The American Revolution took place between 1775 and 1783, in which thirteen North American colonies fought off British colonial rule to establish the United States of America in 1776. Also called the United States War of Independence or American Revolutionary War, it lasted over seven years and was the result of growing tensions between the residents of the North American colonies and the colonial British government.

This increasing resentment reached its peak at British attempts to assert greater control over colonial affairs after exercising salutary neglect. Until early 1778, the conflict was a civil war within the empire of the British but it gradually became an international war when France and Spain joined the colonies against Britain in 1778 and 1779 respectively.

The pivotal turning point of the struggle was the Battle of Saratoga in 1777, which is considered one of the most decisive battles ever recorded. Having granted Americans a conclusive victory over the British colonial forces, it proved American might on an international level. The various events and battles that led up to the battle will be discussed below.

The Battle for New York

The British government, having made up its mind to crush the rebellion once and for all, sent General Howe and his brother with a large fleet that consisted of both British and German troops to New York. The Continental Congress, which had declared the independence of the thirteen colonies, initially assumed that Howes was sent to negotiate terms for a peace treaty but soon discovered they were only authorised to accept submission and give pardons.

George Washington had anticipated British plans and marched on from Boston to New York, but his position was a flawed one. His left flank spanned across the East River while the rest fronted the Hudson river, leaving them vulnerable to naval and ground attacks. Consequently, Howe drove Washington and his forces out of New York and forced them to abandon Manhattan entirely. On August 27, 1776, he scored a thorough victory over the Americans and inflicted a loss of around 1,400 soldiers. Washington evacuated his men from Brooklyn to Manhattan that very night.

In September, Howe followed up by invading and scouring Manhattan. Washington hurried to block Howe’s advances, but the British commander defeated him at Chatterton Hill. In the following two months, he stormed Fort Washington and seized a large number of their guns, supplies and prisoners. Although Washington managed to escape to the West bank of the Delaware river, the size of his army dwindled significantly. Meanwhile, Howe put his army into winter quarters at towns like Bordentown and Trenton.

On Christmas night, Washington struck back at the British forces brilliantly. He crossed the ice-strewn Delaware and descended upon the Hessian forces at Trenton and took nearly 1,000 prisoners. Washington made a deft escape and went into winter quarters around Morristown, evading the British reinforcements under Lord Cornwallis who had arrived to recover Trenton. The Trenton-Princeton struggle lifted the spirits of the country and saved the movement from caving in.

The British Situation

At this point in time, the American Revolutionary War had been going on for almost two years, and the British decided to change their strategies. They formed a plan to split the Thirteen Colonies and isolate them from New England with a three-way pincer movement in 1777. The first such pincer, under Lieutenant Col. Barry St. Leger, was to move from Ontario to western New York by the Mohawk River and the second was to proceed from New York City up the Hudson River valley. The third pincer, on the other hand, was to advance southward from Montreal, and the three forces planned to meet at Albany, New York after severing New England from the other colonies.

British General John Burgoyne attempted to gain control of Hudson River valley in June 1777, but the campaign succumbed to multiple logistical and supply difficulties. Furthermore, Burgoyne received the news in August that St. Leger’s expedition down Mohawk River valley had been unfruitful after the Siege of Fort Stanwix failed.

General Howe had taken his army on a campaign to capture Philadelphia instead of meeting with Burgoyne and his forces. With most of Burgoyne’s Indian support having fled as well, the situation was growing difficult. He needed to reach their defensible winter quarters, which would require either a retreat back to Ticonderoga or an advance to Albany. He decided to advance and intentionally cut communications with the north to maintain his position and made preparations to cross the Hudson River. Between September 13 and 15, he had his army cross the Hudson north of Saratoga.

The American Situation

The Continental Army, under the command of Major General Philip Schuyler,  was stationed south of Stillwater, New York, in the midst of a slow retreat after Burgoyne’s capture of Ticonderoga. On August 19, Major General Horatio Gates assumed control from Schuyler, as the loss of Ticonderoga had taken a toll on his political fortunes. Gates and Schuyler did not get along well with each other as they were from different backgrounds, but the army was growing in size due to increased militia turnout after calls by state governors and the success at the Battle of Bennington.

General Washington’s tactical decisions also strengthened Gates’ army. Washington was concerned about the movements of both General Howe and Burgoyne and sent his most influential field commanders Major General Benedict Arnold and Major General Benjamin Lincoln to the north. He also obtained an additional 750 men from army officer Israel Putnam’s forces and sent some of the best forces from his own army as well, including Colonel Daniel Morgan and the newly formed Provisional Rifle Corps—a team of about 500 riflemen specially selected for their sharpshooting skills.

On September 7, Gates and his army marched north to a site called Bemis Heights about 10 miles south of Saratoga, selected for its defensive potential. The army then spent about a week constructing defences designed by a Polish engineer named Tadeusz Kościuszko. The heights had a clear view of the area and commanded the only road to Albany and giving them a geographical advantage.

First Saratoga: Battle of Freeman’s Farm

On September 19, 1777, the battle began with American marksmen placed at strategic positions, who then proceeded to pick off the officers in the advance company. The struggle went through different phases of push and pull, alternating between intense fighting and breaks in the action. The marksmen had regrouped and continued to pick off officers and artillerymen; they were so effective at reducing the British numbers that Americans gained brief control of British field pieces several times. The centre of the British line was nearly broken at some point, and it was only reformed by the intervention of General Phillips.

Despite the efforts of American forces, the final stroke of the battle ultimately belonged to the British. Both sides sent for and accumulated additional forces and fortunately for the Americans, darkness set in and brought the battle to an end. The Americans retreated to their defences while the British remained on the field. Burgoyne had gained the field of battle but at the cost of over 600 casualties.
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Second Saratoga: Battle of Bemis Heights

As of October 7, Burgoyle’s troop strength made up only about 5,000 effective, battle-ready men as the losses from earlier campaigns and battles had reduced his forces significantly. He decided to reconnoitre an American flank to see if an attack was possible.

When American scouts informed Gates of Burgoyne’s movement, he ordered his militia along with the riflemen to take the field. The opening fire came from the British, but things were not going well for them on the American left. The fall of General Fraser and the arrival of a large brigade to aid the Americans crushed British will, and they began a disorderly retreat towards their entrenchments. Burgoyne was nearly killed by the skilled shots of the marksmen as well. The first phase of battle lasted about an hour and cost Burgoyne hundreds of men and several field pieces.

The American Continental Army was then joined by an unexpected participant, General Arnold. The forces under him were led fiercely into action by Arnold, as he recklessly rode between lines and emerged unharmed. He led a charge of men through gaps in the British redoubts of the Hessian Lieutenant Colonel Heinrich von Breymann. In a furious battle effort, the camps were taken and Breymann was killed. In the final movements, Arnold’s horse was hit and his leg was broken by the shot and fell off the horse.

The capture of Breymann’s redoubt left the British camps exposed, but darkness began to set in and the Americans returned victoriously.

The Surrender of Saratoga

Burgoyne had lost 1,000 men in the two battles, while American losses only came to about 500 killed and wounded men. Burgoyne also lost several of his most efficient soldiers and leaders, their forward line was breached and he had failed to capture the American position. Taking all these factors into consideration, Burgoyne held a council of war in which they discussed terms of negotiation for several days.

Ultimately, on October 17, 1777, Burgoyne surrendered his forces to Gates. The British and German troops then formed the Convention Army in honour of the convention that allowed them to pass safely back to Europe. However, this convention was revoked and they were held captive till the end of the war.

The aftermath of The War

The battles of Saratoga marked a definitive turning point in the American revolution. General Burgoyne returned to England and was never given a commanding position in the British Army again. The British colonial forces were astonished to learn of the courage, determination and persistence of the Americans, and could no longer view them as their unworthy, uncoordinated enemy.

The news of the battle and Burgoyne’s surrender soon reached France, who had secretly furnished Americans with both financial and material aid. Convinced of their ability to effectively take on the British and win the war, King Louis XVI decided to officially enter into an alliance with the Americans. They decided to fully aid the colonists by sending soldiers, loans, military arms and other supplies.

To conclude, the Saratoga struggle was the most notable battle of the American revolution as it officially secured French support and convinced the opposing British forces of American might as well. Furthermore, the decisive American victory fueled American morale and their hopes of winning the war.


American Battlefield Trust, Saratoga

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Wikipedia, Battles of Saratoga

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