the American forces by creating a zone under the control of the Kingdom of Great Britain between the New England colony and its neighbors to the south. The campaign had finally failed when John Burgoyne surrendered on October 17, 1777 after the Battle of Saratoga on behalf of the British Army.

Planning the campaign

After helping prevent the American invasion of Canada in late 1776, Lieutenant General John Burgoyne returned to England in September. He began seeking political support for his plan to split the American colonies by invading Canada. General Sir Henry Clinton was also in Great Britain trying to get approval for an independent command.

Burgoyne wrote his strategy under the title Ideas for Carrying Out the War on the Canadian Side . He sent them to Lord Germain , received approval on February 20, 1777, and defeated his rival for independent command. His plan was accepted and he himself was to lead the main thrust of the Saratoga campaign. Burgoyne was so convinced of his success that a London gentlemen's club his bet over 50 guineas chronicled, ... that he would be victorious on Christmas Day 1777 from America .

Campaign strategy

The plan to separate New England was based on the two requirements of occupied New York City and recently secured Canada . Three groups of forces were to cut the resistance and meet at Albany, New York . Burgoyne was to lead the main force of regular British and Brunswick troops down the sea route from Trois-Rivières (Québec) over Lake Champlain and Lake George through the northern Hudson River valley. Lieutenant Colonel Barry St. Leger was to lead a second force, mainly Canadian forces and Indian allies, from Fort Oswego down the Mohawk River . Finally, General William Howe and the naval forces were to move up the Hudson River from New York. If they met at Albany, the separation would be complete.

Burgoyne returned to Québec on May 6, 1777 with a letter from George Germain, 1st Viscount Sackville , who presented the plan but was inaccurate in the details. This created a new conflict of command that hindered the British through the war. Nominally Lieutenant General Burgoyne was superior to Major General Guy Carleton , but Carleton was Governor of Canada. Carleton fulfilled Burgoyne's request for enough Canadian troops to man Crow Point and Fort Ticonderoga , but forced him to keep some of his regular troops in Canada. He also seems to have failed to inform Burgoyne of a letter from Howe stating that he could not support the campaign with all his might.

In June everything was ready and the advances began.

The Mohawk Expedition

St. Leger sailed down the St. Lawrence River , crossed Lake Ontario, and arrived at Fort Oswego without suffering any losses. He had more than 300 regular soldiers, the Canadian by 650 men and British loyalists - militia were supported and 1,000 Indians, led by John Butler and the Mohawk -Hauptmann Joseph Brant . On July 25, they left Oswego and marched with good discipline to besiege Fort Stanwix .

The Siege of Fort Stanwix

St. Leger began the siege on August 4th by calling on the garrison, under the command of Colonel Peter Gansevoort, to surrender. His offer was turned down, and on the same day General Nicholas Herkimer left Tryon County with 800 militiamen to aid Gansevoort. But St. Leger found out about this order and attacked the support expedition on August 6 at the Battle of Oriskany . During this battle, a sortie from the fort destroyed large parts of St. Leger's entourage. They were now preparing for a siege. Parts of the Indian armed forces and the auxiliary troops deserted because the spoils of war would not be available soon and supplies were running out.

Meanwhile the American counter-attack was being prepared. On August 10, Benedict Arnold Stillwater and 800 Continental Army men left Philip Schuyler's Northern Department . He expected support from the local militia in the Fort Dayton area , which he reached on August 21. However, Arnold was only able to raise about 100 militiamen, so he resorted to a deception maneuver. It sent agents and faked the escape of a prisoner who informed St. Leger that Arnold was approaching with a large force.

Based on this news, Joseph Brant and the rest of the St. Legers Indians withdrew. They took most of the remaining supplies with them, which is why St. Leger was forced to withdraw to Canada via Oswego. Arnold sent a military unit after them and moved east with the rest of his force to support the American forces in the Battle of Saratoga .

The Burgoyne Expedition

Burgoynes train on Albany, June to October 1777

St. Leger's attack along the Mohawk and General Howe's expected advance from New York were diversions designed to thin the American defenses. Burgoyne led the main attack south through the lakes and the Hudson Valley towards Albany . On June 13, 1777, he had assembled his armed forces in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu .

He did not expect a repeat of the previous year's delay on Valcour because he had an overpowering naval force. In addition to the five ships from last year, a sixth had been built, and three had been taken from Benedict Arnold after the Battle of Valcour . In addition, he had 28 armed gunboats and a large fleet of canoes and river boats (flat-bottomed boats) for transportation. His army consisted of more than 7,800 men and over 130 artillery weapons from light mortars to 11 kg cannons. Its regular troops were organized into two divisions . Major General William Phillips led the 3,700 British regulars to the right, while Major General Friedrich Adolf Riedesel's 3,000 Braunschweiger held the left. His regular troops started in good shape, but were poorly equipped for combat in the wilderness.

Fort Ticonderoga

Burgoyne's combination of naval, artillery, and infantry forces moved down Lake Champlain. It seemed able to overrun any American resistance.

The American general Philip Schuyler , like others, was of the opinion that Fort Ticonderoga might not hold up against this force. Nonetheless, he ordered General Arthur St. Clair to set up the first American defense here and hold out as long as possible before withdrawing. So Burgoyne took Crown Point on June 24th unopposed. He reinforced his defenses and began building a magazine or supply store to support his attack on Fort Ticonderoga.

Burgoyne, on the one hand, and Schuyler, on the other, considered the capture of Fort Ticonderoga to be the most important operation. The British found a way to get their artillery to the top of a hill called Sugar Loaf , which overlooked the fort. St. Clair organized the retreat that night and Burgoyne's men captured the main fortification and Mt. Independence Works on July 6th. Although a later investigation cleared Schuyler and St. Claire of any mistake in this surrender, it prompted the Continental Congress to replace Philip Schuyler with General Horatio Gates as commander in the Northern Department .

The Battle of Hubbardton

After the loss of Ticonderoga, St. Clair's forces withdrew in an orderly manner. Burgoyne sent forces from his main force to pursue them. They came into contact with the retreating Americans at least three times. The main attack is known as the Battle of Hubbardton , while the others took place at Fort Anne and Skenesboro . Overall, these actions cost the Americans only a little more than half as many losses as the British. Again, St. Clair took most of his men out safely to reunite with General Schuyler at Fort Edward , and the Americans proved they were still able to hold their own against the regular British forces. Burgoyne's advance took Fort Anne on July 17, while the main force landed at Skenesboro on July 8.

The campaign has so far been largely a success for the British. But now the tide began to turn. Burgoyne had suffered some casualties, but while the 220 men killed or wounded were a minor factor in his endeavors, they weakened the invasion. He had left 400 men to manned the Crown Point replenishment warehouse and another 900 to defend Ticonderoga. He could have returned to Ticonderoga now and sailed south to the end of Lake George, but that would have looked like a retreat. He therefore made the fatal mistake of continuing overland to Fort Edward. He thought he would need artillery and baggage to have enough firepower to avoid repeating the same kind of casualty as the Battle of Bunker Hill .

Schuyler and St. Clair decided meanwhile to simply make the passage as difficult as possible for the British. When Benedict Arnold met her on July 24th, he gratefully supported her plan before being sent west to stop St. Leger at Fort Stanwix . Their main weapon in this phase of the campaign was the successful use of the ax. They simply felled large trees on the enemy's path, which the enemy had to laboriously move aside. The troops dragged on, tired and used up their supplies. The tactic worked well because Burgoyne needed to build a road through the wilderness for his cannons. His advancement was reduced to one mile a day. He took Fort Edward on July 29th without major fighting. Schuyler had retired to Stillwater , and the Americans were prepared to repeat the delaying tactic from Fort Edward to Saratoga.

The Battle of Bennington

The delaying tactic adopted by Schuyler, St. Clair, and Arnold was successful in several ways. The British General Burgoyne was unable to advance his cause and had to leave more and more men behind to protect his lines of communication. His Indian allies grew impatient and began to robbery families and settlers more often. This increased American resistance more than it weakened it. The death of British loyalist Jane McCrea made these events very prominent. With each passing day, the Americans grew in strength as militia units and individuals joined them. Schuyler sent Benedict Arnold west to liberate Fort Stanwix (see above) and had defenses built on the Bemis Heights between Saratoga and Albany to block Burgoyne's path to his goal.

Burgoyne ran out of supplies, especially horses to work on his street and to pull cannons and supplies. So he was forced to deploy units for raids. Because the Braunschweig dragoons suffered most from the lack of horses, he sent Colonel Baum's regiment together with the Braunschweig dragoons to western Massachusetts and New Hampshire and gave his remaining troops a few days to rest. The detachment never returned, and the reinforcements he sent behind came back severely decimated after the Battle of Bennington on August 15th.

While the delay tactic worked very well in practice, the effect in the Continental Congress was completely different. General Horatio Gates was in Philadelphia when Congress discussed the shock of the Ticonderoga case and was more than ready to blame unwilling generals. Some Congressmen expressed impatience with George Washington and called for a major, direct confrontation that would eliminate the occupation forces. The difficulty was that maybe you could lose the war that way. John Adams , the chairman of the War Committee, stated that ... we can never hold our position until we have shot down a general while he praised General Gates. Against the opposition of the New York delegation, Congress sent Gates to take command of the Northern Department of the Continental Army .

The Battle of Saratoga

The Battle of Saratoga went down in American history as a single event, but it was actually a month-long series of maneuvers that was crowned by two battles. General John Burgoyne had paused in Saratoga to receive news from William Howes and Barry St. Leger's forces and to recover from the difficult passage through the wilderness. Faced with supply problems and with no prospect of help, he had to go on the offensive. He crossed a pontoon bridge eight miles south of Saratoga to the west bank of the Hudson River, two miles south of the heights fortified by the Americans.

Horatio Gates arrived while the Bemis Heights were being upgraded and took command on August 19th. He had a cool and arrogant manner and refused to give Philip Schuyler any sub-command, so Schuyler abdicated the next day. Gates endorsed Schuyler's and Benedict Arnold's plan, and Tadeusz Kościuszko continued his work on the fortifications.

Arnold returned on August 24th and was surprised to find Gates in command. Their disagreements started almost immediately. Arnold wanted to use the fortification as a starting point for outages in the cover of the forests, a tactic preferred by the Americans to return to the fort if necessary. Although Gates had some cannons from the French, Burgoyne's firepower far exceeded that of the Americans, and the British and Brunswick forces were seasoned besiegers.

Except for the cannons, the forces were relatively balanced. Burgoyne had only 7,000 men left, while Gates had more than 8,000 men with reinforcements from the Continental Army sent from Washington and incoming militias. Gates gave Arnold command of the left unit farthest from the river bank. The right wing, under General Benjamin Lincoln , was occupied by militias and artillery that overlooked the river road. Gates himself commanded the center with the strongest regiments of the Continental Army.

Gate allowed Arnold to send out patrols . When Burgoyne was moving towards American positions on September 19, Arnold hastily began the battle of Freeman's Farm , which halted the advance. However, when Arnold Enoch wanted to bring Poor's brigade in to support the attack, Gates ordered him back to headquarters and the battle ended in a draw. Burgoyne withdrew and began its own fortifications behind a ravine three miles (4.8 kilometers) north of the Bemis Heights.

After this battle, Gates took some of Arnold's regiments to strengthen the center again. Arnold offered to resign, but was held up by a memorandum signed by every single officer on the battle line except General Lincoln. Gates dropped him off anyway, so that he was now sitting at headquarters without a task. Lincoln's men, supported by militiamen, launched an attack from Fort Ticonderoga while American snipers continued to harass the British positions.

More and more militias arrived, so that the American troops swelled to over 10,000 men. With its supply lines disrupted and the situation becoming increasingly desperate, Burgoyne began its next attack on October 7th.

With messengers constantly arriving and advancing, and the thunder of cannons from Daniel Morgans and Henry Dearborn's regiments, Arnold walked through headquarters, ignored by gates. Ultimately, he got up and galloped into battle with no orders. Gates sent a rider to order him back, but he did not catch up with Arnold, who took part in the Battle of Bemis Heights and drove the British back to their original positions.

Surrender and the Convention Army

On October 8th, Burgoyne withdrew to Saratoga. It took him and General Gates a week to negotiate the terms of surrender. Burgoyne's Indians disappeared into the woods and several loyalists made it back to Canada. Gates granted generous terms and conditions called the Saratoga Convention. Burgoyne was allowed to keep his flags and his men marched out of camp on October 17, 1777 to surrender their weapons. The convention called for the army to return to England.

However, after the defeated army marched into Massachusetts , Congress decided not to respect the terms. The army was held in shabby camps in New England for some time. Although individual officers were exchanged, the bulk of the "Convention Army" marched south to Virginia and remained prisoner for years.

When the Canadian and remaining British forces withdrew, the Americans retook Fort Ticonderoga and Crown Point without incident.


The effect of the victory was enormous. General Gates became known as the "Hero of Saratoga". The victory also gave the young American state, shocked by the occupation of Philadelphia , the momentum it needed so much. Not long after France learned of this victory, it declared war on Great Britain, finally officially entering the war. Spain and the Netherlands soon did the same. The loss also weakened the British government under Lord Frederick North . For the British, the war was now much more complicated.


Most of the battlefields of the Saratoga campaign are now parks under state or national administration. An obelisk in Saratoga National Historical Park commemorates Arnold's military feat and contains three statues of Generals Gates, Schuyler, and Morgan. A fourth niche, which should actually belong to Benedict Arnold , is empty: Arnold later defected to the British and is considered the epitome of the traitor in the USA. Because of the importance of the victory for American independence, the United States named a total of six ships with the name USS Saratoga .


  1. Professional trip to America: Letters and reports written by General and General von Riedesel during the North American War in the years 1776 to 1783, ed. by Claus Reuter, published in Germany. by Thomas Ostwald, new edition after the Edition Berlin 1801, Braunschweig 2005, ISBN 3-925320-00-8 (diary entries by Friederike Riedesel Freifrau zu Eisenbach, who took part in the Saratoga campaign at the side of her husband Friedrich Adolf)
  3. ^ Walworth, Ellen Hardin (1891). Battles of Saratoga, 1777: the Saratoga Monument Association, 1856-1891. Albany: J. Munsell's Sons. OCLC 2183838. p. 82
  4. Murphy, Jim (2007). The Real Benedict Arnold. New York: Clarion Books. ISBN 978-0-395-77609-4 . Page 2