The Battle of Saratoga was one of the most pivotal moments in the American Revolutionary War. While other battles were decisive in the short term, this battle is actually seen as a turning point in the war itself.
This battle happened on the 19th September 1777 and the 7th October 1777. This may sound strange having a battle spread over two dates but this is because it was effectively two battles at the same place given one name, the Battle of Saratoga.
Prior to the Battle of Saratoga
Three months before the battle the British were trying to gain control of the Hudson River valley, this move was a tactical move to try and divide the forces of the United States by cutting off New England from southern states. The British had early successes with the most notable being the victory at the Siege of Fort Ticonderoga in the state on New York.
This action caused the Continental army of the United States to be in a slow and steady retreat. This should have allowed the British to gain more ground but logistical issues with supplies hampered progress, this was further compounded by the heavy losses at the Battle of Bennington.
Toward the middle to late August the American forces were in camp in Stillwater, a town in Saratoga County, New York. Here the Americans camped until the 7th September when they marched 10 miles north to Bemis Heights, a position advantageous for a defensive battle.
Battle of Saratoga
The British, under the command of General John Burgoyne, tentatively marched south as they didn’t have reliable sources as to where the Americans were. This march stopped on the 18th September when small raids were happening on the British by Americans, the British were only four miles from the American camp.
At 10am the following day battle was to commence.
General John Burgoyne ordered the British to advance in three columns, the central and left columns were to move forward and the right column was to flank the American forces. The Americans thought the British would try to flank them, this caused them to send a force down from the heights for battle.
The American forces being marched down were under the command of Daniel Morgan. Morgan spotted the British column advancing when they reached an open field, luckily for the Americans the column was actually split up and the advancing column was a forward company.
Morgan’s men were crack shots and managed to kill all officers in the forward company before leading a charge against them. Unfortunately they didn’t know that they were running into the main British army who were situated behind. The advance column broke ranks but support came in the form of another column so the Americans dropped back into the cover of the woodlands.
The British however ended up in a situation where one of their columns was dropping back and the column behind fired upon them in confusion.
Morgans men kept on making attacks and falling back. Once regrouped in the woods they acted as snipers killing artillerymen and officers making it harder for the British to use their big guns and make orders to the troops.
At mid afternoon the British made a decisive attack, this was to advance men on the right and left flanks before opening up a massive amount of gun fire on the Americans. This was a powerful tactic that worked, but luckily for the Americans they were saved by the loss of daylight as night set in. This meant the Americans were able to retreat back to camp and regroup.
The British won the battlefield but had lost twice as many men as the Americans (600 to 300).
After the battle there was a long pause, this was not because the British did not want to attack as their General wanted to push on the next day. This did not happen because the British General received a letter stating to leave a ten day gap before commencing battle again.
During this lull the Americans and British engaged in small scale skirmishes on a daily basis, this included the American sharp shooters causing the British a headache by taking out soldiers from the cover of the woodland.
On the 7th October battle commenced again. The British advanced forward with the idea of attacking the American left flank and by early afternoon gunfire started with the British shooting on American positions. Unfortunately this gunfire was ineffective because of their position so the British led a bayonet charge which the Americans formed a line and effectively cut down with volley after volley at close range.
While this was happening another British column made up of Canadian and Indian companies tried to attack the Americans and were also repelled making their attack ineffective. This first attack cost the British some 400 dead and captured men.
The Americans took this opportunity and attacked the British; this attack was defended well at first because of the redoubt the British were using as a defensive position. This defence broke when a group of Americans under the command of General Arnold broke through and killed the commanding officer and many men. In the last volley during the battle the horse Arnold was riding was hit and fell, Arnold broke his leg from either the volley, horse falling or both.
When darkness fell some of the British and supporting Germans tried to retake the redoubt and were captured. This effectively finished the battle in a resounding American success.
The British suffered 440 killed, 695 wounded and 6,222 captured while the Americans only had 90 killed and 240 wounded.