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Battle of Freeman's Farm

The Battle Freeman's Farm (September 19, 1777) was the first engagement in the Battle of Saratoga of the American Revolutionary War. American Forces under Major General Horatio Gates gave up the field to the British expedition commanded by Lt. General John Burgoyne, but inflicted heavy casualties. The battle is sometimes known as First Saratoga, and it stopped Burgoyne's advance in the Saratoga Campaign. It also set the stage for the remaining standoff and actions for the rest of the Saratoga Battle.

Table of contents
1 Background
2 Description of the Battle
3 Aftermath


General Burgoyne led the main expedition of the Saratoga Campaign south from Canada towards Albany, New York. They had taken all the positions and forces in their path. American resistance got firmer as they crossed to the west bank of the Hudson River about nine miles south of Saratoga, New York. The Americans had fortified the elevation known as Bemis Heights. Burgoyne would make two attempts to sweep the aside, and this entire action is known as the Battle of Saratoga. This battle was the first of those, and the Battle of Bemis Heights almost three weeks later was the second.

The British were to advance in three columns toward the heights 2 miles to their south. Baron von Riedesel led the left column on the river road bringing the main artillery and guarding supplies and the boats on the river. General James Inglis Hamilton commanded the center which would attack the heights. General Simon Fraser led the right wing with both the light infantry and grenadier battalions, to turn the American left flank. The American right was anchored by the Hudson River.

The Americans forces were not particularly well organized or prepared for this engagement. General Gates had just taken command of the Northern Department, after Burgoyne captured Ticonderoga. Washington had sent a number of experienced units north, so that Saratoga's battles had regulars on both sides. Before this Burgoyne had mostly faced militia.

But, the American command structure was troubled. Benedict Arnold nominally had command of the left wing. However, he not only had no orders for battle, Gates would only authorize a reconnaissance.

Description of the Battle

The British did not get an early start. They had very poor intelligence about the American forces or their arrangement, and a morning fog limited their vision. By noon it had burned off, and they got underway.

Arnold, meanwhile, had ridden out to the far left flank, and asked Colonel Daniel Morgan's men to stop Fraser's advance. Both Morgan and Arnold preferred to strike while the British were in columns, moving through the woods. Arnold took advantage of his earlier orders which would permit an in-force reconnaissance, to order Morgan's and Henry Dearborn's light infantry battalion forward. As Morgan's Virginia riflemen came up to the clearing at Freeman's Farm, they found the advance party of Fraser's column in the field. The first shots dropped every officer in the advance, and threw the others into retreat.

When they saw this Morgan's men charged recklessly forward. Supported by Dearborn's fire they managed to drive Fraser's light infantry back into the center column of General Hamilton. But this enthusiasm broke when they ran into the grenadier batallion's bayonets, and the American advance became a quick retreat. This set the pattern for the remainder of the battle.

Morgan was working hard to reform his regiment south of the field. Knowing that Morgan was in trouble, Arnold ordered Enoch Poor's brigade of New York and New Hampshire regulars with Connecticut militia to extend the American left. He also ordered General Ebenezer Learned with four regiments of the Continental Army to support Morgan toward the center. Burgoyne was not idle, and ordered Both Fraser and Hamilton to form up using the farm's fields as their rallying point.

As the British gathered in the field, massed fire from Poor's regiments drove them back, with serious losses. Again, the British repulsed an American charge. Arnold himself led a charge toward the center with five regiments, but could not succeed in separating Fraser's wing from Burgorne's other forces. Three times Arnold rode back to headquarters, begging Gates to attack or give him enough men to break the British. His only response was an order to release Alexander Scammel's 3rd New Hampshire regiment to guard headquarters, and finally an order removing Arnold himself from the battle.

The final stroke of the battle belonged to the British. Burgoyne ordered von Riedesel to leave a light guard with the column and advance on Freeman's farm. Riedesel led his Hessians, with artillery support through a ravine that the American's had thought impassible. This added force allowed the British to succeed in claiming the fields and the farm.


Burgoyne had taken the farm, but suffered about 600 casualties, most of them to Hamilton's center column. Not only could he ill afford the men and equipment lost, he had lost the initiative. American loses were just over 300 killed and seriously wounded. The British and Hessean forces constructed redoubts on the farm and fortified their original crossing point of the Hudson.

At the end of the battle both sides were dug in about 2 miles apart. Burgoyne's force was down to about 6,000 effective fighters, and was short on supplies and rations. Gates still had about 7,000, with more militia arriving every day.

Gates quickly reported a sharp action to the Congress and New York's governor. While the field commanders and men universally credited Arnold for their success, Gates best efforts were to ensure that no one other than himself got credit. Arnold's protests were loudest in what he viewed as a slight to Learned, Poor, and Morgan and their men. The split between Arnold and Gates become deeper, and Gates ensured that Arnold had no command going into the Battle of Bemis Heights.