Saratoga: Turning Point of America's Revolutionary War

Saratoga: Turning Point of America's Revolutionary War

by Richard M. Ketchum

View All Available Formats & Editions

In the summer of 1777 (twelve months after the Declaration of Indepence) the British launched an invasion from Canada under General John Burgoyne. It was the campaign that was supposed to the rebellion, but it resulted in a series of battles that changed America's history and that of the world. Stirring narrative history, skillfully told through the perspective of

See more details below


In the summer of 1777 (twelve months after the Declaration of Indepence) the British launched an invasion from Canada under General John Burgoyne. It was the campaign that was supposed to the rebellion, but it resulted in a series of battles that changed America's history and that of the world. Stirring narrative history, skillfully told through the perspective of those who fought in the campaign, Saratoga brings to life as never before the inspiring story of Americans who did their utmost in what seemed a lost cause, achieving what proved to be the crucial victory of the Revolution.

A New York Times Notable Book, 1997
Winner of the Fraunces Tavern Museum Award, 1997

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In 1777, the British government mounted an invasion from Canada with the objective of splitting the rebellious American colonies into manageable fractions. On a map the task seemed easy. But on the ground, Ketchum (Decisive Day) shows, Sir John Burgoyne's route was dominated by rugged terrain, creating insoluble logistics problems. Even had Sir William Howe advanced toward Albany instead of turning south to Philadelphia, Burgoyne, Ketchum convincingly argues, was unlikely to have gone much farther. The American northern army, Continentals and militiamen effectively delayed the British until enough reinforcements could be concentrated to offer battle around Saratoga. While rehabilitating the reputation of the conflict's initial commanders, Philip Schuyler and Arthur St. Claire, Ketchum also provides a balanced account of the feud between eventual commander Horatio Gates and Benedict Arnolda subject often clouded by the former's subsequent incompetence and the latter's subsequent treason. Arnold's energy and coup d'oeil proved the tactical mainsprings of victory. Gates was the organizer, the "chairman of the board" able to weld the disparate elements of his army into the sword that Arnold wielded with such devastating effect on October 7, 1777. Moving beyond the generals and battles, Ketchum puts his readers alongside the enlisted men and the regimental officers who did the fighting and dying, the women who followed them and the civilians who got in war's way. His fast-paced popular history relies on their experiences, recorded in letters, diaries and memoirs, to tell the human side of the American Revolution's galvanizing turning point. Illustrations not seen by PW. History Book Club alternate; first serial to Military History Quarterly. (Oct.)
Kirkus Reviews
An exciting and richly detailed narrative history of the events leading up to the decisive battle that altered the course of the American war for independence.

Distinguished historian Ketchum (The Borrowed Years: 19381941, etc.) uses a wide range of primary and secondary sources to vividly depict this extraordinary drama. When "Gentleman Johnny" Burgoyne's feared army of British and German veterans invaded New York, intending to meet up with General Howe's forces, they seemed at first unstoppable. Burgoyne's fierce (and uncontrollable) Indian allies terrorized the countryside, killing civilians and burning and looting outlying settlements. The settlers (some of them previously lukewarm about the revolution) were forced to unite to defend their lives, families, and homes. The Americans soundly defeated the forces of the king at the fierce battles of Bennington and Fort Stanwix. At the same time, a merciless civil war between loyalists and rebels was being fought out in a series of small, vicious engagements. Burgoyne's logistical problems (he was compelled to drag mountains of equipment and supplies over narrow, primitive roads in unfamiliar country) and constant casualties served to weaken his seemingly invincible army. His exhausted forces were finally surrounded at Saratoga, and in the ensuing battle the Americans won a great victory under the courageous leadership of Benedict Arnold, Dan Morgan, and John Glover. Burgoyne's stunning surrender of his 6,000-man army brought a reassured France into the war on the side of the Americans, a move that would prove decisive.

With clear, vigorous prose and well-drawn portraits of famous and obscure personalities, Ketchum captures a stirring time in American history, producing what should be the definitive study of Burgoyne's defeat for many years to come.

Read More

Product Details

Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
6.04(w) x 8.92(h) x 1.34(d)

Read an Excerpt


Turning Point of America's Revolutionary War

By Richard M. Ketchum

Henry Holt and Company

Copyright © 1997 Richard M. Ketchum
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-7952-2


The Secret Mission

He was bone-tired, painfully aware of his seventy years, and not at all sure he would survive the long journey that lay ahead. It was the second day of April in 1776, chilly enough to remind a man that winter was not yet over, when Dr. Benjamin Franklin and four companions stood on the Albany pier in New York's East River, watching their servants load the waiting sloop with baggage, food, blankets, folding beds, and a new saddle Franklin had purchased in Philadelphia.

This was an odd bunch — five men of disparate age, temperament, and experience, bound on a secret, highly sensitive mission to Canada on behalf of the Second Continental Congress. They had departed from Philadelphia on March 26, and a leisurely journey across New Jersey brought them to New York three days later. Assuming that the city would be crowded, Franklin had written ahead to an old friend, William Alexander — a burly, energetic major general in the Continental Army who laid claim to an earldom in Scotland and styled himself Lord Stirling even in these egalitarian times, and who was now in charge of preparing the city's defenses against an expected attack by the British. The general found lodgings for them and arranged for a vessel to take them to Albany, the first major stop on what promised to be a long and arduous expedition.

From where the travelers stood, the noise and smells of the bustling port were overpowering. The entire city of New York was contained within the southern end of Manhattan Island, and it was a hodgepodge of old Dutch and new English structures, fashionable brick residences standing cheek by jowl with mechanics' workshops, law offices, and the counting houses of merchants. Narrow streets, reeking of horse and pig manure, were crowded with boardinghouses, countless shops and warehouses, and a sea of trade signs, all surrounded by a forest of masts, intricate webs of spars and rigging, shipyard ways, ropewalks, breweries, a distillery, and grog shops — the innumerable ancillaries of a booming seaport. Buildings echoed with the blows of blacksmiths, gunsmiths, and joiners, with the shouts of hucksters and the man who arrived each day with a horse-drawn cart carrying a hogshead of fresh spring water for tea (yours for less than a dollar a bucket). The place had a bit of everything: it was a sailor's town, a wide-open town, a haven for smugglers supplying the Indian trade with contraband goods from Holland and for local merchants who bribed customs officers to look the other way when illegal shipments of tea were landed.

On all sides were the trappings of a great deepwater port that now rivaled Boston in the volume of foreign commerce landed at its docks. Nor was the water traffic all international: every day brought fresh shipments of corn and oats from Dobbs Ferry, cattle from Long Island, lumber, wheat, and precious cargoes of furs and skins from Albany — an incredible harvest of pelts carried by trappers and traders from the continent's vast interior.

Beneath the veneer of business as usual were layers of the city's deeply divided loyalties and the discontent they fostered. During his five-day stay in the city, Franklin called on a Mrs. Barrow, whose husband remained a loyalist. Since politics rarely if ever prevented the doctor from enjoying the company of a woman, he listened sympathetically as she spoke of her fears that she and her home might be mistreated by the Americans because of her husband's bias. He reassured her and later arranged with his friend Stirling to see that she was not harmed or harassed. But the incident suggested the rancorous ideological wall that separated acquaintances and friends and even members of the same family as the whirlwind of rebellion swept across America. To Franklin's sorrow, his illegitimate son William, who gained the respect he craved by his appointment as governor of New Jersey, announced his intention to stay loyal to the crown — a loyalty that had him just now under virtual house arrest and later took him to a Connecticut prison, where he remained for two years.

The doctor also had time to write Anthony Todd, an old friend in England, asking, "How long will the Insanity on your side [of] the Water continue?" before expressing his confidence in the outcome of the struggle. "The Breach between you and us grows daily wider and more difficult to heal," he observed, but "Britain without us can grow no stronger: Without her we shall become a tenfold greater and mightier People."

In the public house kept by Jesper Darkes, "zealous partizans in the cause of Liberty," as one habitué called them, met day and night, laying plans, discussing whether this man or that could be trusted or whether he was spying for the government, speculating on what could be done when the British military arrived, as it surely would. But other signs of the festering differences between America and Britain were out in the open, for all to see. Like Boston, New York had its Stamp Act riots in 1765, when the effigy of Lieutenant Governor Cadwallader Colden went up in flames along with his carriages. New York's Liberty Boys had held their own tea party, too, dumping the East India Company's hated cargo into the harbor — doing so, it was proudly said, fearlessly, in broad daylight, and without the Indian disguises worn by Bostonians.

In the spring of 1775, when news of the fighting at Lexington and Concord reached New York, members of the so-called patriot party seized City Hall, armed themselves, embargoed ships in the harbor that were loaded with arms for the British in Boston, and closed the custom house. And as a small detachment of redcoats prepared to march to the relief of Boston, the vigilant Sons of Liberty appropriated the arms and ammunition the soldiers were loading into wagons. Ever since the bloody affair at Breed's Hill in June of '75 — a fight known ever after as the battle of Bunker Hill — the army led by George Washington had kept the British bottled up in Boston, but the rebels could do little more than that until a fat former bookseller named Henry Knox, who had a penchant for artillery, brought forty-three cannon and sixteen mortars over the mountains from Fort Ticonderoga on Lake Champlain, and work crews hauled them into position to command the enemy fleet, the shipping channels, and the town of Boston itself. That sealed the fate of the army under General William Howe: the British had nowhere to go but out — out of range of those guns and out of Boston harbor. And so they did, more than a hundred shiploads of them, redcoated soldiers and loyalist families, many of the latter leaving what they regarded as their homeland for the last time, bound for Halifax and England.

Two weeks before Benjamin Franklin and his party boarded the sloop bound for Albany, a New Yorker addressed an open letter to "Freeborn Sons of America," stating a proposition that was in just about everyone's thoughts that spring thanks to the powerful arguments for independence contained in the pamphlet Common Sense, written by Franklin's friend Thomas Paine. "The American separation and independence is now seriously thought of," the New Yorker wrote, "and near at hand, and reconciliation despaired of as a thing utterly impracticable. ..." His object in bringing this out in the open, he said, was to provoke a dialogue that would lay the groundwork for "a more sound Constitution and perfect scheme of Government." As it happened, the same idea was receiving a good deal of attention behind closed doors in Philadelphia, where the Continental Congress was debating the most critical issue to confront the delegates. Describing these deliberations, John Adams, representing Massachusetts, wrote: "Objects of the most stupendous magnitude, and measures in which the lives and liberties yet unborn are intimately interested, are now before us. We are in the midst of a revolution, the most complete, unexpected and remarkable, of any in the history of nations."

At the same time, Congress received from George Washington the joyous news that the "Ministerial Army evacuated the town of Boston" on St. Patrick's Day, and the forces of the United Colonies were now in possession of it. Howe's departure to Halifax freed Washington's army to march to New York, where the American commander in chief assumed the British would go next. So Boston, which had been the focus of rebellion the year before, was now all but forgotten as advance units of the Continental Army began pouring into New York. Stirling was in charge here until Washington arrived; he ordered all able-bodied males to help fortify the city, and they and the growing number of American troops were doing a prodigious amount of digging — so enthusiastically, one of Franklin's companions noted, that two gentlemen unused to such labor shoveled until "the blood gushed out of their fingers." (Optimistically, Stirling requisitioned "intrenching tools" for ten thousand men, along with appropriate numbers of clothing, blankets, canteens, tomahawks, tents, muskets, and such items to a total of £26,000, prompting a poignant note to the New York Committee of Safety from the man in charge of these matters: "I have no cash.")

The city, one member of Franklin's party observed, "was no more the gay, polite place it used to be esteemed: but was become almost a desert [except] for the troops." Indeed, every day brought more of those rebel soldiers to New York, including a rifle battalion and five battalions of infantry under General William Heath, who were seen to be young and well armed, but without uniforms. As fear grew among the populace — Tory and Whig alike — that the anticipated attack by British forces would be accompanied by a naval bombardment, thousands of residents fled — perhaps as many as 11,000 out of a population of 27,000.

* * *

The island that Indians called Manahata, meaning "the place encircled by many swift tides and joyous, sparkling waters," had undergone considerable change since a small English fleet arrived in 1664 to take possession of New Amsterdam, its thriving fur trade, and its 1,500 inhabitants. Its contented burghers shed neither a blow nor tear but looked the other way as Governor Peter Stuyvesant stamped his wooden leg in futile protest. In Stuyvesant's day the dense forest north of the settlement's fortified wall was roamed by bears, cougars, bobcats, deer, wolves, and beaver; wild turkeys, passenger pigeons, and partridge were everywhere, as were saltwater birds, prolific shellfish beds, and fish in the island's freshwater streams. Beyond, the rivers were alive with otters, porpoises, and harbor seals.

By the time the uprising against Great Britain began, most of the wild animals were long gone; New York had 27,000 people and was, after Philadelphia (which was next in size only to London in the British Empire), the second-largest city in colonial America, with a superb port ideally situated for a base of British military operations. Despite the activities of its incendiaries, New York was not such a hotbed of rebellion as Boston; the city bristled with loyalists, and the entire Hudson Valley was full of conservative landed aristocrats — many of them Dutch, with pockets of Swedes, Scots, Huguenots, Germans, and Scotch-Irish who might be expected to support England against their rebellious neighbors.

And unlike Boston, New York dominated land and water communications and as such was the key city in America, gateway to the mighty Hudson River, that huge tidal estuary of the Atlantic. It was obvious to everyone — especially military planners in London — that New York, more than any other American city, was where the British had to be. The island was what one visitor termed a "centrical place," ideally situated on the Atlantic coastline. Surrounded by navigable waters, it could be protected and provisioned by the world's greatest fleet, which would have no opposition, since the Americans had no warships. New York, in short, was a superb base of operations for a military force that was dependent on its navy. From New York even the largest British ships of the line — those drawing as much as twenty feet — could sail up the Hudson, or North River, as it was also called, for more than a hundred miles, to within forty-six miles of Albany. At the very least, this meant that His Majesty's formidable navy could take some of the burden off his army by patrolling the lower reaches of the river, spotting and frustrating the movement of rebel troops and arms, while the army held strongpoints on the river's banks.

* * *

What were known as the Albany piers were located below the ferry slip where cattle from Long Island were landed, close by the fish market on Dock Street and Cruger's wharf at the foot of Wall Street — the thoroughfare that took its name from the protective wall bordering it, which marked the northernmost edge of the Dutch community. Here ships tied up after touching at major ports in the Atlantic and Mediterranean, as well as the West Indies and the coastal cities of North America. Flanking it on the other side was Whitehall slip, where ferries to and from Staten Island berthed.

By the time Franklin and his group had their gear stowed aboard the sloop it was late in the afternoon. The seamen cast off lines, ran up the sails, and the vessel slipped out into the East River, rounded the end of the island, and, after skirting the battery and barracks adjoining Fort George, caught a following breeze and headed upstream in the Hudson. Standing on deck, the passengers could see most of the landmarks on the west side of town — the tree-lined Bowling Green and the dozen or more houses of worship that suggested the cosmopolitanism of the place. Trinity Church, the Lutheran Church, both the Old and the New Dutch churches, the Presbyterian and New Scots meetinghouses, the Eglise du St. Esprit, and the Quaker Meetinghouse were all visible from the river. So were City Hall, Van Cortlandt's Sugar House (one of the three largest buildings in the city), and King's Wharf, site of the arsenal and royal storehouses. Beyond the ferry to Paulus Hook, where the road to Boston branched off from the Broad Way, were St. Paul's Chapel, King's College, the poorhouse, the prison, and the powder house, interlaced with streets bearing the names of New York's leading citizens — Van Cortlandt, Vesey, Barkley, Murray, Warren, and others.

The last glint of a dying sun caught the rooftops of the elegant residences and grounds along the riverbank, belonging to the prominent George Harrison, Leonard Lispenard, and Abraham Mortier, paymaster general of the royal forces that had lately left town. Beyond, hidden now in the gathering dusk, lay acres and acres of farms, forest, and open lands with a scattering of isolated houses.

Thirteen miles upriver, the sloop docked for the night, and when the five passengers went ashore to cook supper they had their first real opportunity to size up their companions. Franklin already knew Samuel Chase, since both served in the Second Continental Congress, but he was less familiar with a Prussian officer who accompanied them, and had no more than a nodding acquaintance with two men named Carroll — Charles, and his cousin John, a Jesuit priest.

If the Carrolls had any doubts about the freethinker Franklin's tolerance for Catholics or his acceptance of them as associates, those reservations were quickly dispelled. He was by all odds the liveliest, most genial man in the group — "a most engaging and entertaining companion of a sweet, even and lively temper, full of facetious stories always applied with judgment and introduced à propos," wrote Charles Carroll, who was equally impressed with the old gentleman's boundless curiosity and broad knowledge of political, literary, and philosophical matters. Summing up his feelings, he added, "I am quite charmed with him."


Excerpted from Saratoga by Richard M. Ketchum. Copyright © 1997 Richard M. Ketchum. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Read More

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >