Women of Washington

Communicating America’s Founding Principles

Women of Washington is an educational organization with a focus on understanding local, national, and global issues that are critical to our world today.



By Judy Leithe

By early September of 1777, the British already had control of Canada, Rhode Island, and New York City.  At the same time, British General William Howe was poised to take over Philadelphia, the temporary capital of the United States.

The British General, John Burgoyne, had begun to march his troops from Canada, down the Hudson River Valley, to join General Henry Clinton’s army, which was sailing north on the Hudson River. Together they would lay siege to Albany, New York.

On their way south, Burgoyne easily captured Fort Ticonderoga from the Americans.  However, he and his army found the journey through the Hudson River Valley to be more difficult than expected, and they were low on supplies.  He sent 1,000 of his troops to scout for food sources and other necessities, but they were attacked by Continental militiamen, resulting in the loss of the entire British scouting party.

Without needed supplies, Burgoyne headed his army to Saratoga where they encamped outside the town at the abandoned farm of John Freeman.  They were surprised by American troops, under the command of General Horatio Gates, as well as General Benedict Arnold and his regiment of 300 riflemen led by Captain Daniel Morgan.

Note: As a rough and independent sixteen-year-old, Daniel Morgan served the British as a supply wagon driver during the French and Indian War.  Not used to taking orders, he punched a British officer in the face and, after receiving 499 lashes on his back, Morgan spent the next four years in prison.  Twenty years later, when the Revolutionary War broke out, Morgan enlisted and, throughout the war, fought the British with a determined sense of purpose.  As the war continued, Morgan rose through the ranks to become a Brigadier General.  His mastery of tactical battlefield maneuvers is still cited in modern military studies.

On September 19th, the first of the two historic “Battles of Saratoga” took place.  While Burgoyne’s 6,000-man encampment had safety in numbers, Morgan’s sharpshooters, hidden in the surrounding forest, were picking off British soldiers and officers.  However, when his smaller force of militiamen tried to break through the British redoubts (i.e., barriers) the attack was quelled when German Hessian troops arrived in time to stop them. 

In the meantime, the Americans decided to pull back and keep watch on British movements.  Any attempts Burgoyne made to advance his army toward Albany were cut off because the Americans blocked all of the roads.  After three weeks, it was clear to Burgoyne that they were stranded and further reinforcements were not coming.  His army had been subsisting on half rations, and supplies were running low. 

The second “Battle of Saratoga” took place on October 7th, when Burgoyne decided to rush the Americans’ left flank.  Unbeknownst to him, there had been a steady stream of Patriot militia men joining the American forces in such numbers that they easily withstood the enemies attack.  The British fell back and gathered behind their redoubts, which held, until a Patriot, and his men, unexpectedly broke  through the British lines.

Earlier, General Benedict Arnold had led much of the first battle at Freeman’s farm, but his strong-willed challenges to his superior, General Gates, led to his being relieved of command and confined to his tent.  However, once this second battle began, Arnold leapt on his horse and led his men right through the British redoubts, chasing Burgoyne’s army back to Freeman’s farm, once more.  Burgoyne realized the hopelessness of beating back Arnold and the Americans, and he surrendered on October 17, 1777.

Up to this time, the French had been providing limited aide to the American Revolution, in part, because they hated the British for having defeated them in the French and Indian War.  The turning point of the war came when word reached France that the Americans had defeated the British at Trenton, Princeton and now, Saratoga.  These victories helped Benjamin Franklin convince the French Parliament that, with their help, the Continental Army had a good chance of defeating the British.  The French began to openly support the Americans, not only with supplies, but with a full complement of French military personnel, war ships, and money.