The Battle of Saratoga – the pivotal, some say the most important, battle of the Revolutionary War. It conjures up images of the British march through the wilds that took weeks to travel a few miles and of Benedict Arnold coming to the rescue of the Americans. These events and many more are covered in detail in John Luzador’s Saratoga: A Military History of the Decisive Campaign of the American Revolution.
The 1777 Saratoga campaign was a British-led invasion of the American colonies to attempt to capture Albany, New York from Canada. The British force (with some Canadians, loyalists, and Indians) of 7,800 men were led by General John Burgoyne. They were pitted against a force that grew stronger as the campaign continued and initially led by General Philip Schuyler and then General Horatio Gates. After a successful and surprisingly easy capture of Fort Ticonderoga, the British quickly followed up with the capture of Fort Anne. However, their progress was soon slowed by the delaying tactics of the Americans. The campaign reached its climax in two pivotal battles – one at Freeman’s Farms on September 19 and another at Bemis Heights on October 7. Following the crucial loss at Bemis Heights, the British were forced to surrender to the Americans (the first British Army to do so).
Luzador provides a very balanced account of the campaign. He criticizes and praises the British and Americans equally (although a bit more praise for the Americans seeing that they were the victors).
Luzador’s analysis of the decisions made by Burgoyne, Schuyler, Gates, and Benedict Arnold are excellent. For example, when he looks at Burgoyne’s decision to take the land route from Fort Ticonderoga rather than the water route via Lake George, Luzador explains the pros and cons for each route. In addition, although many historians have questioned Burgoyne’s thinking, Luzador states that Burgoyne’s reasoning was solid – it was somewhat beyond his control that Schuyler’s men did such a fine job of mucking up the road between Forts Anne and Edward.
In addition to his superb analysis of the campaign leading up to the two main battles, Luzador presents a solid review of the Gates/Arnold affair. He discusses the strengths and weaknesses of each general and then examines the different theories of their break down in relations. He concludes, rightly I think, that the blame for the break down rests not only on the two generals, but also on two of Schuyler’s aides who stayed on to help Arnold – Henry Brockholst Livingston and Lieutenant Colonel Richard Varick (they began and stoked the jealousies of Arnold.
Throughout the book, Luzador includes excellent maps to follow along with the battles and the campaign. At the back of the book, he includes several pages of photographs of the Freeman’s Farms and Bemis Heights battlefields. Finally, there are several appendixes highlighting items such as the orders of battle for the British and the Americans.
This is an excellent account and analysis of the Saratoga campaign of 1777.