27: Driving to Saratoga National Historical Park: Costly Battles

The Rebels were able to entrench their position on the Hudson River in Stillwater, giving them a tactical advantage.

On September 19, 1777, Burgoyne split up his 7,500-man army into three columns to attack the Rebel’s entrenched position. One column of British troops would move west about two miles and begin to move south. A second column of British troops moved about a mile west before moving south. The third column, made of German troops, traveled along the river road and defended British supplies, which were being sent by water.

About noon on September 19, scouts from the center column encountered Colonel Daniel Morgan’s American light infantry and riflemen at the farm of John Freeman, a Loyalist who had gone north to Fort Edward to meet up with Burgoyne’s army. Thus began the fighting, which grew very fierce, as the battle swayed back and forth, each side taking and retaking the field.

As evening drew closer, Burgoyne ordered about 500 German soldiers to move from the river and reinforce the British center column. When the Americans heard and saw them coming, they left the field and returned to their own lines. The British held the field, but were unable to proceed.

On September 22, Burgoyne got word from British General Henry Clinton, who was in charge of British-held New York City. Burgoyne expected assistance from the south, but Clinton had been left with only 3,000 men. British General William Howe was in Philadelphia, leading an assault against Rebel General George Washington. In a letter, Clinton informed Burgoyne that he would try to divert the enemy’s attention by attacking the forts on the lower Hudson River. Burgoyne ordered his troops to dig in and wait for Clinton’s help.

By the first days of October, Clinton’s men had moved northward, capturing a few American forts, including Kingston. A small number got about 30 miles south of Albany. By October, however, George Washington was retreating from Philadelphia. Howe was worried that Washington might head to New York City, so he ordered Clinton back to protect New York City. Burgoyne was alone again.

It was getting colder, Burgoyne’s supplies were dwindling—as was manpower. Some feeling the end was near were deserting. The now 6,800-man army had been on half-rations for the last two weeks, and winter wasn’t far away. On October 7, Burgoyne sent out a 1,500-man “reconnaissance-in-force” with several cannons to probe and bombard the Americans left. The group was delayed in the Barber wheat field, as some of the soldiers were tasked with harvesting the much-needed ripened wheat.

Around mid-afternoon, the Americans, aware of the British movement, attacked. Their now 13,000-man Rebel army was able to push the British back. As the British withdrew, one of their beloved generals, Simon Fraser, was mortally wounded.

British forces hastily fell back to one of their defensive positions, the Balcarres Redoubt. It was strong, well defended, and able to deter the Americans. Several hundred yards north, the Breymann Redoubt was not as well suited to the defense. It was also defended by less than 200 German soldiers and officers—no match for the nearly 1,300 American soldiers attacking it.

As some of the American troops began to circle around the left side of the Breymann Redoubt, American General Benedict Arnold arrived on the scene. Caught up in the flow of American soldiers, he rallied the men and was seriously wounded in the left leg.

By nightfall, the Americans held the Breymann Redoubt. As it was at the far right of the British lines, they could then get behind the British. Yet they did not press the advantage, and the British fell back to their own river fortifications, the Great Redoubt.

For the British, a dismal reality was sinking in.

Travel Tools

There were two Battles of Saratoga: The Battle of Freeman’s Farm took place on September 19 and the Battle of Bemis Heights on October 7. Visit Saratoga National Historical Park Visitor’s Center and explore the tour road, where you will learn about both battles.

First-Hand Accounts

Lieutenant Digby describes the first battle.

Lieutenant William Digby, September 19, 1777

General Henry Clinton writes to Burgoyne from New York City: 

General Henry Clinton to Burgoyne, received September 21, 1777

Lieutenant Digby describes the second battle.

Lieutenant William Digby, October 8, 1777

 

 

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