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The Battle of SaratogaThe Story of the Battles of Saratoga“…one of the Greatest battles that Ever was fought in Amarrca…”Major Henry Dearborn
The Revolutionary War is enshrined in American memory as the beginning of a new nation born in freedom. In this memory the conflict was quick and easy, the adversaries are little more than cartoon-like tin soldiers whose brightly colored uniforms make them ideal targets for straight-shooting American frontiersmen. In actuality, the very year of Independence was a time of many military disasters for the fledgling republic; thefirst year of its existence was almost its last. New York was the stage for much of the drama that unfolded. During the summer of 1776, a powerful army under British General Sir William Howe invaded the New York City area. His professional troops defeated and outmaneuvered General George Washington’s less trained forces. An ill advised American invasion of Canada had come to an appalling end, its once confident regiments reduced to a barely disciplined mob beset by smallpox and pursuing British troops through the LakeChamplain Valley.As 1776 ended, the cause for American Independence seemed all but lost. It was true that Washington’s successful gamble at the battles of Trenton and Princeton kept hopes alive, but the British were still holding the initiative. Royal Garrisons held New York and its immediate environs, Newport, Rhode Island and Canada. Additionally the Royal Navy allowed the British to strike at will almost anywhere along the eastern seaboard.In hopes of crushing the American rebellion before foreign powers might intervene, the British concocted a plan to invade New York from their base in Canada in 1777. Essentially, two armies would follow waterways into the Rebel territory, unite and capture Albany, New York. Once the town was in their possession, these British forces would open communications to the City of New York, and continue the campaign as ordered. It was believed that by capturing the Hudson River’s head of navigation (Albany) and already holding its mouth (the City of New York), the British could establish their control of the entire river. Control of the Hudson could sever New England-the hot bed of the rebellion-from the rest of the colonies.The architect of the plan, General John Burgoyne, commanded the main thrust through the Lake Champlain valley. Although the invasion had some initial success with the capture of Fort Ticonderoga, the realities of untamed terrain soon slowed the British triumphant advance into an agonizing crawl. Worse for the British, a major column en route to seek supplies in Vermont was overrun, costing Burgoyne almost irreplaceable 1000 men. Hard on the heels of this disaster, Burgoyne’s contingent of Native Americans decided to leave, word came from the west that the second British column was stalled by the American controlled Fort Stanwix and that the main British army would not be operating near the city of New York. Although his plans were unraveling, Burgoyne refused to change his plans and collected enough supplies for a dash to Albany.