An Itinerary on the Alfred Z. Solomon Cultural Heritage Trail
The Turning Point Trail self-guided itinerary connects selected points of interest that led to the American victory in Saratoga, an event many historians consider to be the "turning point of the American Revolution." As you travel between Whitehall and Fort Edward it is easy to imagine Burgoyne's troops struggling along this narrow passage between Lake Champlain and the Hudson River -- through wooded hillsides, narrow ravines, low-lying bogs, and a three-mile stretch of swamp. At many of the destinations, you will find museums and guides who will tell you about the significance this area had on the outcome of the American Revolution.
From the beginning of the American Revolution, Britain's goal was to deliver a crushing defeat of the rebels to return the Colonists to British subjugation. Their plan was to take control of the interconnected waterway from New York City to Lake Champlain, thereby breaking off New England, the seedbed of the Revolution, from the rest of the continent.
After the British succeeded in removing the Continental Army from Manhattan in 1776, Washington took up quarters in Pennsylvania, and Major General William Howe prepared his strategy for attack. As detailed in a letter from Howe to Lord George Germain, the foreign secretary for America, one British army was to move down the Champlain-Hudson corridor, in what is now known as the Lakes to Locks Passage, to Albany, where, if necessary, Howe would dispatch troops from Manhattan to sail up the Hudson to take the southern flank. By the time the plan was set to go in motion, it included a third army that was to proceed from the west along the Mohawk River, and meet the other armies in Albany. The combined army would then seal off New England, and defeat the Americans.
In June of 1777, Major General John Burgoyne, a.k.a. Gentleman Johnny, undertook his part of the plan for British control the waterway to Albany. Burgoyne's army of some 8,000 men met no resistance as he sailed down Lake Champlain and took Fort Ticonderoga without firing a shot.
Burgoyne's troubles began as he prepared to cross twenty-two miles of wilderness between Lake Champlain and the Hudson River. The vanity of Gentleman Johnny, combined with the Colonist's knowledge of the countryside, proved to be a great disadvantage for Burgoyne's army as they attempted to cross the rugged terrain. General Philip Schuyler directed the Americans to sabotage the narrow route through the wilderness to slow the progress of Burgoyne's men. An unseasonably hot and humid July, combined with Gentleman Johnny's need to surround himself with the luxuries of British aristocratic life, which translated into over thirty wagons laden with personal belongings, proved to be a major hindrance to the progress of the British troops.
As Burgoyne's supply lines stretched further, he sent a detachment of Hessian troops to Bennington to capture additional horses and supplies held by the colonists. What Burgoyne did not understand was that there was great disaffection among the Continentals who were enraged by widespread stories of brutalities against women and children. One story that was widely popular was Jane McCrea, an American woman betrothed to a British officer, who was scalped by Indians. The fear of further savagery throughout the frontier by Burgoyne's native allies helped Americans organize a surprise attack on the Hessians, killing some 900 men at the Battle of Bennington. This first real setback created considerable risk for Burgoyne as he approached Saratoga with no reinforcements, as Howe was pursuing Washington in Philadelphia and St. Leger's progress was halted at Fort Stanwix in the west.
The Northern Army's General Horatio Gates moved Americans northward from its camp near the Mohawk River in early September, 1777. There were three distinct phases of the Battle of Saratoga. The first and second battles were fought in Stillwater, on September 19 and October 7, 1777. From October 10-17, 1777 Burgoyne's British troops took refuge in a fortified camp at the siege field in Schuylerville. During the siege, the American force had grown to nearly 20,000 men which surrounded the exhausted British army of 3,000 men. Faced with such overwhelming numbers, Burgoyne surrendered on October 17, 1777. By the terms of the Convention of Saratoga, Burgoyne's depleted army marched out of its camp "with Honors of War" and grounded (or stacked) their arms at the "Field of Grounded Arms" which is now Fort Hardy Park in Schuylerville. A few months after Burgoyne's defeat in Saratoga, France entered a formal alliance with the recognized American nation in the spring of 1778, and set in motion a chain of events that eventually led to victory for the American Revolution.