Two-hundred and thirty-five years ago, on October 17, 1777, British forces under General John Burgoyne surrendered to American troops in Saratoga, N.Y., in a major turning point of the Revolutionary War.
On October 7, eighteen days after the First Battle of Saratoga, Burgoyne’s gains were wiped out when, after it was clear he would not receive help in time, he again assaulted the Americans on the same ground outside Saratoga in the Battle of Bemis Heights.
American General Horatio Gates had been reinforced, and had about 12,000 men against 5,000 British and Hessian troops. Burgoyne sought to occupy the hill to the west of the American fortifications.
The Americans learned the British had advanced toward a wheat field near the Freeman’s Farm battlefield. American Colonel Daniel Morgan’s riflemen were committed to the attack, supported by the other regiments of Brigadier General Benedict Arnold’s division.
At a critical moment in the battle, British Brigadier Simon Fraser was mortally wounded by one of Morgan’s riflemen. Arnold spurred the Americans to attack and was wounded in the leg.
The British and Hessian troops were driven back to positions they held before the first battle, and Burgoyne withdrew his forces to his fortified camp at Saratoga above the Hudson River.
The American army pursued Burgoyne and enveloped the entrenched British defenses. Burgoyne let his last opportunities to retreat north to Ticonderoga pass, hoping that reinforcements would arrive up the Hudson from the south.
Burgoyne’s army of 5,000 men was surrounded and he was forced to surrender to Gates, who by then had between 18,000 and 20,000 soldiers, on October 17, ending the Second Battle of Saratoga in a major victory for the Americans.
Burgoyne agreed in the ensuing negotiations that his troops would be returned to Britain by pledging that they would never serve in North America again. These Redcoats were held in captivity at great expense to the Continental Congress until the end of the war.
Arnold went on to betray the patriot cause by offering to hand over the fort at West Point, N.Y., to the British in 1780, giving them control over the strategic Hudson River Valley and separating New England from the rest of the colonies.
However, the plot was foiled, and Arnold, a hero of the battles of Ticonderoga and Saratoga, became the most infamous traitor in American history. He continued to fight on the side of Great Britain, where he died in poverty in 1801.
News of the British surrender in New York brought France into the War of Independence as an American ally, transforming the conflict into a global one and making the Battle of Saratoga a significant turning point in the American Revolution.