A chronicle of 33 days in Saratoga, New York, in 1777 that turned the tide for the American Revolution.
Many books focusing on a single battle get bogged down in troop movements, rearrangements, and the positioning of multiple players. At first, this seems to be the case here, as archaeologist and ethnohistorian Snow (Archaeology of Native North America, 2009) explains the who’s who and what’s where of the battle(s) on the Hudson River. Thankfully, that is only the setup. As the action builds and the characters come into focus, readers will get caught up in their hopes and frustrations. Both sides had leaders who confused their staff, first ordering and then countermanding. Gen. John Burgoyne personified British hubris; he was sure they would whip the rebels and retire each night to a champagne dinner. Horatio Gates suffered from lack of support. Benedict Arnold, a loose cannon, was replaced, and John Stark’s militiamen’s terms of service were up, and they left. Snow compiles his meticulous military history from a wealth of information, including directives, letters, and private notes. The first battle, at Freeman’s Farm on Sept. 19, found both armies advancing and falling back 100 yards at a time, many times in and out. It was a technical victory for the British, as they still held their ground. However, the Americans had more troops—with more on the way—and they also had lethal riflemen whose marksmanship felled any who strayed too far from camp. After Freeman’s Farm, both sides delayed continuing the fight, Burgoyne in hopes of relief and the Americans facing the possibility of running out of ammunition. It would be Oct. 7 before the sides met again, by which time the Americans outnumbered and outgunned the British and had them surrounded.
While the narrative is initially slow, military history lovers will appreciate Snow’s explanations of how battles are fought, especially regarding supply lines, geography, and leading characters.