On April 19, 1775, the American Revolutionary War began with the battles of Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts. The first volley came at sunrise. Poet Ralph Waldo Emerson called it “The shot heard ‘round the world.”
The first two years of the war saw major fighting across the Thirteen Colonies. On one side stood the rag-tag Continental Army, composed primarily of farmers. On the other, the British Army...perhaps the most feared military on the face of the earth. At no point was victory assured for the newly-minted Americans, but on October 17, 1777, they took a huge step in the right direction.
During the late summer of 1777, British General John Burgoyne marched an army of eight thousand redcoats across New York State in an attempt to link up with the army of Sir William Howe. In mid-September, Burgoyne’s army set up camp near Saratoga, while nearby, American forces under General Horatio Gates – a former Major in the British Army whose advancement in rank was frustrated by his lack of wealth and influence – gathered in mass.
On September 19, an expeditionary column of Redcoats marched on Gates’s men, but, failing to shatter the American line, fell back. This was the First Battle of Saratoga.
The Second Battle of Saratoga came on October 7, when another British regiment engaged American troops under Benedict Arnold. Come October 17, Burgoyne’s men were surrounded by 20,000 Americans: The British had lost a thousand men in the fighting, whereas the Americans had only lost five hundred, leaving the Redcoats outnumbered 3 to 1. Burgoyne made the decision to surrender.
The American victory at Saratoga marked a turning point in the war. Not only did it convince the government of France to recognize American independence and to begin providing aid, it also convinced at least some in the British camp that the Patriots were serious and capable. One British general said: "The courage and obstinacy with which the Americans fought were the astonishment of everyone, and we now became fully convinced that they are not that contemptible enemy we had hitherto imagined them, incapable of standing a regular engagement, and that they would only fight behind strong and powerful works."
Saratoga may very well be the most important American victory of the war.