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Setting the Stage

In 1775, British Gen. John Burgoyne identified the Lake Champlain-Hudson River corridor, an historic gateway between Canada and the northern colonies of British North America, as the primary target for British military operations in North America. If the British army could control it from Canada to New York City, they could cut New England off from the rest of the colonies, secure the route for supplies and reinforcements from Canada, and strengthen Indian alliances, thereby crushing the rebellion quickly and decisively.

In 1777, the British planned a two-pronged attack to secure the corridor. Armies under General Burgoyne and Lt. Colonel Barry St. Leger would use the Hudson-Champlain corridor and the Mohawk Valley respectively to fall upon Albany. They would then join forces with their commander Gen. Sir William Howe in New York City, and together they would make a concerted effort to quell the rebellion. On June 17, 1777, Burgoyne led a combined force of 8,000 British, German, Loyalist, and Native American troops from St. Johns (now St. Jean), Canada into New York. Moving southward, Burgoyne took Fort Ticonderoga and brushed aside most of the American rear guard opposing him.

Then, the British plan began to run into problems. St. Leger's force moved up the Mohawk Valley and laid siege to American Fort Schuyler (Fort Stanwix) on August 3, 1777, but retreated after the Battle of Oriskany because of losses and the approach of an American relief force. Howe was at sea, preparing to attack the rebel capital of Philadelphia. He had left only a small force under the command of Sir Henry Clinton in New York City. Burgoyne's army was on its own.

Maj. Gen. Horatio Gates, commander of the Northern Department of the Continental Army, led his 9,000 Americans from the mouth of the Mohawk River to a position 30 miles north of Albany, near Saratoga, overlooking the Hudson River. There they fortified Bemis Heights, where the road to Albany squeezes between hills and river. Gates' soldiers built an extensive fortified line on the heights and on the river flats. Burgoyne was forced to fight the Americans on the ground on which they had chosen to fight. At a small town in the wilderness in northern New York, farmers, merchants, and tradesmen changed the course of world history.



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