Saratoga National Historical Park

Location: Stillwater, New York

Webpage: National Park

General Description: This park preserves the site of the Battles of Saratoga, the first significant American victory in the Revolutionary War in 1777.  The park encompasses 3400 acres that includes all of the sites significant to both battles.  Following the failed attempt to capture Quebec, the Continental Army retreated to Fort Ticonderoga over the winter of 1776-1777.  The British devised a grand plan to split New England from the rest of the rebelling colonies.  British General John Burgoyne would lead a British army south through the Champlain Valley from Canada hoping to meet a similar force moving north from New York City under General William Howe and a third army moving east from Ontario along the Mohawk River under Brigadier-General Barry St. Lager.  Burgoyne captured Fort Ticonderoga in July after a three day siege and the Continental Army was in slow retreat back to Albany. Defeat looked certain for the Continental Army.  Having reached Fort Edward by the end of July, the British were held up with supply problems.  One attempt to alleviate these shortages ended in disaster when nearly 1000 men were killed or captured during a foraging raid at the Battle of Bennington on August 16.  In addition, St. Luger had turned back after a failed siege of Fort Stanwix on August 28.  Combined with earlier news that Howe had decided to lead his army to capture Philadelphia instead of moving north along the Hudson River and the abandonment of most of the Indian allies following the Battle of Bennington, Burgoyne’s situation was getting worse.  Faced with the decision to either retreat to Fort Ticonderoga for the winter or proceeding to Albany, he decided on the later.  The Continental Army was facing its own difficulties.  On August 19, Major General Horatio Gates had replaced Major General Phillip Schuyler after his surprising retreat from Fort Ticonderoga.  Unlike the British, however, their situation was improving.  Following the victory at Bennington they found their numbers growing with local militia, as well as, units sent by General Washington.  On September 7, Gates ordered his men to march and they began the work to create defensive works on Bemis Heights, about 10 miles south of Saratoga along the Hudson River where the heights made a narrow passage along the river.  The army spent about a week constructing defensive works designed by Polish engineer Tadeusz Kosciuszko.  These consisted of two water batteries along the river defended by redoubts on the heights.  From this location defensive ramparts were built that zig-zagged across Bemis Heights.  On September 18, the British began to cautiously approach this position moving south from Fort Edward along the Hudson River.  In the fog on the morning of September 19, Burgoyne split his army into three columns, the left column under the command of Baron Riedesel to advance with the supply wagons south along the Hudson River.  The center column would move west away from the river and attack the heights, which Burgoyne believed were lightly defended.  The right column was to proceed into the woods to the north and west of the heights and turn the Continental army left flank.  Benedict Arnold, in command on the Heights petitioned Gates to allow them to meet the British in the woods where they would have an advantage and was allowed to send a reconnaissance in force consisting of Daniel Morgan’s sharpshooters and Henry Dearborn’s light infantry.  As they approached the open field at Freeman’s Farm they spotted the advancing center column and opened fire.  While picking off many of the officers, this force was quickly driven back and dispersed in the woods.  Fighting throughout the day alternated between intensive action and delays as fresh troops were sent into action by both sides.  By the end of the day, Arnold had committed most of his troops from the Heights and the British had committed both the center and right columns.  The outcome was a narrow British victory when most of the men from the left column along the river made an appearance at the end of the day.  While the Continental Army technically lost this battle, they still controlled the Heights which was a strong defensive position and still blocked the British from Albany.  After receiving word from General Clinton that a force was being sent from New York City, Burgoyne decided to wait for this support and began constructing their own defensive works with batteries along the bluffs overlooking the river and two redoubts on Freeman’s Farm.  While waiting for these reinforcements, the supply problems continued to worsen for the British, who put the soldiers on short ration on October 3.  What with the losses of the previous engagements, the British had been reduced to around 5000 soldiers capable of fighting.  On the other hand, the Continental Army had continued to grow and by October numbered over 12,000 soldiers that were well supplied.  Rather than consider a retreat, Burgoyne decided to probe the defenses with 2000 men on October 7 by advancing about 3/4 mile to Barber’s field which still contained unharvested wheat.  While the soldiers set about harvesting this wheat they were discovered, Gates sent forces numbering over 8000 men to counter.  They soon drove the British back to Balcarres redoubt which was a strong defensive position.  The Continentals continued to attempt to capture the redoubt for the remainder of the day without success.  Due to a courageous charge led by Benedict Arnold (who had been relieved of command earlier in the week by Gates and therefore had no actual command at the time) they did manage to capture the lightly defended Breymann’s  redoubt.  With the right flank exposed, the British retreated under cover of darkness back towards Fort Ticonderoga.  However, with his superior numbers, Gates was not about to let them get away and surrounded the British at their camp near present day Schuylerville.  After three days of negotiations, Burgouyne surrendered his army to Gates.  This marked a major turning point in the Revolutionary War.  For the first time in history, a British army was captured and forced to surrender in the field.  Recognition of this fact was a big factor in France deciding to formally recognize the United States, declare war on England, and provide supplies and men to the Revolution.

Brochure

Impressions:

1) The Visitor Center at Saratoga is a very nice building built just to the west of Freeman’s Farm.  They have a very nice set of displays about the battle along with a very good 20 minute movie about the battle.  The movie does a very good job in not only providing details of the battle, but also its importance as a turning point in the war and the cause of democracy around the world.  There is also a battlefield map with moving lights that give a great depiction of the two battles and overview of the battlefield.

VisitorCenter

2) From the Visitor Center there is an 8 mile one-way road that takes visitors to the 10 stops with interpretive signs and exhibits.  We also purchased the audio CD to play in the car as we toured the battlefield.  in addition to providing useful information at each stop there was also fife and drum music to listen to that was timed according to the distance between each stop.

3) The first stop of the tour is a nice overlook of Freeman’s Farm with displays detailing the first Battle of Saratoga that occurred on the fields in front of you.  The National Park Service has done a very good job of maintaining the respective areas of fields and woods, even though they are not planting any of the fields as they would have been at the time.

FreemanFarm

4) The second stop is at the Neilson Farm at the summit of Bemis Heights.  Although none of the fortifications remain today, as this was all turned back into farms soon after the battle, they have erected posts all along the line extending from this location to the redoubts overlooking the river.  The farmhouse at this location, which belonged to the Neilson family, is the only structure to survive from the time of the war.  The NPS has restored the building (after moving it back to its original location) and there was a volunteer there to provide background and answer questions.

NeilsonFarmhousePatriotLine

5) The tour then proceeds along the American ramparts to the location of the redoubts overlooking the river.  From here you can understand the strong position held by the Continental army with cannons on the bluff and in two water batteries along the river.

BluffRedoubt

6) The next stop on the tour is an American outpost on the Chatfield Farm, from which they could observe movements of the British and from which they spotted their advance to the Barber Farm on October 7.

7) At the stop at the Barber Wheatfield there are interpretive signs that provide explanation of the actions on October 7 that drove the British back towards their redoubts on Freeman’s Farm to the north.

BarberWheatfield

8) The Balcarres Reboubt on Freeman’s Farm is marked out by colored posts and is much larger than I had expected.  This redoubt actually included the Freeman’s house as part of the defensive wall and had two forward emplacements protecting the flanks.

BalcarresRedoubt2

9) The next stop is the Breymann Redoubt, also outlined by posts on the extreme right flank.  Between the two redoubts was a series of fortified huts built by the Canadians to connect them.  Once these huts were overrun, this exposed the backside of Breymann Redoubt.  Realizing this during the nearby attacks on Balcarres Redoubt, Benedict Arnold moved to take advantage of this opening, leading a charge into the redoubt.  It should also be noted that most of the soldiers in the redoubt had been removed to participate in the advance to Barber Fields in the morning and had retreated to Balcarred Redoubt, leaving Breymann’s undermanned.  In his honor, a monument was erected to Benedict Arnold at this site, but due to his subsequent betrayal as a traitor, the monument does not include his name.  This is the famous Boot Memorial as it shows on one side a soldiers boot draped over a cannon pointing to the ground.

BootMemorial

10) The next stop is the approximate location of Burgoyne’s headquarters, of which there is very little to see today.

11) The tour proceeds back toward the river where you can explore the site of the British “Great Redoubt” of three promontories protecting any advance up the Hudson River.  At the base of these bluffs were the locations of the hospital and supply area for the British.

HudsonRiver

12) The last stop of the tour is the location of Colonel Fraser’s Burial site who died at the end of the battle from wounds sustained on October 7.  He requested to be buried at the Great Redoubt.  There is also a trail leading down off the bluffs where you can see the site of the hospital and the supply trains.  Interpretive signs provide information about the retreat of the British following the battle.  You can also see some of the remains of the Champlain Canal from the 1820s that connected the Hudson River to Lake Champlain.

ChamplainCanal

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