In the summer of 1777, Burgoyne commenced his plan to lead his army down from Canada through upstate New York to meet up in Albany with other British troops moving in from the south and west. By doing so, he hoped to isolate New England and prevent it from presenting a united war effort with the other colonies.
However, near Saratoga the Americans had dug in, hoping to stall Burgoyne’s progress. On September 19, Burgoyne launched an attack, known as the Battle of Freeman’s Farm. Though at battle’s end the British commanded the field, they suffered much higher losses than the Americans, who outnumbered the British by several thousand and were also receiving a constant stream of new militia troops.
Burgoyne decided not to immediately attack the Americans again, perhaps waiting for word of the movements of fellow British general Henry Clinton. Finally, with supplies running low, Burgoyne began his attack in the Battle of Bemis Heights on October 7. This time it was the Americans who were victorious, led to success in large part by General Benedict Arnold, who, though previously dismissed by Gates, returned to the battlefield to rally the troops.
Burgoyne realized that at this point his two options were to retreat or surrender. He originally planned to retreat but discovered his path had been blocked by a contingent of Americans. Reluctantly, he agreed to surrender. After some back and forth between Burgoyne and Gates as to the terms, Burgoyne finally surrendered his army on October 17
Under the fairly generous terms of surrender, the British and Germans were to give up their weapons to their own officers after leaving camp. Then the troops were to march to Boston, where they were to return to England and never again fight in the war. (Congress, however, would later renege on this part of the agreement, and the troops remained prisoners of war for years.)
The American victory at Saratoga proved a pivotal event in the war. The victory led the French to openly side with the Americans a few months later, providing crucial funds, supplies, weapons, troops, and naval support.
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