The American Victory at Saratoga

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• Part 2: Changing the World Order

Saratoga battle map
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Part 1: Setting the Scene

The Battle of Saratoga is often called the "turning point" of the American Revolutionary War. It certainly wasn't the first American victory of the war, and it wasn't the last British defeat or the end of the war by any means. But it was a smashing military victory and an important strategic and symbolic victory all the same.

It was the summer of 1777. General George Washington, despite his daring crossing of the Delaware River and stunning victories at Trenton and Princeton, was still fighting a desperate war, against a far superior fighting force, both in numbers and in weaponry. It seemed only a matter of time until the "Redcoats," as the British soldiers were called by their enemies, had restored order and put down the Colonial rebellion.

But the American colonies covered a vast expanse of territory, running all along the Atlantic Coast. Even the massive British Army couldn't be everywhere at once. At times, the various generals and commanders found it difficult to communicate with one another and to coordinate actions. Such was the case with the Battle of Saratoga.

Great Britain controlled all of Canada, a prize from the French and Indian War. It was from beyond Canadian borders that the first phase of the Battle of Saratoga began. General John Burgoyne came up with a brilliant plan to cut the rebellious colonies in two, north and south. The idea was to make it so that New England would be cut off from the rest of the colonies. The way to do this, Burgoyne reasoned, was to capture New York once and for all, in hopes that seeing such a devastating blow, the Americans would surrender. At the very least, Burgoyne counted on resistance being very much lessened.

So Burgoyne led a force of 10,000 men south along Lake Champlain toward Albany, where they would meet with up another force, this one having 2,000 men commanded by General Barry St. Leger, who would move down the Mohawk river valley. Lastly, Burgoyne wanted support from New York City itself, where General William Howe was encamped.

In early July, Burgoyne and his men set out on their journey. Along the way, they recaptured Fort Ticonderoga (without firing a shot, since it was mostly abandoned). Burgoyne's hopes of a quick rendezvous with St. Leger were dashed almost from the start, as Colonial militiamen and small bands of fighters slowed down the British Army by ripping apart bridges and chopping down trees and laying them in the roads that the Redcoats would travel. A few skirmishes took place, but the Colonials knew that they were outnumbered and so stayed out of a major engagement. Seeing these developments, Burgoyne sent 1,000 of his men to nearby Bennington, Vermont, to get much-needed supplies. The Colonial Army was up to the task again, however, and through a combination of cunning and firepower kept Burgoyne from gaining his supply reinforcement. Frustrated but not defeated by any means, Burgoyne kept heading toward the goal—Albany.

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