Our Saratoga

“The compleatest Victory”

In September and October 1777, the ragtag Continental Army defeated the superior British forces at the Battle of Saratoga in what became a key turning point in the Revolutionary War.

Today, we face a similar turning point in which the battle for the soul of our nation is being fought in our classrooms. Studying Saratoga gives us insight on how we can and will win that battle.

The British strategy in 1777 was to launch a three-pronged attack on New York state. British General William Howe was to take Philadelphia and drive north into New York; General Barry St. Leger would march east from Lake Ontario; and fresh from crushing the American invasion of Quebec, British General John Burgoyne would march south in the hopes of securing the Hudson River Valley.

The Battle of Bennington, 1777. “Yonder are the Redcoats,” Stark is supposed to have said. “We will defeat them or Molly Stark will sleep a widow tonight.”

Even though Howe took Philadelphia, both he and St. Leger became bogged-down by fierce and stubborn Patriot resistance throughout the New York countryside. Burgoyne’s army did not fare much better, as the Patriot hero John Stark and his Green Mountain boys soundly defeated a detachment of 500 German soldiers Burgoyne sent to seize a supply depot in Bennington, Vermont in August, 1777. Patriot minuteman Matthew Clarkson wrote that this surrender was “the compleatest Victory gain’d this War.” This important blow to the Burgoyne’s army and supply line forced him to move his forces to Saratoga in the hopes of moving further north that winter.


Unfortunately for Burgoyne, Howe failed to make any headway and St. Leger’s forces abandoned their march, leaving Burgoyne sorely outnumbered when he faced the Continental army led by General Horatio Gates.

On September 19, 1777, the two sides clashed at Freeman’s farm outside of Saratoga (above). Although the British held the field at the end of the battle, the Patriots wounded or killed twice as many enemy soldiers as their opponents. More importantly, American tenacity blunted Burgoyne’s advance to Albany. American forces continued to pour into Saratoga while Burgoyne waited for reinforcements. All but cut off from the other British forces, Burgoyne desperately engaged the Americans in battle only to be surrounded and defeated at the Battle of Bemis Heights. On October 17, Burgoyne surrendered what remained of his army to American General Horatio Gates.

Surrender of John Burgoyne by John Trumbull (1821)


The American victory at Saratoga was a turning point in the Revolutionary War. Not only did the battle boost American morale, but it also convinced foreign powers, especially France, to support the Patriot cause.

Prior to Saratoga, few believed that a republican army fighting to defend weighty principles enshrined in its Declaration of Independence could defeat a well-trained and professional imperial army.

Today Americans face a similar turning point on the battlefield within the classroom. Teachers of American civics and history are anxious over how best to present our country’s founding ideals.

Like the Patriots of yesteryear, teachers need to hold fast to America’s founding principles and stay confident that they are, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, ensuring that “right makes might.”


If ragtag American soldiers at Saratoga could fight for our founding principles and win the “compleatest victory” in the face of impossible odds, Americans today can also defend and preserve those same principles in the classroom.

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