upstate New York
The Battle of Saratoga is recognized as one of the fifteen most decisive battles in world history, and is considered the turning point of the American Revolution. This victory in the fall of 1777 led directly to France’s recognition of the independence of the United States, as well as entry into the war as a decisive military ally of the struggling Americans.
Saratoga National Historic Park commemorates the site where our emerging nation fought for its first victory in the American Revolution. The Historic Park is made up of three separate units: the 4 square mile Battlefield in Stillwater, New York, along the banks of the Hudson River; the General Philip Schuyler House, eight miles north (up river) in Schuylerville; and the Saratoga Monument in the nearby village of Victory. Other sites in the Park include the home of General Schuyler, which the American General had rebuilt after Burgoyne’s retreating army burned it to the ground (see below), and the granite obelisk in Victory, which can be climbed to gain a view of the now bucolic fields, where the history of the world took a sharp turn towards liberty for all people.
The British determined to divide New England from the Southern colonies in an effort to end the revolution. The plan was to drive south from Montreal down the historic water route known today as the “war path of nations” (Lake Champlain, Lake George, and the Hudson River). The British General John Burgoyne led his troops from Canada with the objective of reaching New York City. His advance faltered in the grim forests of northern New York and his progress was impeded by the guerilla tactics of the colonists. After his Indian allies were accused of the brutal murder and scalping of Jane McCrea, the colonists rallied and gathered forces to meet the advance. Today’s park contains the site of the major battle field.
The first battle, the Battle of Freeman's Farm, took place on September 19, 1777 where the British advance south was stopped. The British lost two men for every one American. Burgoyne anticipated that a second British force would meet him after sailing from New York City, up the Hudson River, but those reinforcements never arrived. The second battle, the Battle of Bemis Heights, occurred on October 7th, when Burgoyne determined to break free from the encircling colonial forces. At this battle, General Benedict Arnold and Daniel Morgan, among others contain the British and their German allies, nearly taking the British entrenched positions. In this battle, Benedict Arnold fighting on horseback received a wound in his leg; his contribution to the battle is commemerated by a statue of his boot, with no other reference to the hero turned traitor.
This defeat at Bemis Heights forced Burgoyne to withdraw north to camps in and around the present Village of Schuylerville. Burgoyne surrendered on October 17, 1777. Disgraced, he returned to England, and was never given another command. The victory persuaded the French to support the Americans with military aid and recognition and is considered the major turning point in the American Revolution.
About Saratoga National Historical Park
From the time that the guns went silent at Saratoga, there has always been an interest in seeing this historic spot where the British suffered their major defeat at the hands of the rebelling colonists, later to become 'Americans'.
George Washington was the first famous visitor to the battlefield at Saratoga when he came to the area as a guest of General Philip Schuyler in 1783. He was followed by future presidents Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and the former president John Quincy Adams spent a day visiting, while staying in Saratoga Springs in 1843. By the 1850's a movement began to commemorate the Battles of Saratoga which resulted in the building of the Saratoga Monument on the hilltop in Saratoga where General Burgoyne's last camp was located. In 1883 Mrs. Ellen Hardin Walworth, one of the founders of the Daughters of the American Revolution, arranged the placement of seven granite monuments at significant locations on the Battlefield in Stillwater.
In the 1920's, with the sesqui-centennial of the Battles approaching the Saratoga Battlefield Association was formed to work towards the preservation of the Saratoga Battlefield. The Rotary Clubs of the area led by Mayor George Slingerland of Mechanicville, NY and Adolph Ochs, owner of the New York Times, undertook the task of getting the lands in Stillwater established as a New York State Historic Site and in 1926 the State Legislature passed the bill creating the battlefield. The next year, on the 150th anniversary of the battles, Saratoga Battlefield was opened to the public and over 160,000 people came on opening day to view a great pageant with a cast of thousands held on the fields in Stillwater and to visit the 1777 home of John Neilson and a new 'blockhouse' museum.
With better roads, and the museum attended by guides, Saratoga Battlefield became a popular site to visit. National figures such as Admiral Richard E. Byrd, and foreign dignitaries, including descendants of many who fought at Saratoga, visited over the years. One of these interested visitors was Franklin Roosevelt, who became Governor of New York State and later, President. While governor he gave a guided tour of Saratoga to governors of five states that were his guests in New York.
After becoming President, Roosevelt was eager to have the Battlefield become a part of the National Park System and in June, 1938, Saratoga National Historical Park was authorized by the United States Congress. The site of the present Visitor Center, built in 1962, was personally selected by President Roosevelt in October, 1940. He was also responsible for intervening with the War Department to save the original cannons surrendered by General Burgoyne from the scrap-metal drive of World War II.
In 1948, President Harry Truman signed the final legislation establishing the park that exists today. In 1975, the 1920's reproduction blockhouse that served as a museum, was moved out of the park to become a museum in the town of Stillwater. For the bicentennial commemorations in 1977 the National Park Service added a new theater, museum and new exhibits to the battlefield Visitor Center.
Some of the interesting monuments that mark the battlefield are the unusual "Boot Monument", a tribute to the deeds of Benedict Arnold at the Battles of Saratoga, two monuments to Polish engineer Thaddeus Kosciuszko, a D.A.R. memorial to the American dead, a marker honoring the British General Simon Fraser who was killed in the battle and one to American Timothy Murphy, the man said to have shot him.
Two other park sites are located eight miles north of the battlefield. They are the restored country home of General Philip Schuyler in Schuylerville and the Saratoga Monument in the village of Victory. The present Schuyler House was built just after the battle by General Schuyler to replace the house burned by the British before their surrender. It is open weekly in the summer.
The Saratoga Monument, a 155 foot high stone obelisk, is also open for visitation. Begun on October 17, 1877 and completed in 1882, it was built by a group of private citizens who wanted to commemorate the surrender of the British Army under General Burgoyne. Given to the State of New York in 1895, the Monument would later be given to the National Park Service in 1980. Closed from 1987 to 2002, and having received several years of restoration work, the Monument is open to the public during the summer.