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The Battle of Saratoga, which occurred on September 19 and October 7, 1777, was the climax of the Saratoga campaign. It gave a decisive victory to the Americans over the British during the American Revolutionary War. The battle also saw great heroics by Benedict Arnold.

John Burgoyne Mini-Bio

  • Burgoyne’s father was a captain in the army but had little money. 
  • Burgoyne joined the army as a teenager and married young into a noble family.  
  • He gambled heavily and had to sell his commission to pay his debts.  He then fled to France to flee the other ones. 
  • His father in law eventually paid Burgoyne’s debts and got him another commission in the army, just in time for the 7 Years War.  
  • He commanded a dragoon unit with excellence. By 1760, he was a colonel in charge of a light dragoon regiment.  
  • He captured Valencia (Spain) and became a hero.  He was popular with his men.  
  • 1761: He became an MP, where he constantly lobbied for a more prestigious command.
  • 1775: He was sent to Boston along with Clinton and Cornwallis.  From Boston, he constantly wrote letters complaining about Gage, Howe, and Clinton.
  • Later that year he was put in charge of a force sent north to drive the Patriots’ northern army out of Canada. There he conflicted with Sir Guy Carlton, the British governor in Canada.
  • Burgoyne loved wine, women, song, and the high life.  He was nicknamed “Gentleman Johnny.”

Burgoyne’s Plan for the Battle of Saratoga

  • Burgoyne went to London and presented a plan to Lord George Germain (British Secretary of State for North America). The plan was as follows:
    • One force under the command of Burgoyne would march south from Montreal down the Hudson River Valley. He wanted 8000 British regulars, 2000 Canadian militia, and 1000 Indian scouts. 
    • A second, smaller, force would invade New York from Niagara (to the west) through the Mohawk Valley and link up with Burgoyne’s force at Albany.
    • Howe’s army would march north from NYC and also join with Burgoyne.  This would cut New England off from the rest of the colonies. The combined army would turn and crush New England, the heart of the rebellion. 
  • Once New England was subdued, it was believed, the rest of the colonies would reaffirm their allegiance to Britain. 
  • Germain approved the plan. Burgoyne returned to Canada, sending a letter to Howe notifying him of his plans via a letter that he wrote on the way.

The British Forces

  • Burgoyne assembled 8 regiments and was ready to set off from Fort St. John on June 12.  But he was ordered to leave 2 behind, so he only had 3700 regular troops for the Battle of Saratoga.  
  • He was given 3000 Hessians, 450 Canadians and Loyalists, and about 400 Indians.  This gave him a total of about 7500 men…far less than he wanted. But he had many artillery pieces, although it would be very difficult to transport them. Burgoyne also sent a few hundred troops under Lt. Colonel Barry St. Leger (“Sillager”?) to conduct the western part of the campaign.
  • On June 20, Burgoyne issued a proclamation to the people of New England that read “I have but to give stretch to the Indian Forces under my direction, and they amount to Thousands, to overtake the harden’d Enemies of Great Britain and America, (I consider them the same) wherever they may lurk. If notwithstanding these endeavours, and sincere inclinations to effect them, the phrenzy of hostility shou’d remain, I trust I shall stand acquitted in the Eyes of God & Men in denouncing and executing the vengeance of the state against the wilful outcasts.”

The March

  • Burgoyne’s army set off on June 20.  On July 6, they reached Ft. Ticonderoga which only had 2500 men, who evacuated and fled eastward toward Vermont. The fort had a great deal of cannon and supplies which fell into the hands of the British. 
  • The army had 30 extra wagons with materials to support Burgoyne’s lavish lifestyle.
  • After this, Burgoyne’s army was forced to move very slowly, taking 18 days to reach Ft. Edward, 3 miles below Ticonderoga.  His supply train had a hard time making it through the NY wilderness. American militia felled trees, destroyed bridges, and dammed streams to slow the British. 
  • In Albany, General Schuyler issued a call for volunteers to stop the British.  He had about 3000 Continentals and about 1500 militia. He wrote a letter to Congress asking for more troops.  Congress replied by replacing him with Horatio Gates (as commander of the Department of the North). 
  • Gates mini-bio: He was born in Britain to a servant woman and was rumored to be illegitimate. He served as an officer in the British army during the French and Indian War and stayed in North American after the 7 Years War.  He was sloppy with his dress. He felt he, not Washington, should be the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army. When the revolution broke out, he sided with the rebels. Washington made him his adjutant general.  Washington later sent him north to assist Philip Schuyler, but Gates and Schuyler quarreled. Gates went to Congress where he denounced Schuyler. On August 19, he took charge of the northern department.
  • Washington sent Gates reinforcements for the Battle of Saratoga, including Generals Benjamin Lincoln and Benedict Arnold.
  • Meanwhile, Burgoyne continued to march very slowly southward. 
  • On August 3 (at Ft. Edward), Burgoyne received a message from Howe (written on July 17), telling him that Howe was NOT moving north up the Hudson but had instead sailed with his army toward Philadelphia. 
  • Burgoyne also learned that St. Leger’s force had been blocked at Ft. Stanwick on August 7. A force under Benedict Arnold had driven St. Leger back on August 22, and St. Leger abandoned the march.
  • Instead of being supported by two other armies, Burgoyne was on his own. 
  • At the same time, Burgoyne’s supply train was drying up.


  • On August 11, Burgoyne sent the commander of his German troops to the town of Bennington, VT, where there was rumored to be a supply depot that was weakly guarded.  The Germans would then move southward, recruiting more troops, and meeting Burgoyne in Albany.
  • Burgoyne did not know that a large force of 1800 militia under General John Stark was in Bennington.
  • The Germans ran into Stark’s army.  Their commander (Baum) wrote to Burgoyne for reinforcements
  • Stark divided his forces into 3 columns: one to demonstrate in the Germans’ front, one to slip around their right flank, and the third to slip around the German’s left flank.
  • Stark said to his army, “There are the redcoats, and they are ours…or Molly Stark sleeps a widow tonight!”
  • Stark’s plan worked perfectly.  The Germans were surrounded and quickly surrendered. 
  • On August 16, 700 German reinforcements arrived, were attacked by Stark, and retreated.  In all, the Germans lost 200 dead, 700 missing and 4 cannon. The Americans lost only 30 killed and 40 wounded.

The March Continues

  • Burgoyne’s supplies continued to dwindle.  His army’s morale decreased, and discipline decreased. , and his Mohawk allies, upset about the lack of plunder, began to loot farms along the way, killing the widow of a loyalist (Jane McCrea), and eventually left the army. The killing of Jane McCrea rallied many continental militiamen to come out and fight. 
  • Burgoyne’s teamsters were also looting farms along the way. Burgoyne wrote “My communications were at an end, my retreat was insecure, the enemy was collected in force, and they were strongly posted.”  
  • Still, he had repeatedly dislodged rebel forces along the way, so there seemed to be no need to retreat, despite his hardships.  He decided to continue to Albany.
  • On September 13, Burgoyne and the army crossed the Hudson to the west side of the Hudson, near the village of Saratoga. 
  • By this time, Gates had 10,000 Continentals and militia (Burgoyne did not know this).

Freeman’s Farm 

  • (Note: The Battle of Saratoga is really two battles, Freeman’s Farm and Bemis Heights.  They are combined into the “Battle of Saratoga” for simplicity). 
  • At the Bemis Heights (south of Saratoga, north of Albany), Burgoyne collided with part of Gates’ army.  The heights controlled the path southward (heights on one side, Hudson on the other).
  • The Americans were deployed in a redoubt designed by Thaddeus Kosciuszco.  This position was very strong, but Burgoyne realized he had to attack it if he were to continue to Albany. On September 19, Burgoyne divided his army into three columns.  The left and center of the British army were to demonstrate before the redoubt, while the right was to march around the side and hit the redoubt from the side and rear. 
  • The British right (commanded by Simon Frazer), was surprised along the way by an American force under Benedict Arnold, who had guessed what the British were trying to do.  He had persuaded Gates to let him go forward and meet the British attack.
  • Arnold deployed Daniel Morgan’s riflemen at a farm that had been owned by John Freeman.  They stopped the British assault but were themselves pushed back.
  • The fighting (the Battle of “Freeman’s Farm”) went back and forth six times until the British disengaged.  The British lost 160 killed, 360 wounded, and 40 missing. The Americans lost about half that many. 
  • More soldiers keep arriving.  The American army swelled to about 10,000.

Battle of Saratoga: Bemis Heights

  • A courier from Sir Henry Clinton arrived at Burgoyne’s camp.  Clinton offered to send 2000 men in 10 days. But Clinton’s force was delayed, and it merely attacked a few Americans and returned to New York.
  • Benedict Arnold Mini-Bio: He was born to a prominent family in Connecticut.  His father was an alcoholic who squandered the family’s fortune.  When he was 16, he joined a militia force that participated in the French and Indian War. Arnold achieved great success through the shipping business.  When the Revolutionary War broke out, he became a captain and formed a company. Later, he was appointed a colonel in the Massachusetts Militia. He helped capture Fr. Ticonderoga in 1775 (spending a great deal of his own money) and led the attack on Quebec in 1775/6 and on St. Leger earlier in 1777.  He was egotistical, had a mercurial temper, and had trouble getting along with others.
  • One evening at Freeman’s Farm, Arnold and Gates talked strategy over dinner. They could not stand each other (Arnold called Gates “Granny Gates.”) and had two different ideas for what to do next.  Arnold wanted to attack Burgoyne, but Gates wanted to stay on the defensive. The argument turned heated. Arnold exploded. Gates banished Arnold to his quarters and relieved him of command.
  • On October 7, Burgoyne sent a force of 1500 toward the Americans on the Bemis Heights.  Gates sent 2400 to oppose him. 
  • In defiance of Gates, Arnold took charge of part of the battlefield.  He deployed riflemen in the trees and fought from cover.
  • Shouting “Victory or Death,” Arnold led a charge against the attacking British.  Morgan’s riflemen picked off officers, including Frazer. After Frazer was killed, the British began to retreat.
  • Arnold was shot in the leg, in the same place he had been wounded at Quebec. His femur was broken. His horse fell, pinning him.
  • The British retreated in full. Burgoyne had bullet holes in his hat and coat.
  • Burgoyne crossed back to the east side of the Hudson and began to move north.  By this time, his army was starving. By October 11, 300 of them had deserted, fleeing into the wilderness. 
  • Gates was hailed as the Hero of Saratoga, but the victory was really Arnold’s.
  • On October 12, Stark’s army of over 1000 crossed the Hudson and got behind Burgoyne’s force.


  • Burgoyne send a messenger to Gates.  They agreed to a ceasefire and negotiated for two days.
  • (Mention story of two brothers on opposite sides)
  • On October 17, Burgoyne surrendered his army of 5700 men.
  • Burgoyne surrendered his sword, but Gates returned it.  Burgoyne then offered a toast to George Washington and Gates offered one to George III.
  • News of the surrender reached England around the end of the month.  The king was in despair.
  • In the House of Lords, William Pitt said “No man thinks more highly than I of the virtue and valor of British troops.  I know they can achieve anything except impossibilities. And the conquest of English America is an impossibility. You cannot, I venture to say it, you cannot conquer America. What is your present situation there? We do not know the worst, but we know that in three campaigns, we have accomplished nothing and have suffered much.  Conquest is impossible.”
  • Lord North asked the king to allow him to either offer peace to the Americans or to accept his resignation. The king would not allow either.

Aftermath of the Battle of Saratoga

  • The French had been negotiating with the Americans and providing them with supplies since 1775.  But they were reluctant to help the Americans until they could prove they were unified and that they could defeat the British. 
  • Congress had sent a delegation consisting of John Adams, Silas Dean, and Benjamin Franklin to the French to negotiate. (Franklin had gone first and had been there by himself quite some time prior to the arrival of Adams and Dean).
  • The American victory at Saratoga motivated France to sign a treaty of alliance and assistance with the United States.  This completely changed the nature of the war. It turned a colonial rebellion into a world war.
  • For this reason, Saratoga is often considered the turning point of the war. 
  • Also, a new U. S. flag debuted. It had 13 red and white stripes and 13 stars in the upper left corner.

This article is part of our larger selection of posts about the Revolutionary War. To learn more, click here for our comprehensive guide to Revolutionary War.

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