With fighting occurring as far north as the Canadian border and all the way south to Georgia, the Revolutionary War touched communities all along the east coast, but many historians argue the most influential military campaign occurred in New York's Capital Region. In this Explore New York segment, Matt Hunter takes you back to the Battle of Saratoga.
SARATOGA COUNTY, NY – Behind the home she and her husband have shared for more than 50 years, Gay Gamage sits inside a 240-year-old farmhouse, pouring over the annals of her family's storied history.
"He [John Crawford] was a corporal and there were two privates with the same last name," said Gamage, as she referenced a family tree she wrote out herself.
In the fall of 1777, a half dozen of Gamage's ancestors from New England made their way to New York's Upper Hudson River Valley to fight in what would come to be known as the Battle of Saratoga.
"I think they were all red hot patriots because they were turning out when they were needed," said Gamage, who grew up in Maine.
Before the fighting began, General John Burgoyne's British troops had been marching south from Canada toward Albany. Few expected the American rebels to put up much of a fight.
"The American Army, although it has survived the winter of 1776-77, it was in dire straits," said ranger Eric Schnitzer, the historian at Saratoga National Historic Park.
Rather than let the fighting come to him, American General Horatio Gates took the advice of his top soldier, Benedict Arnold.
"[Arnold] thinks what should be done instead is move out to attack the British on the fields and in the woods," Schnitzer said. "In the end, the battle lasted about half a day."
While U.S. troops retreated, British losses were heavy and the Red Coats gained no ground.
At The Battle of Freeman's Farm, the British suffered roughly 550 casualties, killed or wounded, while American casualties numbered roughly 300.
Over the next two and half weeks, the Americans built back their strength while the British burned through supplies.
"General Burgoyne, the British commander, realizes he's got to make a move,” Schnitzer said.
Only it was the Americans who attacked first, striking a critical blow to the British defenses at the Breymann Redoubt.
"The British retreated, we pursued them and forced their surrender 10 days after that second battle at Saratoga,” Schnitzer said.
The Battle of Saratoga marked the first time in 1,000 years a British army surrendered on the battlefield. It was that decisive victory that convinced the French to finally aid the American cause, forever altering the course of the war and world history.
"Not too long ago, the New York Times Magazine called the Battles of Saratoga the most important battles to have ever been fought in the entire world in the last 1,000 years," said Schnitzer, who says agrees with the magazine’s take.
Known across the world as the turning point in the American Revolution, the Battle of Saratoga is more than a significant military victory. For descendants like Gamage, it is a cherished part of family lore.
"Knowing you're so many generations from the people who were fighting, it's just part of who we are," Gamage said.
To learn more about the Battle of Saratoga or for information on Saratoga National Historic Park, visit the National Parks Service’s official website.