This Day in History… October 17, 1777

U.S. #644 is based on an 1821 painting by John Trumbull. You can view the full painting and find out who’s pictured here.

Burgoyne Surrenders at Saratoga

On October 17, 1777, British General Burgoyne surrendered at Saratoga – one of the major American victories of the American Revolution.

After the first two years of fighting, the British changed their strategy. Rather than trying to conquer the New England colonies, they planned to separate them from what they considered to be the more loyal middle and southern colonies. British General John Burgoyne believed New York’s Hudson River Valley was the perfect route for an invasion and developed a three-prong attack.

U.S. #1728 pictures Burgoyne’s surrender, and Gates’ refusal to accept his sword. Instead, Gates invited his former foe to join him for refreshments in his tent.

Burgoyne departed Canada on June 13, 1777 and by August his forces had captured Fort Ticonderoga and defeated the Americans at Hubbardton, Vermont. But the American victory at the Battle of Bennington cost him 1,000 soldiers and the support of his Native American allies. In September, Burgoyne continued his march south, with his supplies floating down the Hudson on boats. At the same time, Horatio Gates and his American troops began constructing defenses at Bemis Heights, a series of bluffs overlooking the Hudson and the road Burgoyne was marching down.

Around noon on September 19, Burgoyne’s center column encountered Colonel Daniel Morgan’s American light infantry at John Freeman’s Farm. The fighting broke out immediately and throughout the course of the afternoon, each side took and lost the field several times. When Burgoyne ordered a detachment of 500 German troops to his aid, the Americans abandoned the field, leaving it in British control.

U.S. #2590 is based on an essay that was never used for the 1869 Pictorials. It was engraved by the most renowned stamp engraver of all time, Czeslaw Slania .

Days later Burgoyne received word that General Henry Clinton could send additional troops from New York City, so he ordered his men to dig in and wait for their arrival. By early October Clinton had captured a few American forts along the way, but was called back to New York City, unable to assist Burgoyne. As his army grew short on supplies, time and manpower, Burgoyne sent out a 1,500-man reconnaissance force on October 7, to attack the American left. As the men stopped in Barber Wheatfield to harvest the much-needed food, they were discovered by American troops. The 13,000-man American army attacked and surrounded the British troop, forcing them to abandon their defensive position.

With few options, Burgoyne and his men packed whatever supplies they could and quickly retreated north. When they reached the village of Saratoga, they found themselves almost entirely surrounded and set up a fortified camp. Within two days they were completely surrounded. Negotiations went on for a week until October 17, when Burgoyne surrendered to Gates.

The surrender was a tremendous victory for America, often considered the turning point of the war. It proved that American troops could battle a European army on their own terms and win. The battle also convinced France, Spain, and the Netherlands to fully support the American cause and declare war against England. The American Revolution was now a “world war” and the British would see battle in the Caribbean, Mediterranean, North Africa, South Africa, and India.

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