This month marks the 230th anniversary of the event which, more than any other, is responsible for the independence of the United States of America.
What history calls the battle of Saratoga was really two battles which resulted in the surrender of British Gen. John Burgoyne and his army on Oct. 17, 1777.
Gen. Burgoyne led an army of 9,000 troops in an assault from Canada upon Albany. The Hudson River was then the great highway of America. If the British controlled both ends of it, they could cut off New England from the rest of the colonies, and strangle the infant nation in its crib.
The victory at Saratoga did more than thwart this design. The French were so impressed by it they declared war on Britain. Without French help, the Revolution could not have been won.
The French, in effect, helped midwife democracy at the point of a gun.
The victory at Saratoga was won chiefly through the strategic insight, tactical brilliance, reckless courage and inspirational leadership of one man. There is a statue “honoring” this hero on the field at Bemis Heights, site of the second battle of Saratoga. It is the likeness of a left leg, with no inscription.
That’s because the man, after George Washington, most responsible for winning America’s independence was Benedict Arnold, who is more (in)famous for other things.
Benedict Arnold was the best soldier on either side in the American Revolution (and, of course, on both sides). He was a terrific admiral, too. The year before Saratoga, he had thwarted a British invasion from Canada at the naval battle of Valcour Island. Arnold not only devised the naval strategy for the fight on Lake Champlain, and bravely and expertly fought the battle, he built the fleet, too.
Why did Arnold turn coat?
He was treated badly by Congress. He was concerned about the alliance with the French (which, ironically, was the result of his victory at Saratoga). He was beguiled by the beautiful Tory he married, Peggy Shippen. But the excuses are unsatisfying. There was something missing in this otherwise great man.
In fact, Arnold covered up the incompetence of his superior, Gen. Horatio Gates. Gates was a darling of Congress, who was almost given George Washington’s job when the going got tough.
Arnold got the shaft.