When 19 September (Battle of Freeman’s Farm) &
7 October (Battle of Bemis Heights) 1777
Strength British – 7,200 (1st battle) / 6,600 (2nd battle) American – 9,000 (1st battle) / 12,000 (2nd battle)
In the winter of 1776, Lord George Germaine, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, developed a plan to cut New England off from the rest of the colonies. The plan involved the capture of the Hudson River Valley which would limit the flow of trade to New England and raise the support of Loyalists elsewhere who could hold the countryside for the army which could then turn back to New England. The strategy required two armies to converge on the Hudson Valley. However, Germaine neglected to send proper orders to Major General Sir William Howe to ensure that he complied with the plan. Instead, Howe resolved to capture Philadelphia.
On 1 July 1777, Major General Horatio Gates, a former British army officer, took command of the American army in New York. Washington sent reinforcements including his most aggressive field commander, General Benedict Arnold, to support Gates. On 7 September, Gates chose a site at Bemis Heights, 10 miles south of Saratoga, to build a defensive position and block a British army being led south by Major General John Burgoyne. The heights had a clear view of the area overlooking the road to Albany.
Despite recapturing Fort Ticonderoga on 1 July, the British struggled on their trek south. They lacked enough horses to transport their supplies and their advanced was slowed as they had to build road through thick forest. A force led by Colonel Barry St. Leger abandoned its advanced down the Mohawk Valley after he was unable to capture Fort Stanwix and was then defeated at the Battle of Oswego on 7 August. As Burgoyne’s army began to use up their supplies, a force of Hessians sent to forage in Bennington, NH was attacked and defeated by Patriot militia on 16 August. Finally, Burgoyne received news of Howe’s decision to capture Philadelphia leaving him to capture the Hudson Valley alone.
Burgoyne’s orders were clear: he had to capture Albany, NY and so he could not remain in Saratoga or retreat north. On 19 September, he divided his force into three to capture the unguarded hill to the left of the Americans on Bemis Heights. American generals Gates and Arnold argued over their strategy; Arnold wanted Gates to attack but he refused, but finally agreed to let Arnold take his division to fight the British. In the resulting Battle of Freeman’s Farm, the fighting was fierce and bloody, and the British suffered heavy casualties as they were pinned down. A Hessian force arrived late in the afternoon to relieve pressure on the beleaguered redcoats. Eventually, the Americans retreated but the British victory came at high-cost and their path to Albany was still blocked.
With the Americans in disarray Burgoyne’s senior officers urged him to continue the advance and attack the position on Bemis Heights the next day but he decided to wait in case reinforcements came from New York to join him. By 7 October, his supplies were critically low, so he decided to try again to take the hill to the left of Bemis Heights. Pickets spotted the column of 2,000 approaching redcoats and it was immediately attacked. In the brutal fighting that followed the British were forced back to their redoubt and by evening, Burgoyne withdrew to his fortifications by the Hudson. The following day, he tried to take his army up river to the camp they had built at Saratoga, but their march was hampered by roads turned to mud caused by freezing rain. The American army followed and surrounded them, but Burgoyne, hoping reinforcements might arrive from New York City to save him, delayed surrendering his army until 17 October.
After Saratoga, the French agreed to enter the war and began supplying the Americans with weapons, training, and money. This shifted the conflict to a global war, forcing Britain to divert precious resources from North America to other areas of the Empire. Then in 1779, Spain joined the war on the side of the Americans.
British – 440 killed / 695 wounded / 6,222 captured Americans – 90 killed / 240 wounded