The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 14

Author: Edward Shepherd Creasy  | Date: A.D. 1777

Defeat of Burgoyne at Saratoga

A.D. 1777


Viewed by itself, the victory over Burgoyne might have little appearance of being one of the decisive battles of the world, among which Creasy reckons it. That it acquired such importance was due, as Creasy himself shows, to its direct consequences, especially its influence upon the `French. It led them to espouse the American cause, and by their aid the Revolution was brought to a successful ending.

Since the Declaration of Independence the American forces had met with varying fortunes. They had been defeated in the Battle of Long Island, August 27, 1776, and at White Plains, October 28th. Forts Washington and Lee, defences of the Hudson, were both lost, and the Americans retreated through New Jersey. By a masterly return movement Washington retrieved the situation, winning the Battle of Trenton, December 26, 1776, and that of Princeton, January 3, 1777. On August 16, 1777, Stark gained the Battle of Bennington, but within a month (September 11th) Washington was beaten by Howe on the Brandywine, and the Americans suffered defeat at Germantown October 4th. In this state of affairs the movements of Burgoyne, who had invaded New York from Canada, were watched with deep concern on both sides.

The final operations between the Americans and Burgoyne’s forces included two engagements, which are often spoken of as the Battles of Saratoga, also as the Battles of Stillwater or of Bemis’ Heights, from the local names.

The first of these actions, that of September 19, 1777, in which Gates, with Morgan and Arnold under him, commanded the Americans, was indecisive. Under the same commanders the Americans (October 7th) won the decisive victory which Creasy describes. His opening statement shows the modern English sentiment concerning the American Revolution, and this feeling finds its correlative in the gradual change of tone on the part of American writers.

THE war which rent away the North American colonies from England is, of all subjects in history, the most painful for an Englishman to dwell on. It was commenced and carried on by the British ministry in iniquity and folly, and it was concluded in disaster and shame. But the contemplation of it cannot be evaded by the historian, however much it may be abhorred. Nor can any military event be said to have exercised more important influence on the future fortunes of mankind than the complete defeat of Burgoyne’s expedition in 1777; a defeat which rescued the revolted colonists from certain subjection, and which, by inducing the courts of France and Spain to attack England in their behalf, insured the independence of the United States, and the formation of that transatlantic power which not only America, but both Europe and Asia, now see and feel.

Still, in proceeding to describe this "decisive battle of the world," a very brief recapitulation of the earlier events of the war may be sufficient; nor shall I linger unnecessarily on a painful theme.

The five Northern colonies of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Vermont, usually classed together as the New England colonies, were the strongholds of the insurrection against the mother-country. The feeling of resistance was less vehement and general in the central settlement of New York, and still less so in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and the other colonies of the South, although everywhere it was formidably strong.

But it was among the descendants of the stern Puritans that the spirit of Cromwell and Vane breathed in all its fervor; it was from the New Englanders that the first armed opposition to the British crown had been offered; and it was by them that the most stubborn determination to fight to the last, rather than waive a single right or privilege, had been displayed. In 1775 they had succeeded in forcing the British troops to evacuate Boston; and the events of 1776 had made New York-which the royalists captured in that bear-the principal basis of operations for the armies of the mother-country.

A glance at the map will show that the Hudson River, which falls into the Atlantic at New York, runs down from the north at the back of the New England States, forming an angle of about forty-five degrees with the line of the coast of the Atlantic, along which the New England States are situate. Northward of the Hudson we see a small chain of lakes communicating with the Canadian frontier. It is necessary to attend closely to these geographical points in order to understand the plan of the operations which the English attempted in 1777, and which the battle of Saratoga defeated.

The English had a considerable force in Canada, and in 1776 had completely repulsed an attack which the Americans had made upon that province. The British ministry resolved to avail themselves, in the next year, of the advantage which the occupation of Canada gave them, not merely for the purpose of defence, but for the purpose of striking a vigorous and crushing blow against the revolted colonies. With this view the army in Canada was largely reenforced. Seven thousand veteran troops were sent out from England, with a corps of artillery, abundantly supplied and led by select and experienced officers. Large quantities of military stores were also furnished for the equipment of the Canadian volunteers, who were expected to join the expedition.

It was intended that the force thus collected should march southward by the line of the Lakes, and thence along the banks of the Hudson River. The British army from New Yorker a large detachment of it was to make a simultaneous movement northward, up the line of the Hudson, and the two expeditions were to unite at Albany, a town on that river. By these operations, all communication between the Northern colonies and those of the Centre and South would be cut off. An irresistible force would be concentrated, so as to crush all further opposition in New England; and when this was done, it was believed that the other colonies would speedily submit. The Americans had no troops in the field that seemed able to baffle these movements.

Their principal army, under Washington, was occupied in watching over Pennsylvania and the South. At any rate, it was believed that, in order to oppose the plan intended for the new campaign, the insurgents must risk a pitched battle, in which the superiority of the royalists in numbers, in discipline, and in equipment seemed to promise to the latter a crowning victory. Without question, the plan was ably formed; and had the success of the execution been equal to the ingenuity of the design, the reconquest or submission of the thirteen United States must in all human probability have followed, and the independence which they proclaimed in 1776 would have been extinguished before it existed a second year.

No European power had as yet come forward to aid America. It is true that England was generally regarded with jealousy and ill-will, and was thought to have acquired, at the Treaty of Paris, a preponderance of dominion which was perilous to the balance of power; but, though many were willing to wound, none had yet ventured to strike; and America, if defeated in 1777, would have been suffered to fall unaided.

Burgoyne had gained celebrity by some bold and dashing exploits in Portugal during the last war; he was personally as brave an officer as ever headed British troops, he had considerable skill as a tactician; and his general intellectual abilities and acquirements were of a high order. He had several very able and experienced officers under him, among whom were Major-General Philips and Brigadier-General Frazer. His regular troops amounted, exclusively of the corps of artillery, to about seven thousand two hundred men, rank and file. Nearly half of these were Germans.

He had also an auxiliary force of from two to three thousand Canadians. He summoned the warriors of several tribes of the red Indians near the Western Lakes to join his army. Much eloquence was poured forth both in America and in England in denouncing the use of these savage auxiliaries. Yet Burgoyne seems to have done no more than Montcalm, Wolfe, and other French, American, and English generals had done before him. But, in truth, the lawless ferocity of the Indians, their unskilfulness in regular action, and the utter impossibility of bringing them under any discipline made their services of little or no value in times of difficulty; while the indignation which their outrages inspired went far to rouse the whole population of the invaded districts into active hostilities against Burgoyne’s force.

Burgoyne assembled his troops and confederates near the River Bouquet, on the west side of Lake Champlain. He then, on June 21, 1777, gave his red allies a war-feast, and harangued them on the necessity of abstaining from their usual cruel practices against unarmed people and prisoners. At the same time he published a pompous manifesto to the Americans, in which he threatened the refractory with all the horrors of war, Indian as well as European.

The army proceeded by water to Crown Point, a fortification which the Americans held at the northern extremity of the inlet, by which the water from Lake George is conveyed to Lake Champlain. He landed here without opposition; but the reduction of Ticonderoga-a fortification about twelve miles to the south of Crown Point-was a more serious matter, and was supposed to be the critical part of the expedition. Ticonderoga commanded the passage along the lakes, and was considered to be the key to the route which Burgoyne wished to follow. The English had been repulsed in an attack on it in the war with the French in 1758, with severe loss. But Burgoyne now invested it with great skill; and the American general, St. Clair, who had only an ill-equipped army of about three thousand men, evacuated it on July 5th.

It seems evident that a different course would have caused the destruction or capture of his whole army, which, weak as it was, was the chief force then in the field for the protection of the New England States. When censured by some of his countrymen for abandoning Ticonderoga, St. Clair truly replied "that he had lost a post, but saved a province." Burgoyne’s troops pursued the retiring Americans, gained several advantages over them, and took a large part of their artillery and military stores.

The loss of the British in these engagements was trifling. The army moved southward along Lake George to Skenesborough, and thence, slowly and with great difficulty, across a broken country, full of creeks and marshes, and clogged by the enemy with felled trees and other obstacles, to Fort Edward, on the Hudson River, the American troops continuing to retire before them.

Burgoyne reached the left bank of the Hudson River on July 30th. Hitherto he had overcome every difficulty which the enemy and the nature of the country had placed in his way. His army was in excellent order and in the highest spirits, and the peril of the expedition seemed over when they were once on the bank of the river which was to be the channel of communication between them and the British army in the South. But their feelings, and those of the English nation in general, when their successes were announced, may best be learned from a contemporary writer. Burke, in the Annum Register for 1777, describes them thus:

"Such was the rapid torrent of success, which swept everything away before the Northern army in its onset. It is not to be wondered at if both officers and private men were highly elated with their good-fortune, and deemed that and their prowess to be irresistible; if they regarded their enemy with the greatest contempt; considered their own toils to be nearly at an end; Albany to be already in their hands; and the reduction of the Northern provinces to be rather a matter of some time than an arduous task full of difficulty and danger.

"At home the joy and exultation were extreme; not only at court, but with all those who hoped or wished the unqualified subjugation and unconditional submission of the colonies. The loss in reputation was greater to the Americans, and capable of more fatal consequences, than even that of ground, of posts, of artillery, or of men. All the contemptuous and most degrading charges which had been made by their enemies, of their wanting the resolution and abilities of men, even in their defence of whatever was dear to them, were now repeated and believed.

"Those who still regarded them as men, and who had not yet lost all affection for them as brethren; who also retained hopes that a happy reconciliation upon constitutional principles, without sacrificing the dignity of the just authority of government on the one side or a dereliction of the rights of freedmen on the other, was not even now impossible, notwithstanding their favorable dispositions in general, could not help feeling upon this occasion that the Americans sunk not a little in their estimation. It was not difficult to diffuse an opinion that the war in effect was over, and that any further resistance could serve only to render the terms of their submission the worse. Such were some of the immediate effects of the loss of those grand keys of North America -Ticonderoga and the Lakes."

The astonishment and alarm which these events produced among the Americans were naturally great; but in the midst of their disasters, none of the colonists showed any disposition to submit. The local governments of the New England States, as well as the Congress, acted with vigor and firmness in their efforts to repel the enemy. General Gates was sent to take the command of the army at Saratoga; and Arnold, a favorite leader of the Americans, was despatched by Washington to act under him, with reenforcements of troops and guns from the main American army.

Burgoyne’s employment of the Indians now produced the worst possible effects. Though he labored hard to check the atrocities which they were accustomed to commit, he could not prevent the occurrence of many barbarous outrages, repugnant both to the feelings of humanity and to the laws of civilized warfare. The American commanders took care that the reports of these excesses should be circulated far and wide, well knowing that they would make the stern New Englanders, not droop, but rage. Such was their effect; and though, when each man looked upon his wife, his children, his sisters, or his aged parents, and thought of the merciless Indian "thirsting for the blood of man, woman, and child," of "the cannibal savage torturing, murdering, roasting, and eating the mangled victims of his barbarous battles," might raise terror in the bravest breasts; this very terror produced a directly contrary effect to causing submission to the royal army.

It was seen that the few friends of the royal cause, as well as its enemies, were liable to be the victims of the indiscriminate rage of the savages; and thus "the inhabitants of the open and frontier countries had no choice of acting: they had no means of security left but by abandoning their habitations and taking up arms. Every man saw the necessity of becoming a temporary soldier, not only for his own security, but for the protection and defence of those connections which are dearer than life itself. Thus an army was poured forth by the woods, mountains, and marches, which in this part were thickly sown with plantations and villages. The Americans recalled their courage, and, when their regular army seemed to be entirely wasted, the spirit of the country produced a much greater and more formidable force."

While resolute recruits, accustomed to the use of fire-arms, and all partially trained by service in the provincial militias, were thus flocking to the standard of Gates and Arnold at Saratoga, and while Burgoyne was engaged at Fort Edward in providing the means of the further advance of the army through the intricate and hostile country that stili lay before him, two events occurred, in each of which the British sustained loss and the Americans obtained advantage, the moral effects of which were even more important than the immediate result of the encounters. When Burgoyne left Canada, General St. Leger was detached from that province with a mixed force of about one thousand men and some light field-pieces across Lake Ontario against Fort Stanwix, which the Americans held. After capturing this, he was to march along the Mohawk River to its confluence with the Hudson, between Saratoga and Albany, where his force and that of Burgoyne’s were to unite. But, after some successes, St. Leger was obliged to retreat, and to abandon his tents and large quantities of stores to the garrison.

At the very time that General Burgoyne heard of this disaster he experienced one still more severe in the defeat of Colonel Baum, with a large detachment of German troops, at Bennington, whither Burgoyne had sent them for the purpose of capturing some magazines of provisions, of which the British army stood greatly in need. The Americans, augmented by continual accessions of strength, succeeded, after many attacks, in breaking this corps, which fled into the woods, and left its commander mortally wounded on the field: they then marched against a force of five hundred grenadiers and light infantry, which was advancing to Colonel Baum’s assistance under Lieutenant-Colonel Breyman, who, after a gallant resistance, was obliged to retreat on the main army. The British loss in these two actions exceeded six hundred men; and a party of American loyalists, on their way to join the army, having attached themselves to Colonel Baum’s cops, were destroyed with it.

Notwithstanding these reverses, which added greatly to the spirit and numbers of the American forces, Burgoyne determined to advance. It was impossible any longer to keep up his communications with Canada by way of the Lakes, so as to supply his army on his southward march; but having, by unremitting exertions, collected provisions for thirty days, he crossed the Hudson by means of a bridge of rafts, and, marching a short distance along its western bank, he encamped on September 14th on the heights of Saratoga, about sixteen miles from Albany. The Americans had fallen back from Saratoga, and were now strongly posted near Stillwater, about half way between Saratoga and Albany, and showed a determination to recede no farther.

Meanwhile Lord Howe, with the bulk of the British army that had lain at New York, had sailed away to the Delaware, and there commenced a campaign against Washington, in which the English general took Philadelphia, and gained other showy but unprofitable successes. But Sir Henry Clinton, a brave and skilful officer, was left with a considerable force at New York, and he undertook the task of moving up the Hudson to cooperate with Burgoyne. Clinton was obliged for this purpose to wait for reenforcements which had been promised from England, and these did not arrive till September. As soon as he received them, Clinton embarked about three thousand of his men on a flotilla, convoyed by some ships-of-war under Commander Hotham, and proceeded to force his way up the river.

The country between Burgoyne’s position at Saratoga and that of the Americans at Stillwater was rugged, and seamed with creeks and water-courses; but, after great laborin making bridges and temporary causeways, the British army moved forward. About four miles from Saratoga, on the afternoon of September 19th, a sharp encounter took place between part of the English right wing, under Burgoyne himself, and a strong body of the enemy, under Gates and Arnold. The conflict lasted till sunset. The British remained masters of the field; but the loss on each side was nearly equal-from five to six hundred men-and the spirits of the Americans were greatly raised by having withstood the best regular troops of the English army.

Burgoyne now halted again, and strengthened his position by field-works and redoubts; and the Americans also improved their defences. The two armies remained nearly within cannon-shot of each other for a considerable time, during which Burgoyne was anxiously looking for intelligence of the promised expedition from New York, which, according to the original plan, ought by this time to have been approaching Albany from the south. At last a messenger from Clinton made his way, with great difficulty, to Burgoyne’s camp, and brought the information that Clinton was on his way up the Hudson to attack the American forts which barred the passage up that river to Albany. Burgoyne, in reply, stated his hopes that the promised cooperation would be speedy and decisive, and added that, unless he received assistance before October 10th, he would be obliged to retreat to the Lakes through want of provisions.

The Indians and Canadians now began to desert Burgoyne, while, on the other hand, Gates’ army was continually reenforced by fresh bodies of the militia. An expeditionary force was detached by the Americans, which made a bold though unsuccessful attempt to retake Ticonderoga. And finding the number and spirit of the enemy to increase daily, and his own stores of provisions to diminish, Burgoyne determined on attacking the Americans in front of him, and, by dislodging them from their position, to gain the means of moving upon Albany, or, at least, of relieving his troops from the straitened position in which they were cooped up.

Burgoyne’s force was now reduced to less than six thousand men. The right of his camp was on high ground a little to the west of the river; thence his intrenchments extended along the lower ground to the bank of the Hudson, their line being nearly at a right angle with the course of the stream. The lines were fortified in the centre and on the left with redoubts and field-works. The numerical force of the Americans was now greater than the British, even in regular troops, and the numbers of the militia and volunteers which had joined Gates and Arnold were greater still. The right of the American position-that is to say, the part of it nearest to the river-was too strong to be assailed with any prospect of success, and Burgoyne therefore determined to endeavor to force their left. For this purpose he formed a column of fifteen hundred regular troops, with two twelve-pounders, two howitzers, and six six-pounders. He headed this in person, having Generals Philips, Reidesel, and Frazer under him. The enemy’s force immediately in front of his lines was so strong that he dared not weaken the troops who guarded them by detaching any more to strengthen his column of attack. The right of the camp was commanded by Generals Hamilton and Spaight; the left part of it was committed to the charge of Brigadier Goll.

It was on October 7th that Burgoyne led his column on to the attack; and on the preceding day, the 6th, Clinton had successfully executed a brilliant enterprise against the two American forts which barred his progress up the Hudson. He had captured them both, with severe loss to the American forces opposed to him; he had destroyed the fleet which the Americans had been forming on the Hudson, under the protection of their forts; and the upward river was laid open to his squadron. He was now only a hundred fifty-six miles distant from Burgoyne, and a detachment of one thousand seven hundred men actually advanced within forty miles of Albany. Unfortunately, Burgoyne and Clinton were each ignorant of the other’s movements; but if Burgoyne had won his battle on the 7th, he must, on advancing, have soon learned the tidings of Clinton’s success, and Clinton would have heard of his.

A junction would soon have been made of the two victorious armies, and the great objects of the campaign might yet have been accomplished. All depended on the fortune of the column with which Burgoyne, on the eventful October 7, 1777, advanced against the American position. There were brave men, both English and German, in its ranks; and, in particular, it comprised one of the best bodies of grenadiers in the British service.

Burgoyne pushed forward some bodies of irregular troops to distract the enemy’s attention, and led his column to within three- quarters of a mile from the left of Gates’ camp, and then deployed his men into line. The grenadiers under Major Ackland were drawn up on the left, a corps of Germans in the centre, and the English light infantry and the Twenty-fourth regiment on the right. But Gates did not wait to be attacked; and directly the British line was formed and began to advance, the American general, with admirable skill, caused a strong force to make a sudden and vehement rush against its left. The grenadiers under Ackland sustained the charge of superior numbers nobly. But Gates sent more Americans forward, and in a few minutes the action became general along the centre, so as to prevent the Germans from sending any help to the grenadiers.

Burgoyne’s right was not yet engaged; but a mass of the enemy were observed advancing from their extreme left, with the evident intention of turning the British right and cutting off its retreat. The light infantry and the Twenty-fourth now fell back, and formed an oblique second line which enabled them to baffle this manoeuvre, and also to succor their comrades in the left wing, the gallant grenadiers, who were overpowered by superior numbers, and, but for this aid, must have been cut to pieces. Arnold now came up with three American regiments and attacked the right flanks of the English double line.

Burgoyne’s whole force was soon compelled to retreat toward their camp; the left and centre were in complete disorder; but she light infantry and the Twenty-fourth checked the fury of the assailants, and the remains of Burgoyne’s column with great difficulty effected their return to their camp, leaving six of their guns in the possession of the enemy, and great numbers of killed and wounded on the field; and especially a large proportion of the artillerymen, who had stood to their guns until shot down or bayoneted beside them by the advancing Americans.

Burgoyne’s column had been defeated, but the action was not yet over. The English had scarcely entered the camp, when the Americans, pursuing their success, assaulted it in several places with uncommon fierceness, rushing to the lines through a severe fire of grape-shot and musketry with the utmost fury. Arnold especially, who on this day appeared maddened with the thirst of combat and carnage, urged on the attack against a part of the intrenchments which was occupied by the light infantry under Lord Balcarras. But the English received him with vigor and spirit. The struggle here was obstinate and sanguinary. At length, as it grew toward evening, Arnold having forced all obstacles, entered the works with some of the most fearless of his followers. But in this critical moment of glory and danger, he received a painful wound in the same leg which had already been injured at the assault on Quebec. To his bitter regret, he was obliged to be carried back. His party still continued the attack; but the English also continued their obstinate resistance and at last night fell, and the assailants withdrew from this quarter of the British intrenchments.

But in another part the attack had been more successful. A body of the Americans, under Colonel Brooke, forced their way in through a part of the intrenchments on the extreme right, which was defended by the German reserve under Colonel Breyman. The Germans resisted well, and Breyman died in defence of his post, but the Americans made good the ground which they had won, and captured baggage, tents, artillery, and a store of ammunition, which they were greatly in need of. They had, by establishing themselves on this point, acquired the means of completely turning the right flank of tile British and gaining their rear.

To prevent this calamity, Burgoyne effected during the night a complete change of position. With great skill he removed his whole army to some heights near the river, a little northward of the former camp, and he there drew up his men, expecting to be attacked on the following day. But Gates was resolved not to risk the certain triumph which his success had already secured for him. He harassed the English with skirmishes, but attempted no regular attack. Meanwhile he detached bodies of troops on both sides of the Hudson to prevent the British from recrossing that river and to bar their retreat. When night fell it became absolutely necessary for Burgoyne to retire again, and, accordingly, the troops were marched through a stormy and rainy night toward Saratoga, abandoning their sick and wounded, and the greater part of their baggage to the enemy.

Before the rear-guard quitted the camp, the last sad honors were paid to the brave General Frazer, who had been mortally wounded on the 7th, and expired on the following day. The funeral of this gallant soldier is thus described by the Italian historian Botta:

"Toward midnight the body of General Frazer was buried in the British camp. His brother-officers assembled sadly round while the funeral service was read over the remains of their brave comrade, and his body was committed to the hostile earth. The ceremony, always mournful and solemn of itself, was rendered even terrible by the sense of recent losses, of present and future dangers, and of regret for the deceased. Meanwhile the blaze and roar of the American artillery amid the natural darkness and stillness of the night came on the senses with startling awe. The grave had been dug within range of the enemy’s batteries, and, while the service was proceeding, a cannon-ball struck the bound close to the coffin, and spattered earth over the face of the officiating chaplain."

Burgoyne now took up his last position on the heights near Saratoga; and hemmed in by the enemy, who refused any encounter, and baffled in all his attempts at finding a path of escape, he there lingered until famine compelled him to capitulate. The fortitude of the British army during this melancholy period has been justly eulogized by many native historians, but I prefer quoting the testimony of a foreign writer, as free from all possibility of partiality. Botta says:

"It exceeds the power of words to describe the pitiable condition to which the British army was now reduced. The troops were worn down by a series of toil, privation, sickness, and desperate fighting. They were abandoned by the Indians and Canadians, and the effective force of the whole army was now diminished by repeated and heavy losses, which had principally fallen on the best soldiers and the most distinguished officers, from ten thousand combatants to less than one-half that number. Of this remnant little more than three thousand were English.

"In these circumstances, and thus weakened, they were invested by an army of four times their own numbers whose position extended three parts of a circle round them, who refused to fight them, as knowing their weakness, and who, from the nature of the ground, could not be attacked in any part. In this helpless condition, obliged to be constantly under arms, while the enemy s cannon played on every part of their camp, and even the American rifle-balls whistled in many parts of the lines, the troops of Burgoyne retained their customary firmness, and, while sinking under a hard necessity, they showed themselves worthy of a better fate. They could not be reproached with an action or a word which betrayed a want of temper or of fortitude."

At length October 13th arrived, and as no prospect of assistance appeared, and the provisions were nearly exhausted, Burgoyne, by the unanimous advice of a council of war, sent a messenger to the American camp to treat of a convention.

General Gates in the first instance demanded that the royal army should surrender prisoners of war. He also proposed that the British should ground their arms. Burgoyne replied:

"This article is inadmissible in every extremity; sooner than this army will consent to ground their arms in their encampment they will rush on the enemy, determined to take no quarter."

After various messages, a convention for the surrender of the army was settled, which provided that "the troops under General Burgoyne were to march out of their camp with the honors of war, and the artillery of the intrenchments, to the verge of the river, where the arms and artillery were to be left. The arms be piled by word of command from their own officers. A free passage was to be granted to the army under Lieutenant-General Burgoyne to Great Britain, under condition of not serving again in North America during the present contest."

The articles of capitulation were settled on October 15th, and on that very evening a messenger arrived from Clinton with an account of his successes, and with the tidings that part of his force had penetrated as far as Esopus, within fifty miles of Burgoyne’s camp. But it was too late. The public faith was pledged; and the army was indeed too debilitated by fatigue and hunger to resist an attack, if made; and Gates certainly would have made it if the convention had been broken off. Accordingly, on the 17th, the Convention of Saratoga was carried into effect. By this convention five thousand seven hundred ninety men surrendered themselves as prisoners. The sick and wounded left in the camp when the British retreated to Saratoga, together with the numbers of the British, German, and Canadian troops who were killed, wounded, or taken, and who had deserted in the preceding part of the expedition, were reckoned to be four thousand six hundred eighty-nine.

The British sick and wounded who had fallen into the hands of the Americans after the battle of the 7th were treated with exemplary humanity: and when the convention was executed, General Gates showed a notable delicacy of feeling, which deserves the highest degree of honor. Every circumstance was avoided which could give the appearance of triumph. The American troops remained within their lines until the British had piled their arms; and when this was done, the vanquished officers and soldiers were received with friendly kindness by their victors, and their immediate wants were promptly and liberally supplied. Discussions and disputes afterward arose as to some of the terms of the convention, and the American Congress refused for a long time to carry into effect the article which provided for the return of Burgoyne’s men to Europe; but no blame was imputable to General Gates or his army, who showed themselves to be generous as they had proved themselves to be brave.

Gates, after the victory, immediately despatched Colonel Wilkinson to carry the happy tidings to Congress. On being introduced into the hall he said: "The whole British army has laid down its arms at Saratoga; our own, full of vigor and courage, expect your orders. It is for your wisdom to decide where the country may still have need for their service."

Honors and rewards were liberally voted by the Congress to their conquering general and his men; and it would be difficult, says the Italian historian, to describe the transports of joy which the news of this event excited among the Americans. They began to flatter themselves with a still more happy future. No one any longer felt any doubt about their achieving their independence. All hoped, and with good reason, that a success of this importance would at length determine France, and the other European powers that waited for her example, to declare themselves in favor of America. "There could no longer be any question respecting the future, since there was no longer the risk of espousing the cause of a people too feeble to defend themselves."

The truth of this was soon displayed in the conduct of France. When the news arrived at Paris of the capture of Ticonderoga, and of the victorious march of Burgoyne toward Albany, events which seemed decisive in favor of the English, instructions had been immediately despatched to Nantes and the other ports of the kingdom that no American privateers should be suffered to enter them, except from indispensable necessity; as to repair their vessels, to obtain provisions, or to escape the perils of the sea.

The American commissioners at Paris, in their disgust and despair, had almost broken off all negotiations with the French Government; and they even endeavored to open commumcations with the British Ministry. But the British Government, elated with the first successes of Burgoyne, refused to listen to any overtures for accommodation. But when the news of Saratoga reached Paris the whole scene was changed. Franklin and his brother-commissioners found all their difficulties with the French Government vanish. The time seemed to have arrived for the house of Bourbon to take a full revenge for all its humiliations and losses in previous wars. In December a treaty was arranged, and formally signed in the February following, by which France acknowledged the Independent United States of America. This was, of course, tantamount to a declaration of war with England.

Spain soon followed France; and, before long, Holland took the same course. Largely aided by French fleets and troops, the Americans vigorously maintained the war against the armies which England, in spite of her European foes, continued to send across the Atlantic. But the struggle was too unequal to be maintained by Great Britain for many years; and when the treaties of 1783 restored peace to the world, the independence of the United States was reluctantly recognized by their ancient parent and recent enemy.


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Chicago: Edward Shepherd Creasy, "Defeat of Burgoyne at Saratoga," The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 14 in The Great Events by Famous Historians. Lincoln Memorial University Edition, ed. Rossiter Johnson (Harrogate, TN: The National Alunmi, 1926), Original Sources, accessed February 21, 2024,

MLA: Creasy, Edward Shepherd. "Defeat of Burgoyne at Saratoga." The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 14, in The Great Events by Famous Historians. Lincoln Memorial University Edition, edited by Rossiter Johnson, Harrogate, TN, The National Alunmi, 1926, Original Sources. 21 Feb. 2024.

Harvard: Creasy, ES, 'Defeat of Burgoyne at Saratoga' in The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 14. cited in 1926, The Great Events by Famous Historians. Lincoln Memorial University Edition, ed. , The National Alunmi, Harrogate, TN. Original Sources, retrieved 21 February 2024, from