The Battle of Saratoga 1777

Battle: SARATOGA

War: American Revolutionary War

Date: 17th October 1777


General Burgoyne surrenders to General Gates

Place: Saratoga on the Hudson River in New York State.

Combatants: British and German troops against the Americans.

Generals: Major General John Burgoyne commanded the British and German force. Major General Horatio Gates and Brigadier Benedict Arnold commanded the American army.

Major General Horatio Gates
Major General Horatio Gates, the American
commander at the Battle of Saratoga.

Size of the armies: The British force comprised some 5,000 British, Brunswickers, Canadians and Indians. By the time of the surrender the American force was around 12,000 to 14,000 militia and troops.

Uniforms, arms and equipment: The British wore red coats and headgear of bearskin caps, leather caps or tricorne hats depending on whether the troops were grenadiers, light company or battalion company men. The German infantry wore blue coats and retained the Prussian style grenadier mitre with brass front plate.

The Americans dressed as best they could. Increasingly as the war progressed regular infantry regiments of the Continental Army wore blue uniform coats but the militia continued in rough clothing. Both sides were armed with muskets and guns. Many of the Pennsylvania and Virginia troops and militia, particularly Morgan’s men, carried long, small calibre, rifled weapons.

Winner: The Americans forced the surrender of Burgoyne’s force.

British Regiments:
The senior officers were Major General Phillips, Baron Riedesel, Brigadier Simon Fraser and Brigadier Hamilton.

Major Lord Balcarres commanded the light companies of the 9th, 20th, 21st, 24th, 29th, 31st, 47th, 53rd and 62nd Foot as a single unit.

Lieutenant Colonel St Leger who commanded the diversionary raid before the Battle of Saratoga
Lieutenant Colonel St Leger who commanded the
diversionary raid before the Battle of Saratoga

Major Acland commanded the grenadier companies of the same regiments.
The battalion companies of the 9th, 20t, 21st, 24th, 29th, 31st, 47th, 53rd and 62nd Foot.
Breyman’s Jägers.
Riedesel’s Regiment
Specht’s Regiment
Rhetz’s Regiment
Hesse Hanau Infantry
Captain Pausch’s Hesse Hanau Company of artillery
Indians and Canadians.
9th Foot: later the Norfolk Regiment and now the Royal Anglian Regiment.
20th Foot: later the Lancashire Fusiliers and now the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers.
21st, the Royal Scots Fusiliers; now the Royal Highland Fusiliers.
24th Foot: later the South Wales Borderers and now the Royal Regiment of Wales.
29th Foot: later the Worcestershire Regiment and now the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters Regiment.
31st Foot: later the East Surrey Regiment, then the Queen’s Regiment and now the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment.47th Foot: later the North Lancashire Regiment, the Loyals, and now the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment.
53rd Foot: later the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry and now the Light Infantry.
62nd Foot: later the Wiltshire Regiment, then the Duke of Edinburgh’s Royal Regiment and now the Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment.


The British 20th Regiment of Foot

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

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

General John Burgoyne
Major General John “Gentleman Johnnie”
Burgoyne at the Battle of Saratoga

Left Wing:
Commanded by Major General Benedict Arnold
Brigadier Poor’s Brigade
Cilley’s 1st New Hampshire Regiment
Hale’s 2nd New Hampshire Regiment
Scammell’s 3rd New Hampshire Regiment
Van Cortlandt’s New York Regiment
Livingston’s New York Regiment
Connecticut Militia
Morgan’s Riflemen
Dearborn’s Light Infantry

Account:
Over the winter of 1776/7 the British Government in London devised a plan to send a strong army down the Lake Champlain route from Canada into the heart of the rebellious American Colonies, isolating New England.

The British Governor of Canada, Sir Guy Carleton, with his experience of campaigning in North America would have been a sound appointment for this command, particularly after his determined and resourceful defence of Canada in 1775 and 1776. Instead Lord Germaine, the minister in London with direct control of the British war policy, persuaded King George III to appoint Major General John Burgoyne (known to the troops as “Gentleman Johnnie”), Carleton’s subordinate during 1776. Burgoyne had taken the precaution of returning to London during the winter and lobbied for the command.

General Benefit Arnold
The death of Brigadier Simon Fraser

Strong reinforcements were to be sent to Canada of British and Brunswick regiments of foot and artillery. Burgoyne was directed to take the best regiments down Lake Champlain, capture Fort Ticonderoga, advance to the Hudson River and progress south.

Map of the battle of Saratoga
The Battle of Bemis Heights in the second Battle of Freeman's Farm

Lord Germaine’s and Burgoyne’s expectations were that a second British force under Major General Clinton would move north up the Hudson River from New York and meet Burgoyne, but no proper orders were sent to General Howe, commanding the British forces in New York, to ensure that he complied with this expectation in full. General Howe had his own plans to invade Pennsylvania and take Philadelphia.
Burgoyne set off from the St Lawrence River down Lake Champlain at the end of June 1777, reaching Fort Ticonderoga on 1st July 1777. The American commander abandoned the fort (see the Battle of Ticonderoga 1777) as the British and Brunswickers arrived.

The British Colonel St Leger advanced down the Mohawk River from Lake Erie with a British force in a diversionary raid.

On 10th July 1777 Burgoyne’s force reached Skenesboro where it concentrated on clearing the road to the North for supplies and to the South for the advance. The forested country, crossed by primitive tracks rather than roads, was difficult for an army wanting to move quantities of supplies and artillery.

Map of the Battle of Saratoga
The Army's positions on the signing of the convention

General Schuyler, the American commander, withdrew to Stillwater, 30 miles north of Albany, Burgoyne’s primary target. The American authorities made determined efforts to raise the New England militia and to implement a scorched earth policy in the path of the British advance.

In order to obtain additional supplies, and horses for his Brunswick dragoon regiment, Burgoyne sent the German, Colonel Baum, with 500 men on a raid to Bennington, New Hampshire. Simultaneously Burgoyne moved his army down the Hudson River to Saratoga, where he built a substantial fortified camp.
Baum’s force was attacked by American militia and overwhelmed. A relieving force commanded by Colonel Breymann was repelled with some loss (see the Battle of Bennington).


The Hudson River

St Leger found that difficulties with his Indian allies and the vigorous resistance of Brigadier Benedict Arnold forced him to abandon his advance down the Mohawk River.

Burgoyne was in a perilous position. The presence of his army was arousing the local militia in substantial numbers. He was perilously short of food. His imperative orders to march south restrained him from remaining where he was, retreating northwards or diverting to the East. It took until 13th September 1777 to assemble sufficient supplies, dragged through the forests down rudimentary roads, to continue the advance.


The view of the British lines from the east bank of the Hudson River

On 19th September Burgoyne approached the fortified American camp on the west bank of the Hudson River at Bemis Heights. The British force advanced on the American army, now commanded by the ex-British officer, Major General Horatio Gates, in three columns, one by the river under the German Colonel Riedesel, the main force in the centre commanded by Burgoyne and the third, commanded by Brigadier Fraser making a wide outflanking detour to the American left. The aim of the British was to take the unfortified hill to the West of the American positions on Bemis Heights.

Arnold pressed Gates to leave his entrenchments and attack the British but he was reluctant to take what he saw as the risk of moving out of his fortified camp.

Burgoyne deployed his battalions for the attack; the 9th, 21st, 62nd and 20th Foot. Fraser came up on the right, with the Grenadiers, Light Companies and the 24th Foot, towards the heights on the American left, and Riedesel began his approach along the riverbank. This phase of the battalion was known as Freeman’s Farm and was hard fought, leaving the British in occupation of the ground at nightfall (see The Battle of Freeman’s Farm).

The next day several of his senior offices urged Burgoyne to renew the attack on the American positions. It is suggested that if he had done so he would have taken advantage of the disarray into which the previous day’s hard fighting had thrown the Americans. Although initially tempted by the proposal, Burgoyne finally rejected it and remained in his camp by the Hudson River.

On the same day Burgoyne received word that the Americans had captured one of his supply flotillas on Lake George. He was tempted to abandon the whole enterprise and withdraw to Fort Ticonderoga, but information that Major General Clinton was advancing to meet him up the Hudson River from New York caused him to remain in his camp.

By 7th October 1777, in spite of considerable success in the southern reaches, Clinton had not make any real progress up the Hudson River. Burgoyne determined to launch the delayed attack on the American positions on Bemis Heights. By this time Gates had been considerably reinforced and had some 12,000 men against around 4,000 British and Germans.

Burgoyne described the operation as a reconnaissance in strength, designed to see if he could occupy the hill to the West of the American fortifications.

The American picquets sent word that the British had advanced and were forming up in a wheat field near the old Freeman’s Farm battlefield. Morgan’s riflemen were committed to the attack, quickly supported by the other regiments of Arnold’s division. The Americans far outnumbered the British “reconnaissance” party and the British Grenadiers and Light Companies were pressed back.


Brigadier Benedict Arnold wounded during the battle of Saratoga.

At a critical moment in the fighting Brigadier Simon Fraser was mortally wounded by one of Morgan’s riflemen. Arnold spurred the Americans to continue the attack and was himself severely wounded. The British and Hessian troops began to give way and after the redoubt held by Colonel Breyman and his regiment was taken, Burgoyne withdrew his force to his fortified camp above the Hudson River.

The next day Burgoyne withdrew his army up the river to the camp they had built at Saratoga. The American army pursued Burgoyne and enveloped the British positions. Burgoyne let the last opportunities to retreat north to Ticonderoga go by, hoping that Clinton’s army would come up the Hudson River from the South to his relief. A major difficulty in the campaign was communications between the two British forces. Almost all the messengers attempting to carry messages were caught and hanged by the Americans.

Burgoyne awaited news of Clinton’s advance until 17th October 1777, when he was forced to sign the convention by which his troops surrendered to Gates, who had by then between 18,000 and 20,000 men.

Surrender of General Burgoyne at Saratoga
Surrender of General Burgoyne at Saratoga by Fauvel
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Casualties : Of the 7,000 British and Germans who marched from Canada only 3,500 were fit for duty at the surrender.

Follow-up: The consequences of Burgoyne’s surrender were catastrophic. France and Spain declared war on Britain and the American effort was galvanized.

References:

  • History of the British Army by Sir John Fortescue
  • The War of the Revolution by Christopher Ward