The Battle of Saratoga: Definition, Summary, Facts & Significance

Instructor: Molly Richards

Molly has ten years of middle school teaching experience and two master's degrees in teaching.

The Battle of Saratoga was a significant turning point for the Patriots during the American Revolutionary War. Learn more about the background, circumstances, and significance of this victory for the United States.

What is the Battle of Saratoga?

Considered one of the most decisive battles in world history, the Battle of Saratoga was a significant turning point for the Patriots during the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783). The American victory gave the colonists the confidence and strength as well as much needed aid from France to continue their fight for independence from Great Britain. Let's look at this time in more detail.

Background: Thirteen Colonies

From the 1600s to the late 1700s, Great Britain established 13 successful colonies in what is now the Eastern United States. These colonies provided raw materials such as gold, lumber, cotton, tobacco, and indigo to Great Britain, making it the strongest and wealthiest nation in the world at that time.

For almost 150 years Great Britain controlled and governed these colonies with little problem. It was not until the 1750s when Great Britain began imposing taxes and laws on the colonists that people began to think they could better rule themselves than be governed by a country thousands of miles away. These people became known as 'Patriots', or colonists wanting to break away from Great Britain.

After years of tension, independence finally became a reality when a group of Patriots representing each of the 13 colonies signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776 and officially declared themselves free of Britain.

The Patriots knew Great Britain would not give the colonies up easily though, and with the most powerful military in the world, a trained militia and endless supplies, Britain would be hard to defeat. But the Patriots had nothing to lose, and although they had fewer resources, they fought hard for almost eight years.

After facing defeat in early battles of the war, the Patriots were in need of a victory. The turning point for the Patriots was the Battle of Saratoga in 1777, where the American saw victory over the British. This gave them much needed confidence in continuing to fight for freedom, as well as the support from other nations such as France.

The Plan

Although the Battle of Saratoga should have been a huge British victory, a disregard for orders and lack of communication would prove detrimental to their forces.

General John Burgoyne was the commander of the British forces in the winter of 1776. Stationed up north in Canada, General Burgoyne had a plan to divide and conquer. He wanted to cut the New England colonies off from the southern colonies along the Hudson River and was confident this would lead to defeat.

General Burgoyne

The plan was for British General William Howe to advance from the south and the two groups would meet in Albany. This strategy, along with the help from Native Americans and German mercenaries, or soldiers fighting for pay instead of cause, would surely mean victory for the British.

Howe Disappears and Patriots Advance

With their plan in place, General Howe began advancing South from Lake Champlain in June of 1777. He and his army of roughly 7,000 began moving toward Fort Ticonderoga which the British took in July. They continued to move towards Albany where they would meet with General Burgoyne and take control of the Hudson River.

But Howe never showed up. Howe ended up in Philadelphia while Burgoyne waited for his reinforcements.

The Patriots meanwhile, under the command of General Horatio Gates, moved North in anticipation of Burgoyne. His army set up along the Hudson River and cut off the supply route from the British.

General Horatio Gates

The Two Battles of Saratoga

The Battle of Saratoga actually comprises two battles only a couple of weeks apart. The Patriots had established a strong defense along the Hudson river and proved strong in cutting off British supplies. When Burgoyne's army tried to move inland, the two armies collided at an abandoned farm. On September 19, 1777, they battled. Burgoyne's army couldn't break through, suffered severe casualties, and had to fall back. This battle was called the Battle of Freeman's Farm.

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