General Gates and the Battles of Saratoga

On this day in 1777, the Battles of Saratoga finally resolve after nearly a month of action and inaction, with British General and playwright John Burgoyne surrendering to a numerically superior force under American General Horatio Gates.

And herein lies a lesson of dangerous hubris.The word Saratoga is shorthand for two battles that gave the coup de grace to the 1777 British invasion from Canada during the American Revolutionary War. After capturing Fort Ticonderoga with almost laughable ease, the British army, led by an overconfident Burgoyne, crawled south at a tortoise pace, giving the rattled Americans time to regroup under Gates.

To support Gates, Washington (not the city) sent Benedict Arnold, his best infantry commander, Col. Daniel Morgan with his crack regiment of Virginia riflemen, and two brigades of Continentals from the Hudson Highlands. They raised Gates’s strength to about sixty-five hundred men. Equally important was Col.Thaddeus Kosciusko, the Polish engineer, who built excellent field fortifications on Bemis Heights overlooking the Hudson River.

After fighting a pitched battle on September 19 and a lesser clash October 7, both led on the field by the future treasonist Arnold, Burgoyne’s reinforcements from Canada and New York City never arrived and he was forced to capitulate.

And now for the American Graffiti postscript: Soon after word of the Patriot victory at Saratoga reached France, King Louis XVI agreed to recognize the independence of the colonies, providing assistance crucial to the eventual American victory in the Revolutionary War. Arnold entered into treasonous correspondence with the British, received command of the fort at West Point and plotted to hand it over to the British, only to flee into Redcoat lines when the Americans learned of the plot. And as for Gates, he received the command of the main American army in the South, led it to disastrous defeat at the 1780 Battle of Camden, where he was at the forefront of a panicked retreat, and never commanded troops in the field again.

And here endeth the lesson.

Author: Bill Urich

A tail-end baby-boomer, Bill Urich was born in Cleveland to a grade school teacher and her Navy vet husband, and reared in Greater Detroit. Working his way through school primarily at night, Mr. Urich holds a Bachelor’s in Journalism, Phi Beta Kappa, and a Juris Doctorate from Wayne State University. In his legal career he has acted as an assistant state prosecutor, city attorney, special prosecutor, mediator, magistrate, private practitioner and mayor of Royal Oak, a large home-rule city in Michigan. Mr. Urich continues in private practice and municipal prosecution, is on faculty to DePaul University, pens regular contributions to political publications, and remains active in selected campaigns and causes related to labor, social and criminal justice. A father of three mostly-grown sons, he spends his precious free time on family, friends, the pursuit of happiness, beauty and truth, three rescue cats, and fronting the rock band Calcutta Rugs from behind the drum kit.

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