In July, Lieutenant-General John Burgoyne’s army easily captured Forts Ticonderoga and Independence, forcing the Army of the United States to retreat. Burgoyne won the battles of Hubbardton and Fort Anne, captured Forts George and Edward, but was defeated in the Battle of Bennington in August. That defeat stalled his advance until supplies were collected, which took precious time.
In July, Lieutenant-Colonel St Leger’s army found unexpected resistance at Fort Schuyler. The British decimated a militia force near Oriskany, but at great loss to their own army; they eventually retreated.
Burgoyne, still intent on reaching Albany, collected enough supplies and crossed the Hudson River on September 13th.
The day before, Major General Horatio Gates’s newly reinforced 8100 man American army encamped at Bemis Heights, chosen for the strategic advantages provided by the natural landscape. To an invading army, like Burgoyne’s, the funnel-like defile created by the closeness of the bluffs and river severely limited maneuverability and tactical options.
Gates’s army fortified the valley, bluffs, and rising high ground west to the Neilson Farm on the Summit, where most of the army was encamped to protect that vulnerable area.
By the 17th the British encamped three miles north of Bemis Heights. On the morning of September 19th the British launched an attack in columns aimed at the Americans’ weakest point, the Summit. The American response would come to determine the fate of the entire war.
Brigadier-General Simon Fraser’s 3000 man force of British, Germans, loyalists, American Indians, and Canadians, comprised the right column and moved west before turning southward.
The center column, accompanied by Burgoyne himself and consisting of 1700 British redcoats commanded by Brigadier-General James Hamilton, followed Fraser for a short distance, then turned south on a road leading into the Great Ravine.
The left column was drawn from 2500 German and British troops under Major General Baron von Riedesel, followed by support departments, such as the hospital, and women and children.
The Americans destroyed every bridge on the road to Bemis Heights. Progress was slow.
Learning of a British movement, Colonel Morgan’s riflemen and Major Dearborn’s light infantry were ordered to scout and skirmish with the enemy. They rushed toward Freeman’s farm. Morgan’s riflemen were posted on a hill where Freeman’s abandoned house and barn stood.
At about noon, the 100-man British picket belonging to the center column emerged from the woods. Rifle fire exploded from behind fences and trees, forcing the British to flee.
At that moment, infantry from Fraser’s column that had been ordered towards the gunfire appeared on Morgan’s left flank; the riflemen were quickly routed. At about 2 o’clock, the four British regiments of Hamilton’s center column —the 20th, 62nd, 21st, and 9th— moved out of the woods and onto the clearing, where they formed-up in line of battle.
Major General Benedict Arnold ordered Brigadier General Enoch Poor to support Morgan with the 1st New Hampshire Regiment, which moved quickly and formed in a skirt of woods. At about 3 o’clock the 62d Regiment advanced toward them with two 6-pound cannons.
The 1st New Hampshire attacked but fell back; they were soon rallied with the arrival of the 3d New Hampshire Regiment. Morgan’s riflemen, having regrouped, moved behind a heavily-wooded ravine on the extreme right of the American line and took their aim at the officers and men of the 20th Regiment in the open field across from them.
Perceiving that the two New Hampshire regiments were not enough of a re-enforcement, Arnold ordered Colonel Cook’s Regiment of Connecticut Militia and the 2d New Hampshire Regiment to the field. With this re-enforcement, the American line of battle resembled a crescent, with the British 62d Regiment in the opening between.
In response, the 62d Regiment refused its two left flank companies; the two 6-pounders were posted in the angle. The 21st Royal North British Fusiliers were brought up to protect the 62d Regiment’s right flank, and Burgoyne ordered the 9th Regiment to withdraw to the wooded road.
Dearborn’s light infantry was tasked with defending the American left wing. Fraser sent his 24th Regiment into the woods to eliminate them; the British were repulsed and fell back onto the open field of the Marshall farm.
The 24th Regiment reformed, moved to the northern side of the field, wheeled into the woods, and fought Dearborn’s men from tree to tree. From their hidden and naturally protected position in the woods, Morgan’s riflemen on the right of the line found that they could also shoot at the flank and even the rear of the 62d Regiment.
As the grueling battle wore on, the two British cannons fell silent as most of the crews were killed or wounded. The 62d Regiment inflicted heavy casualties on Cook’s militia, posted between the riflemen and the 1st New Hampshire Regiment. Poor ordered a newly-arrived Massachusetts Continental reinforcement, commanded by Major Hull, to relieve the beaten, retiring militia.
The 62d made an attack meant to exploit the momentary weakness of the American line, but was checked and fell back, with Hull's men in pursuit. The 20th Regiment rushed into the woods to prevent Morgan’s riflemen from shooting at the backs of their retreating comrades. The 62d Regiment was put in order, counterattacked, and forced Hull’s men to fall back to their original position.
To support Dearborn and protect the left flank of his main battle line, Arnold sent in Colonel Latimer's Regiment of Connecticut Militia and the last two regiments of Poor's Brigade: the 2d and 4th New York. While Latimer's Regiment and the 4th New York moved to support Dearborn, the 2d New York fell in with light infantry from Fraser’s column; the New Yorkers pulled back under pressure.
Finally, Arnold committed his last four regiments, those of Brigadier General Ebenezer Learned’s Brigade, against the British and German grenadiers. With Gates's leave, Colonel Marshall’s Massachusetts Continentals of Paterson’s Brigade were also sent into the fray.
After hours of no communication, von Riedesel received an order from Burgoyne to strengthen positions along the riverand attack the Americans at Freeman’s farm with all the troops he could spare. von Riedesel took personal command of his own Regiment, a detachment of the Regiment von Rhetz, and two of Captain Päusch’s six-pound cannons, and proceeded toward the fighting.
Near dusk, the Germans reached a point of high ground on the edge of the farm. Päusch’s artillery was brought to the hills on the other side of the field where the entire British line was being pushed back. The British rallied and von Riedesel ordered his Germans to join the 21st Royal North British Fusiliers, which moved to the eastern side of the field, and force their way through the woods on the American’s right flank.
The Americans, unable to withstand this new attack, withdrew under cover of darkness.
While the Army of the United States technically lost the Battle of Freeman’s Farm, Gates still blocked Burgoyne’s only route to Albany.
However, because of the timely receipt of a secret letter from the British command in the City of New York offering the assistance of a diversionary force, Burgoyne decided to stay and build defensive fortifications.
The Americans continued to expand and strengthen their defenses. Militia re-enforcements from New York and New England arrived, dramatically increasing Gates's army to about 12,500 officers and men.
Over the next 2 ½ weeks, however, Burgoyne came to realize that he could no longer wait for assistance that didn’t seem to be coming. He decided to send a strong force to reconnoiter the supposedly weak American left flank instead.
On October 7th, a force of 1700 men marched from the British camp, through the Marshall farm, to an as yet unexplored farm field. An American picket was forced out of the house there, and the British forces formed on a crooked road that cut across two adjacent fields. With both flanks refused, the probing force waited while foragers with wagons came to harvest wheat discovered there.
Gates ordered an immediate attack. Poor’s Brigade marched to the Chatfield farm clearing while Morgan’s riflemen and Dearborn’s light infantry moved quickly toward a wooded height commanding the British right flank. Poor’s Brigade proceeded toward the ditch of a wooded ravine on the British left.
Just past four o’clock, Poor’s Brigade attacked and routed the British grenadiers. The German troops next to them also fled, into the bushes behind them. With the immediate collapse of the left and left center of the line, the 24th Regiment was ordered to move and support the left wing. Morgan’s corps had already ascended a wooded hill, and upon hearing the gunfire between Poor’s Brigade and British grenadiers, Morgan’s men rushed down the hill charging the British light infantry, which fell back.
The British reformed to make a stand, but soon withdrew to the wheat field, reportedly due to a misunderstanding of orders. The 24th Regiment, with the assistance of some rallied British grenadiers and German troops, temporarily checked Poor’s further advance. However, the British line on the right was virtually non-existent.
Learned’s Brigade attacked Burgoyne’s center, held by German troops. They too fell back to the wheat field behind them.
Päusch, with his two lone 6-pounders, kept Learned’s men from making an all out assault on the field. But, after finding that the main line had fallen back, Päusch withdrew his artillery to a small log wall in front of the house. Päusch placed his two cannons on both ends of the wall, firing at both Poor’s and Learned’s troops.
Morgan’s riflemen moved through the woods, while Dearborn’s light infantry rushed to the main field of battle to attack the cannons posted at the house. The Germans and British protecting the house and log wall fled.
With the approach of overwhelming American forces, Päusch and his men abandoned their post and retreated. Dearborn’s men rushed for the house, captured the cannons there, and found themselves in an advantageous location: behind the remnants of Burgoyne’s main line, which was still battling Poor’s Brigade. Dearborn’s men fired upon them from about 80 yards distant; the British and remaining Germans retreated.
As all British forces retreated from the wheat field, Fraser, conspicuous and spirited, attempted to cover the retreat while in the open field of the Marshall farm; he was mortally wounded. The British rear guard collapsed and withdrew.
Poor’s men, pursuing the retreating force, soon found themselves battling the British and Germans at Balcarres Redoubt. While Poor was able to capture two small satellite forts in front of the redoubt, the redoubt itself held.
During this action, Morgan’s and Dearborn’s men united at the base of a steep-banked hill in front of another fort, Breymann Redoubt. Colonels Jackson’s and Bailey’s Massachusetts Continentals moved onto the field and attacked two small cabins defended by Canadian militiamen; the Canadians soon scattered.
Arnold joined his men, encouraging them to attack Breymann Redoubt through its open rear. Colonel Putnam, commanding two Massachusetts Continental regiments, arrived on the battlefield to attack the fort as well.
As Arnold and the Massachusetts Continentals attacked the open rear and front-right of the Breymann Redoubt, Morgan’s and Dearborn’s men rushed over the hill and charged. The attack was so quick and the distance to the fort so short that the Germans and loyalists inside could do little more than fire and flee to their camp. They rallied to make a stand, but were soon routed and ran into the woods; Lieutenant Colonel Breymann was killed by his own men while trying to keep them from fleeing.
Nightfall and the frenzied disarray of the Americans following their incredible victory after capturing Breymann Redoubt ended the fighting. American troops garrisoned Breymann Redoubt throughout the night while Burgoyne ordered his camp consolidated near the river.
The next day, October 8th, American forces moved up the river valley with newly captured artillery and bombarded the British in their repositioned camp. After burying Fraser and leaving most of the wounded behind in the hospital, the British forces began their retreat up the valley toward Saratoga during a torrential downpour.
On the 9th, the Army of the United States captured Burgoyne’s old camp, fortifications, and the wounded, but Burgoyne’s retreating army was not pursued. However, early the next day, Gates’s army moved quickly to Saratoga and surrounded Burgoyne’s army.
After days of skirmishes and bombardment, Burgoyne decided to seek favorable terms for ending the fighting. Running dangerously low on food, he insisted on surrendering upon his own terms, and after days of lengthy meetings and delays, Burgoyne finally agreed to a “convention”—a surrender— between himself and Gates.
The extraordinary victory of Gates’s army over Burgoyne at Saratoga —which resulted in the war-winning alliance with France—was made possible by what happened here on the bluffs of Saratoga Battlefield.
A video version of the very popular 15-minute fiber optic map presentation at the park's visitor center.