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Surrender at Saratoga

On October 13, 1777, Major General John Burgoyne initiated talks with American leaders. His confidence in the ability of Sir Henry Clinton to bring desperately needed reinforcements to the Upper Hudson was all but gone. A parley was arranged with the American commander, Major General Horatio Gates, who was so compliant with Burgoyne’s terms that the latter general began to doubt the wisdom of seeking peace. He thought perhaps that the Americans knew more about Clinton’s location and strength and were attempting to conclude negotiations quickly. The conflicted Burgoyne stretched the talks out over several more days, but finally agreed to a formal surrender of October 17. The following provisions were made under the Saratoga Articles of Convention:

  • All forces fighting with the British were to be treated as British, sparing the German mercenaries in particular from harsher treatment.
  • The surrendering troops were to be allowed to depart with “honors of war,” allowing the units to retain their colors, but not their arms.
  • In exchange for a promise not to return to action in the American war, the surrendering troops were to be transported to England and freedom.
At the appointed hour, the British troops turned over their arms to American soldiers who stacked them neatly in a field. The defeated army numbered more than 6,000 men, plus several hundred camp-following women. They marched before the assembled victors to the tent of General Gates. Burgoyne handed over his sword in the prescribed gesture of surrender; Gates held it briefly, then returned it in recognition of his respect for his opponent. The British forces were marched to Albany and later to Boston. The Americans, to their discredit, did not abide strictly by the terms of the Convention; they kept their charges in detainment camps for months before repatriating them. The Saratoga campaign is frequently cited as a major turning point in the War for Independence. Support for that view is bolstered by the following events:
  • American morale was lifted dramatically. Washington’s recent effort to prevent the British from occupying Philadelphia had been a failure and had many wondering about the prospects for their rebellion. At Saratoga, a new hero emerged, albeit temporarily, in Horatio Gates.
  • The face of European diplomacy changed. France, the traditional rival of Britain, moved from providing secret aid to the Americans to a declaration of war against the common foe. Spain, a fading European power, later followed suit.
  • War opponents in England gained strength. The policies of Lord North came under increasing criticism following Saratoga; his ministry would remain in power until 1782, but critics were emboldened.