The Battle of Saratoga 1777
War: American Revolutionary War
Date: 17th October 1777
General Burgoyne surrenders to General Gates
Saratoga on the Hudson River in New York State.
British and German troops against the Americans.
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, 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
The senior officers were Major General Phillips, Baron Riedesel,
Brigadier Simon Fraser and Brigadier Hamilton.
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
before the Battle of Saratoga
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.
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
20th Foot: later the Lancashire Fusiliers and now the Royal
Regiment of Fusiliers.
21st, the Royal Scots Fusiliers; now the Royal Highland
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:
Under the personal command of General Horatio Gates:
Brigadier Glover’s Continental Brigade
Colonel Nixon’s Continental Regiment
Brigadier Paterson’s Continental Brigade
Brigadier Learned’s Continental Brigade
Bailey’s Massachusetts Regiment
Jackson’s Massachusetts Regiment
Wesson’s Massachusetts Regiment
Livingston’s New York Regiment
Major General John “Gentleman Johnnie”
Burgoyne at the Battle of
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
Dearborn’s Light Infantry
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
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.
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.
The Battle of Bemis Heights in the second Battle of Freeman's
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- History of the British Army by Sir John Fortescue
- The War of the Revolution by Christopher Ward