Recently the husband and I took a trip to upstate NY and on the way back stopped in Stillwater to tour the Saratoga Battlefield. Coincidentally I’d just reached the part in the Franklin biography I’m reading where we won this battle and the French crown decided to recognize the still wet behind the ears United States. It was really something to walk the battlefields and defensive positions and imagine what it was like. The countryside itself isn’t much changed (oh how I wish remnants of the actual earthworks remained) and it was pretty easy to do.
The park itself is spread out over several miles and has a road you can drive to each point of interest. Or you can take a bicycle through. There were hardly any other visitors in the park while we were there which was surprising considering it was a Sunday in July. Good for us though. Also good was the general cloudiness that persisted all day. It made for moody skies and more even light.
One of the first stops includes the only period building left on the whole site – the Neilson Farm house –
Back in those days armies on both sides took over farms and houses that were convenient or in strategic positions. The Neilsons were unfortunate enough to be farming on Bemis Heights which proved just the right spot to build a defensive line. That blue-tipped fenceline to the left marks where the fortifications ran. This was not General Gates’s headquarters, but no wonder we now have the 3rd Amendment! I feel badly for the farmers who labored for months just to lose all crops and livestock. Collateral damage indeed.
From here we drove to the site of the American River fortifications over the Hudson. These were critical in preventing British General Burgoyne from marching to Albany. The road which is still used today is by the near treeline and the Hudson itself is beyond the farmland behind the trees.
From here we went to the Baker wheat field (another poor farmer probably lost his all after this) where after a bunch of back and forth, the British and German soldiers (1500 of them) were forced back and their General Simon Fraser was mortally wounded here. I loved this lush meadow with the cannon in it (a British cannon).
From here it’s just a hop to the British Balcarres Redoubt, a position fortified with log and earth works 375 feet long and 12-14 feet high, behind which light infantry commander Lord Balcarres defended the British encampment further up river. This fortification took over yet another farmer’s land, this time loyalist Mr. Freeman who when the battle was lost probably retreated with the British army. I couldn’t help myself with the extreme processing on this one.
Nearby was another British fortification called the Breymann Redoubt. Its 100 yards of earthworks guarded the British right flank and the road to Quaker Springs and named for German Lt. Col. Heinrich Breymann whose troops were stationed here. Here also is where Benedict Arnold suffered his famous leg wound and is commemorated by the nearby Boot Monument.
Last, but not least, is the Great Redoubt. I couldn’t help a bit more extreme processing here either. I think it helps establish mood, after all, the battle took place in October and probably wasn’t as lush and green as it was when I visited.
This was a series of British fortifications designed to protect their hospital, artillery park, supplies, Indian camp and the boat bridge across the Hudson. Burgoyne’s last refuge at Saratoga was here before he finally retreated and eventually surrendered.
Who knows what would have happened if the Americans hadn’t won such an important victory so soon. Because of the win here at Saratoga, we kept the British out of Albany and kept the colonies together. If New England and New York city had been cut off from Pennsylvania, Virginia and the rest of the colonies their strength would have been seriously diminished. Also a victory so early gave France the push it needed off its fence of indecision about America and whether or not they would back her after the Declaration of Independence. I’m fascinated by the Revolution and the fact that it succeeded at all and I hope I can visit more forts and battlefields in the future.
There are more pictures in the Smugmug Gallery if you want to check them out.
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