|"Gentleman Johnny" Burgoyne|
Unfortunately for the British, the coordination the plan required was lacking from the start. General Sir Guy Carleton was offended that Burgoyne had taken credit for his plan and been appointed to command the expedition south over him. As a result, he was not prepared to be very helpful in carrying it out. Likewise, General Howe was not prepared to submit himself to being directed by an officer who was his junior and, in any event, had his own plan to march on the rebel capital at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It would be wrong, however, to blame General Howe for what was to come but rather more of the responsibility must fall on the shoulders of Lord Germain who, for some reason, authorized General Howe to move on Philadelphia which sent the main British army moving south when Burgoyne’s plan, which Germain had just authorized, depended in large part on Howe moving north to join forces with Burgoyne in Albany. There was simply no way that Howe could have done both. Upon arriving in Canada, General Burgoyne was informed that Howe was moving on Pennsylvania as well as being told that General Carleton was not prepared to assist his operation. Nonetheless, Burgoyne the gambler decided to roll the dice and set out on his campaign anyway.
|Lt Col Barry St Leger|
One of the Americans sent to relieve Ft Stanwix was General Benedict Arnold and he played a key part in forcing St Leger to back off, making the British believe that he had far more troops than he actually did. This news caused most of the Native Americans to abandon the British and left St Leger with no other option but to retreat. In command of the rebel troops gathering to oppose Burgoyne were generals Philip Schuyler and Horatio Gates. Neither were much to write home about. Schuyler had planned the first patriot invasion of Canada, which had failed miserably and after he lost Ft Ticonderoga without a struggle he was replaced by Horatio Gates, a man who would become known for taking credit for victories won by his subordinates before later in the war being humiliatingly defeated in the south at the Battle of Camden when he abandoned his army and ran for his life. However, Gates had some subordinates who were prepared to fight, none more so than Benedict Arnold. General Burgoyne, for his part, was starting to feel the wilderness closing in around him. His troops were woefully short of provisions and this was prompting many of his men to desert, driven by hunger. With his small army becoming ever smaller, Burgoyne decided to remedy this situation by sending a detachment of Hessian mercenaries under Lt. Colonel Friedrich Baum to raid Bennington, Vermont for supplies.
American riflemen picked off the British officers and artillerymen but the British and German troops fought stubbornly. The battle flared off and on all day until finally, as darkness approached, the rebels retreated, leaving the field to the British. Burgoyne had won a minor victory but had lost twice as many men as the colonials doing it and had not managed to achieve his ultimate goal. His army had been reduced and every day brought more rebel troops to oppose him and his logistical situation grew ever worse. The prudent thing to do would have been to abandon the campaign and retreat to Canada immediately. However, that was not Burgoyne’s style and he decided to press on and fight it out no matter the odds against him. Unfortunately for the Crown forces, the luck of Burgoyne the gambler had finally run out. On October 7, Burgoyne mounted another attack on the American left at Freeman’s Farm with 1,650 troops but, this time, his forces were repulsed and driven back by the colonial rebels. The tide had turned and the British were forced to retreat. However, in their weakened state, it was extremely difficult to disengage and move away quickly. More and more rebel militia arrived and moved around to encircle the British army. Near Saratoga, New York General Burgoyne found himself surrounded by 17,000 men. He had only 5,000 in his own command by that time and these were weak and growing weaker.
|Burgoyne surrenders to Gates|
Burgoyne’s capitulation at Saratoga marked the first time that a British army was forced to surrender to the American rebels and, indeed, it was really the first decisive victory the colonials had won. It was most decisive because it proved to the very reluctant King Louis XVI of France and his advisors that the Americans just might be able to win and this, along with the cajoling of Benjamin Franklin, at last persuaded the Kingdom of France to recognize the independence of the United States of America and form a Franco-American alliance against Great Britain. Had Burgoyne not lost at Saratoga and had the French not subsequently joined in support of the American rebels, it is almost certain that the War for Independence would have ended in a British victory, at least of some degree. In short, as much as some might not want to admit it, without the aid of the Kingdom of France there would be no United States of America and had Burgoyne not been defeated at Saratoga, there would likely have been no aid from France. It was the one American victory that ultimately mattered the most in determining the outcome of the war.