Two hundred and thirty seven years ago this week the second of the battles of Saratoga took place. After the costly British victory of 19th September there had been a military stalemate. For over three weeks the two armies had been watching and waiting. Throughout this period the American army had increased in size as more and more patriots rallied to the cause. They had made efforts to encircle the British who were now effectively cut off from their supply chain and were running short of food and ammunition. The British had spent the time strengthening their defences as hope drained away that the British army in New York would be sending reinforcements.
The British commander, General Burgoyne was at last listening to his senior commanders who for weeks had been advising on a tactical withdrawal, but he had refused to countenance this until after his troops had made a reconnaissance of the American position on Bemis Heights on 7th October.
When the movement of the British troops had been sighted, the American commander, General Horatio Gates ordered his forces into action. In fierce fighting the British were driven back, but they regrouped several times and counter attacked while trying to affect an orderly withdrawal. The rifles of Morgan’s Rifle Brigade were far more accurate than the muskets of the rest of the two armies and they gradually picked off the British officers, including the most competent of them, General Simon Fraser, to break the chain of command. The dogged British resistance was finally broken when General Benedict Arnold, who had been stripped of his command by General Gates, disobeyed orders and joined in the battle, leading an attack, with superior numbers, on the British centre.
As night fell, the British retreated to their final line of defence, the Great Redoubt. Follow what happened next in “The Wessex Turncoat”. The complicated nature of loyalties in the American War of Independence is illustrated by the fact that Horatio Gates had once been an officer in the British army and Benedict Arnold later defected to the British.