THE FIRST BATTLE OF SARATOGA
About 4 miles from Saratoga, on the afternoon of the 19th September,
a sharp encounter took place between part of the English right wing,
under Burgoyne himself, and a strong body of the enemy, under
The conflict lasted till sunset. The
British remained masters of the field. But the loss on each side was
nearly equal (from 500 to 600 men) and the spirits of the Americans
were greatly raised by having withstood the best regular troops of
the English army.
Burgoyne now halted again, and
strengthened his position by field works and redoubts. And the
Americans also improved their defenses. The two armies remained
nearly within cannon-shot of each other for a considerable time,
during which Burgoyne was anxiously looking for intelligence of the
promised expedition from New York, which, according to the original
plan, ought by this time to have been approaching Albany from the
At last, a messenger from
his way with great difficulty, to Burgoyne's camp and brought the
information that Clinton was on his way up the Hudson to attack the
American forts which barred the passage up that river to Albany.
Burgoyne had overestimated his resources
and in the very beginning of October found difficulty and distress
pressing him hard. The Indians and Canadians began to
desert him. While, on the other hand, Gate's army was continually
reinforced by fresh bodies of the militia.
An expeditionary force was detached by
the Americans, which made a bold, though unsuccessful, attempt to
retake Ticonderoga. And finding the number and spirit of the enemy
to increase daily, and his own stores of provision to diminish,
Burgoyne determined on attacking the Americans in front of him, and
by dislodging them from their position, to gain the means of moving
upon Albany, or at least of relieving his troops from the straitened
position in which they were cooped up.
Burgoyne's force was now reduced to less
than 6,000 men. The right of his camp was on some high ground a
little to the west of the river, thence his entrenchments extended
along the lower ground to the bank of the Hudson, the line of their
front being nearly at a right angle with the course of the stream.
The lines were fortified with redoubts and field-works, and on a
height on the flank of the extreme right a strong redoubt was
reared, and entrenchments, in a horse-shoe form, thrown up. The
Hessians, under Colonel Breyman, were stationed here, forming a
flank defense to Burgoyne's main army. The numerical force of the
Americans was now greater than the British, even in regular troops,
and the numbers of the militia and volunteers which had joined Gates
and Arnold were greater still.
General Lincoln, with 2,000 New England
troops, had reached the American camp on the 29th of September.
Gates gave him the command of the right wing, and took in person the
command of the left wing, which was composed of two brigades under
Generals Poor and Leonard, of Colonel Morgan's rifle corps, and part
of the fresh New England Militia.
The whole of the American lines
had been ably fortified under the direction of the celebrated Polish
General Kosciusko, who was now serving as a volunteer in Gates'
army. The right of the American position, that is to say, the part
of it nearest to the river, was too strong to be assailed with any
prospect of success and Burgoyne therefore determined to endeavor
to force their left.
For this purpose he formed a column of
1,500 regular troops, with two twelve-pounders, two howitzers, and
six six-pounders. He headed this in person, having Generals
Phillips, Reidesel, and Frazer under him. The enemy's force
immediately in front of his lines was so strong that he dared not
weaken the troops who guarded them, by detaching any more to
strengthen his column of attack.