On 21 September 1777, British General Burgoyne at Saratoga received from British General Sir Henry Clinton the following letter.
You know my good will and are not ignorant of my poverty of troops. If you think 2000 men can assist you effectively, I will make a push at Fort Montgomery (just south of West Point) in about ten days. But ever jealous of my flanks if they make a move in force on either of them I must return to save this important post. I expect reinforcements every day. Let me know what you wish.
I am &c.
Sir Henry Clinton
From the beginning of the American War of Impendence, the British had understood the importance of gaining control of the Richelieu River – Lake Champlain-Lake George-Hudson River water route to effectively cut off the colonies north of New York from those to the south. Almost all the troubles leading to the war had originated from New England, and the British thought that if they could put down the rebellion there, the rest of the colonies would give up. British dominance of this traditional pathway of war would also make it difficult or impossible for the Americans to move troops and supplies between the northern and southern colonies. The British make their first attempt to seize this waterway in 1776. The British army, under Gen. Sir William Howe, was successful in taking New York City and some of the lower Hudson Valley area. The force moving south from Canada under Gen. Sir Guy Carleton was stalled by Benedict Arnold on Lake Champlain however, and forced to retreat due to the coming of winter.
In 1777, General John Burgoyne proposed the plan be tried again, submitting “Thoughts for Conducting the War on the Side of Canada,” this time with himself in command. This paper was his attempt to strengthen the existing New York strategy and was soon approved by Lord Germain (Secretary of State for America).
This plan called for Burgoyne to advance south from Canada, up to Lake Champlain, capture Ft. Ticonderoga, and then march south along the Hudson to Albany. In Albany, Burgoyne would form a junction with British General Sir William Howe, who would advance north along the Hudson River from New York City, already under British control. British Colonel Barry St. Leger would come as a third force, advancing west along the Mohawk River Valley. St. Leger’s Force was to act as a diversion, recruiting loyalists along the way and additionally securing a western water route between Canada and New York City. Howe, however, became engaged in a campaign to capture Philadelphia (a plan Lord Germain had also approved believing that American General Washington may become a hindrance to New York, and that Howe would be done in time to reach Burgoyne) and would never reach Albany. (This letter shows an attempt by Sir Henry Clinton in New York to help Burgoyne). St. Leger became entangled in a futile 21-day siege of Fort Stanwix and was forced to retreat to Canada as American forces from the Albany area began to advance upon him. Burgoyne, however, was never informed in a timely manner of his colleagues’ setbacks and continued his march to Albany.
To learn wish to learn more about the Battles of Saratoga, you can visit the Saratoga National Historical Park in the towns of Saratoga and Stillwater. The park website is at https://www.nps.gov/sara/
The Schuylerville Public Library schuylervillelibrary.sals.edu/ and all the libraries in the region have a number of books on the Battles of Saratoga. One of the more popular and well written books is Richard M Ketchum’s Saratoga: Turning Point of America’s Revolutionary War. (1997) New York: Henry Holt. ISBN 978-0-8050-6123-9. OCLC 41397623
Saratoga is known for being the turning point of the American Revolution. In 1777 −− the second year of America’s War for Independence −− the British sought to quell the rebellion with a single decisive military campaign. The British plan depended on using an invading army to divide the colonies along a natural corridor of rivers and lakes stretching from Canada to New York City.
The Americans’ determined resistance at Saratoga, coupled with British strategic blunders, resulted in a stunning defeat and surrender for a British army. This timely victory reversed American military fortunes, boosted patriot morale, and gained them international recognition and support, including military assistance. That is why studying the Battles of Saratoga is integral to a good understanding of the American freedoms.