Turning Point

Departing the edge of the Adirondacks, we drove to the Saratoga National Historical Park to visit the battlefield that it commemorates.

The battle at Saratoga – actually, there were two battles – was a turning point in the American Revolution; not just because the Americans defeated and captured the British army there, but because that conclusion encouraged France to join the war on the Americans’ side, and that turned the tide.

By 1776, the British had large forces in Canada and in New York City and had devised a plan to split off the rebellious New England colonies from the rest of the country by taking control of the Hudson River and Lake Champlain. This strategy called for British troops to converge at Albany, New York, from the north and south.

The British officer in charge of the invasion from Canada in the north was Gen. Johnny Burgoyne. Burgoyne was successful in his march south, taking the American forts along the way, most significantly, Fort Ticonderoga at the bottom of Lake Champlain.

In those days, the forests were dense and roads through them were scarce. Most commerce took place along the rivers and on the coast. Troop movements required either a river or a road and both existed for transport from the north to the south in the Hudson River Valley. But south of Fort Ticonderoga and north of Albany, the road that Burgoyne would be required to use ran nearly adjacent to the Hudson River through a narrow valley under Bemis Heights. The Americans saw an opportunity to stop the British advance there and launched a force to defend the Heights, headed by Gen. Horatio Gates (Gen. Philip Schuyler had previously been in charge of American forces in the north, but he had been removed from command after the fall of Fort Ticonderoga).

While I was learning all about the maneuvers around Bemis Heights, Dale went outside to enjoy the sunshine. Maybe I lingered a little too long in the museum.

Although it was a nice day, we didn’t have time to hike the 9-mile trail around the battlefield, so we opted for the driving tour, instead.

The first stop was Freeman’s Farm where the first battle of Saratoga took place:

The fighting started on September 19, 1777, when American pickets (patrols) clashed with British pickets on Freeman’s Farm where the British had set up a few cannons. The Americans sent up reinforcements, mainly long riflemen under the command of Gen. Daniel Morgan (who later in the war was the hero of the Battle of Cowpens in the Southern campaign). The battle lasted most of the day, but near dusk Burgoyne sent Hessian reinforcements into the fray which turned the battle in favor of the British and the Americans withdrew in the dark, leaving the field, a technical British victory, although the Brits incurred greater casualties in the fighting than did the Americans.

Both sides decided to dig in: the British at Freeman’s Farm and along the banks of the Hudson River; the Americans atop Bemis Heights, thereby closing Burgoyne’s route south.

After waiting three weeks for the British troops that he had expected to join him from the south, Burgoyne decided he could wait no longer and decided to engage in another battle in an attempt to swing around Bemis Heights. This time, the two sides collided at Barber’s Farm near earthen defenses, called redoubts, that had been constructed by the British while they had been waiting for reinforcements.

This time, the Americans were victorious, in large part because of the bravery of Benedict Arnold, who led a flanking attack on one of the redoubts, resulting in its capture, although he was shot in the leg during the fighting. There is a “Boot Monument” erected at the site of the Breymann Redoubt in honor of Arnold who was awarded for his bravery with the rank of Major General (Gen. Benedict Arnold later defected to the British, making him infamous, instead of famous, in American history).

Here’s the Breymann Redoubt where the Americans prevailed, resulting in Burgoyne ultimately retreating several miles to the north where he was then surrounded and forced to surrender his entire army – one of only three times this happened to the British (one of the other times was at Yorktown to end the American Revolution).

On our way out of the park, we passed several deer. In such a serene setting, it was hard to imagine the hardship and fighting that took place here nearly 250 years ago.

Back at the Cummins repair facility, the bad alternator has been removed and now we’re waiting for its replacement to arrive from the Tiffin plant in Red Bay, Alabama. The diesel engine in our RV (an Allegro Breeze) is underneath the bed; no wonder it’s so warm in the bedroom when we get to our destination at the end of a drive.

We hope to get back on the road later today or by tomorrow. Meanwhile, Albany has been our “turning point” to start the trip south, with a couple family and friend visits along the way.

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