Today in History: The First Battle of Saratoga, featuring Benedict Arnold and Horatio Gates begins in 1777

September 19th, 2013

On September 19, 1777, the Continental Army led by General Horatio Gates and his second in command, General Benedict Arnold, fought General John Burgoyne’s British Army in the First Battle of Saratoga. The battle, also known as the Battle of Freeman’s Farm, is notable for Benedict Arnold and Gates’ heated arguments over the merits of approaching the British position. Benedict Arnold was relieved of his command after the battle, and internal divisions may have contributed to Arnold’s infamous betrayal just three years later.  

Two years into the Revolutionary War, the British Army developed a strategy to divide New England from the rest of the colonies, believing that the South was more favorable to the Loyalist cause. Key to this strategy was General Burgoyne’s attempt to control the area along the Hudson River. On the morning of September 19, General Burgoyne ordered the British Army to split into three columns, advancing toward the entrenched American position outside Saratoga, New York with the goal of turning the American left flank. General Benedict Arnold astutely predicted the flanking maneuver, and asked General Gates for permission to move his forces to meet the advancing British Army. Gates staunchly opposed such a maneuver, believing the Americans were better off sitting and waiting for a frontal assault. The two generals argued, but eventually General Gates allowed General Arnold’s troops to engage the British, an approach which caused heavy British casualties.

Tactically, the First Battle of Saratoga was a success for the British as they captured the Freeman’s Farm area, but the casualties Arnold’s troops inflicted on the British were ultimately much more significant. Just three weeks after the First Battle of Saratoga, General Burgoyne’s depleted force surrendered at the Second Battle of Saratoga on October 7, 1777, a major victory for the Continental Army.

Following their disagreements over the initial attack on September 19, General Gates relieved General Arnold as his second in command, though Arnold continued to provide support at the successful Second Battle of Saratoga. Three years later, in 1780, Arnold’s plot to surrender control of West Point to the British Army was discovered, preventing a scheme that would have been a significant loss for the Continental Army.

For more on the Battle of Saratoga, review these lesson plans from the National Park Service and EDSITEment about the significance of the battle. For another perspective on Benedict Arnold and treason, consider “The Man without a Country” which compares Benedict Arnold’s actions to those of the protagonist in the story.  

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