The day was Tuesday, October 7th, 1777 and it was 48 degrees and cloudy in Saratoga. This would become a glorious day for the Americans if only they could hold back and defeat the British in Bemis Heights, near Saratoga during the American Revolution. As the British would soon discover, the Americans were a force and they could and would put up a fight. Leading up to this historic battle was the Battle of Freeman’s Farm.
British General Burgoyne had set out on a plan to take control of the Hudson River so that they could divide the New England Colonies from the Southern. His plan was to divide and conquer the Americans. He hoped this would keep the French from becoming American allies if the Americans had no chance of winning. On September 19th the British and Americans met at Freemans Farm, just nNorth of Albany. British General John Burgoyne sent German troops to what was supposed to be a lightly guarded American supply depot in Bennington, Vermont. To the Germans surprise, heavy American resistance was encountered and the American General John Starks captured almost 500 German soldiers.Burgoyne led his army from Canada expecting to meet up with the German troops and Lloyalists but soon realized no one was coming.
With little supplies he knew that his army could not stay the winter where they were and so he quickly led his army toward Albany, crossing the Hudson River and heading towards Saratoga. On September 19th, 1777, the British and American forces clashed at Freeman’s Farm. Burgoyne and his British Army were successful in turning back the Americans. Although his army suffered about 600 casualties, while the American suffered 300 casualties.
Years later, American General Henry Dearborn explained of the battle, “We had something more at stake than fighting for six pence per day”. Instead, they prepared for the second Battle of Saratoga, the Battle of Bemis Heights. This move would become a turning point for the Americans in the American Revolution. While the British army was becoming weaker due to lack of food and supplies, American Major General Horatio Gates’s army was becoming stronger. He was joined by Major General Benedict Arnold who had fought at the Battle of Freeman’s Farm, and others, including the militia who had fought at Bennington.
Further, the news of the killing of Jane McCrea brought many other militias from NY and Pennsylvania to join Gates army as well. Jane McCrea was a young woman who was killed by a Huron warrior or Native American (so the story goes), who was associated with the British army General Burgoyne. She was a loyalist serving the British Army though her family was supportive of the patriots cause.
Her scalping led to outrage and an increase in Patriot military recruiting. The Patriots used her scalping as an example, showing the British would not protect the loyalist as they had promised. Gates’s army grew to about 11,000 men, including 2,700 Continental soldiers and they were prepared to defend Bemis Heights. Burgoyne’s army had suffered losses due to battles, sickness and desertion. He had just 5,000 British soldiers and 600 Canadian and Loyalist allies on his side, including a well-respected man and brigadier, named Simon Fraser. Burgoyne knew that he had to do something to save his men and so around 10 A.M on October 7, 1777, the British advanced from their trenches at the order on General Burgoyne. His plan was to determine the Americans position and attack their left flank but hungry British soldiers and horses wandered out into the fields looking for food.
The Americans seen them advancing. Major James Wilkinson collected the reports and informed Gates of the British advancement. This time the Americans did not sit and wait and they were prepared to fight. They went on the offensive and Gates ordered General Daniel Morgan’s riflemen to attack the British Flanks while the rest of the American army stayed hidden in the woods. The Battle began when General Enoch Poor’s 800 men attacked the British left.
Poor’s men were able to advance through the British men until they were close to the British Grenadiers. Poor’s men then opened fire. British Major Acland ordered the commander in chief of the Grenadiers to “fix bayonets and charge the damned rebels”. Poor’s 800 held their ground and opened fire on the Grenadiers, stopping them in their tracks and fatally wounded Major Acland. At the same time, General Morgan was attacking the British’s right flank which was composed of mostly Tories and Canadians. General Moor’s rifle men easily defeated them but the British light infantry tried to change position and charge Morgan.
However, American General Dearborn’s light infantry arrived in time to stop the British infantry, who took off running. Burgoyne ordered his men to retreat, but the officer carrying the message was wounded before he delivered the message to the remaining British and German forces. Major Arnold joined General Learned, leading the rebels up the front. Arnold drove the Germans back but British General Simon Fraser bravely road his horse in between and rallied his men, who then fought harder. Arnold had seen Fraser do this and so he said to American General Morgan, “That man on the gray horse is a host army in himself and must be disposed of”. And so one of Morgan’s rifle men shot and killed British General Fraser. This discouraged the British soldiers and so they fell back. At this point the battle had been going on for almost 50 minutes but Major Benedict Arnold was not done yet.
He road in between the various battle positions and ordered an attack on Breymann’s Redoubt. Breymann was a German General who had fought at Bennington. Breymann’s men tried to flee but Breymann ordered them back, attacking some with his own sword. He was shot and killed by one of his own men. The American captured the British Redoubt and the British were forced to retreat towards Saratoga in total darkness. The darkness saved the British from total defeat. The Americans followed the British soldiers and had them surrounded.
No help ever came for Burgoyne as anyone carrying news for the British was captured and hanged by the Patriots. And so, on October 17, 1777 General Burgoyne’s army was forced to surrender to the Americans. One American soldier declared, “It was a glorious sight to see the haughty Brittons march out & surrender their arms to an army which but a little before they despised and called paltroons.” The Battle of Bemis Heights cost the Americans 150 casualties as compared to the 600 men lost by the British including 8 to 10 of their cannons. But more importantly, this Battle would be the turning point in the American Revolution. Patriot’s confidence grew and France agreed to join forces with their new American allies.
Now they would have the supplies, weapons and manpower they had been so desperately lacking in their fight for Independence from the British.