The Surrender of General Burgoyne at Saratoga

United States - Scott #644 (1927)
United States – Scott #644 (1927)

The surrender on October 17, 1777, of the British General John Burgoyne on the battlefield near what became the village of Stillwater in Saratoga County, New York, was a turning point in the American Revolutionary War that prevented the British from dividing New England from the rest of the colonies. This gave a decisive victory to the Americans over the British. General Burgoyne had led a large invasion army southward from Canada in the Champlain Valley, hoping to meet a similar British force marching northward from New York City and another British force marching eastward from Lake Ontario; the southern and western forces never arrived, and Burgoyne was surrounded by American forces in upstate New York. He fought two small battles to break out which took place 18 days apart on the same ground, 9 miles (14 km) south of Saratoga, New York. They both failed. Burgoyne’s surrender, says historian Edmund Morgan, “was a great turning point of the war because it won for Americans the foreign assistance which was the last element needed for victory.”

Burgoyne’s strategy to divide New England from the southern colonies had started well but slowed due to logistical problems. He won a small tactical victory over General Horatio Gates and the Continental Army in the September 19 Battle of Freeman’s Farm at the cost of significant casualties. His gains were erased during the October 7 Battle of Bemis Heights when the Continental Army captured a portion of the British defenses. Burgoyne was therefore compelled to retreat, and his army was surrounded by the much larger American force at Saratoga, forcing him to surrender on October 17. News of Burgoyne’s surrender was instrumental in formally bringing France into the war as an American ally, although it had previously given supplies, ammunition, and guns, notably the de Valliere cannon which played an important role in Saratoga. This battle also resulted in Spain joining France in the war against Britain.

“Portrait of British General John Burgoyne”, oil on canvas painting by Joshua Reynolds, circa 1766. Currently in the Frick Collection, an art museum located in the Henry Clay Frick House on the Upper East Side in Manhattan, New York City. It houses the collection of industrialist Henry Clay Frick (1849–1919).
British General John Burgoyne's March on Albany, June-October 1777, also known as the Saratoga Campaign.
British General John Burgoyne’s March on Albany, June-October 1777, also known as the Saratoga Campaign.

General Burgoyne moved south from the province of Quebec in June 1777 to gain control of the upper Hudson River valley. His campaign had become bogged down in difficulties following a victory at Fort Ticonderoga. Elements of the army had reached the upper Hudson as early as the end of July, but logistical and supply difficulties delayed the main army at Fort Edward. One attempt to alleviate these difficulties failed when nearly 1,000 men were killed or captured at the August 16 Battle of Bennington. Furthermore, news reached Burgoyne on August 28 that St. Leger’s expedition down the Mohawk River valley had turned back after the failed Siege of Fort Stanwix.

General William Howe had taken his army from New York City by sea on a campaign to capture Philadelphia instead of moving north to meet Burgoyne. Most of Burgoyne’s Indian support had fled following the loss at Bennington, and his situation was becoming difficult. He needed to reach defensible winter quarters, requiring either retreat back to Ticonderoga or advance to Albany, and he decided to advance. He then deliberately cut communications to the north so that he would not need to maintain a chain of heavily fortified outposts between his position and Ticonderoga, and he decided to cross the Hudson River while he was in a relatively strong position.

The Continental Army had been in a slow retreat since Burgoyne’s capture of Ticonderoga early in July, under the command of Major General Philip Schuyler, and was encamped south of Stillwater, New York. On August 19, Major General Horatio Gates assumed command from Schuyler, whose political fortunes had fallen over the loss of Ticonderoga and the ensuing retreat. Gates and Schuyler were from very different backgrounds and did not get along with each other; they had previously argued over command issues in the army’s Northern Department. The army was growing in size because of increased militia turnout following calls by state governors, the success at Bennington, and widespread outrage over the slaying of Jane McCrea, the fiancée of a Loyalist in Burgoyne’s army by Indians under Burgoyne’s command.

Oil painting of Continental Army General Horatio Gates by Gilbert Stuart, circa 1793-1793. Currently at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City.
Oil painting of Continental Army General Horatio Gates by Gilbert Stuart, circa 1793-1793. Currently at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City.

General George Washington’s strategic decisions also improved the situation for Gates’ army. Washington was most concerned about the movements of General Howe. He was aware that Burgoyne was also moving, and he took some risks in July. He sent aid north in the form of Major General Benedict Arnold, his most aggressive field commander, and Major General Benjamin Lincoln, a Massachusetts man noted for his influence with the New England militia. He ordered 750 men from Israel Putnam’s forces defending the New York highlands to join Gates’ army in August, before he was certain that Howe had indeed sailed south. He also sent some of the best forces from his own army: Colonel Daniel Morgan and the newly formed Provisional Rifle Corps, which comprised about 500 specially selected riflemen from Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia, chosen for their sharpshooting ability. This unit came to be known as Morgan’s Riflemen.

The “Battle of Saratoga” is often depicted as a single event, but it was actually a month-long series of maneuvers punctuated by two battles. At the beginning of September 1777, Burgoyne’s army, now just over 7,000 strong, was located on the east bank of the Hudson. He ordered Baron Riedesel, who commanded the rear of the army, to abandon outposts from Skenesboro south, and then had the army cross the Hudson just north of Saratoga between September 13 and 15.

When Gates took over Schuyler’s army, much of it was located near the mouth of the Mohawk River, south of Stillwater. On September 8, he ordered the army, then about 10,000 men (of whom about 8,500 were effective combat troops), to Stillwater with the idea of setting up defenses there. The Polish engineer Tadeusz Kościuszko found the area inadequate for proper defensive works, so a new location was found about three miles further north (and about 10 miles (16 km) south of Saratoga). At this location Kosciusko laid out defensive lines stretching from the river to the bluffs called Bemis Heights. The heights had a clear view of the area and commanded the only road to Albany, where it passed through a defile between the heights and the Hudson River. To the west of the heights lay more heavily forested bluffs that would present a significant challenge to any heavily equipped army.

The right side of these defenses was nominally given to General Lincoln, but as he was leading troops intended for a diversion against Ticonderoga, Gates assumed command of that portion of the line himself. Gates put General Arnold, with whom he had previously had a good relationship, in command of the army’s left, the western defenses on Bemis Heights. The relationship between the two soured when Arnold chose to staff his command with friends of Schuyler, whom Gates hated. Combined with the prickly natures of both Gates and Arnold, this eventually brought internal power squabbles to a boil. Arnold managed to turn Gates against him by taking on officers friendly to Schuyler as staff, dragging him into the ongoing feud between the two. These conditions had not yet reached a boil on September 19, but the day’s events contributed to the situation. Gates had assigned the left wing of the defenses to Arnold, and assumed command himself of the right, which was nominally assigned to General Lincoln, whom Gates had detached in August with some troops to harass the British positions behind Burgoyne’s army.

Map of the First Battle of Saratoga, September 19, 1777
Map of the First Battle of Saratoga, September 19, 1777

[url=https://flic.kr/p/NnHgm2][img]https://farm2.staticflickr.com/1914/30438108957_f3d6584a33_o.jpg[/img][/url][url=https://flic.kr/p/NnHgm2]Saratoga-freeman[/url] by [url=https://www.flickr.com/photos/am-jochim/]Mark Jochim[/url], on Flickr

View of the battleground at Freeman’s Farm, Saratoga County, New York. Photo taken on August 18, 2006.

Moving cautiously, since the departure of his Indian support had deprived him of reliable scouting, Burgoyne advanced to the south. On September 18 the vanguard of his army had reached a position just north of Saratoga, about 4 miles (6.4 km) from the American defensive line, and skirmishes occurred between the leading elements of the armies.

The American camp had become a bed of festering intrigue ever since Arnold’s return from Fort Stanwix. While he and Gates had previously been on reasonably good terms in spite of their prickly egos, Arnold managed to turn Gates against him by taking on officers friendly to Schuyler as staff, dragging him into the ongoing feud between the two. These conditions had not yet reached a boil on September 19, but the day’s events contributed to the situation. Gates had assigned the left wing of the defenses to Arnold, and assumed command himself of the right, which was nominally assigned to General Lincoln, whom Gates had detached in August with some troops to harass the British positions behind Burgoyne’s army.

Both Burgoyne and Arnold understood the importance of the American left, and the need to control the heights there. The first Battle of Saratoga on September 19 began soon after the fog lifted at 10 a.m. when Burgoyne moved some of his troops in an attempt to flank the entrenched American position on Bemis Heights. Benedict Arnold anticipated the maneuver and placed significant forces in his way. Burgoyne gained control of Freeman’s Farm, but it came at the cost of significant casualties. Skirmishing continued in the days following the battle, while Burgoyne waited in the hope that reinforcements would arrive from New York City. Patriot militia forces continued to arrive, meanwhile, swelling the size of the American army.

Color mezzotint by Thomas Hart depicting Benedict Arnold, captioned as follows:
Color mezzotint by Thomas Hart depicting Benedict Arnold, captioned as follows: “Colonel Arnold who commanded the Provincial Troops sent against Quebec, through the wilderness of Canada and was wounded in that city, under General Montgomery. London. Published as the Act directs 26 March 1776 by Thos. Hart.”

The mutual resentment between Horatio Gates and Benedict Arnold finally exploded into open hostility. Gates quickly reported the action of September 19 to the Congress and Governor George Clinton of New York, but he failed to mention Arnold at all. The field commanders and men universally credited Arnold for their success. Almost all the troops involved were from Arnold’s command and Arnold was the one directing the battle while Gates sat in his tent. Arnold protested, and the dispute escalated into a shouting match that ended with Gates relieving Arnold of his command and giving it to Benjamin Lincoln. Arnold asked for a transfer to Washington’s command, which Gates granted, but instead of leaving he remained in his tent. There is no documentary evidence for a commonly recounted anecdote that a petition signed by line officers convinced Arnold to stay in camp.

During this period there were almost daily clashes between pickets and patrols of the two armies. Morgan’s sharpshooters, familiar with the strategy and tactics of woodland warfare, constantly harassed British patrols on the western flank.

As September passed into October it became clear that Clinton was not coming to help Burgoyne, who put the army on short rations on October 3. The next day, Burgoyne called a war council in which several options were discussed, but no conclusive decisions were made. When the council resumed the next day, Riedesel proposed retreat, in which he was supported by Fraser. Burgoyne refused to consider it, insisting that retreat would be disgraceful. They finally agreed to conduct an assault on the American left flank with two thousand men, more than one-third of the army, on October 7. The army he was attacking, however, had grown in the interval. In addition to the return of Lincoln’s detachment, militiamen and supplies continued to pour into the American camp, including critical increases in ammunition, which had been severely depleted in the first battle. The army Burgoyne faced on October 7 was more than 12,000 men strong and was led by a man who knew how much trouble Burgoyne was in. Gates had received consistent intelligence from the stream of deserters leaving the British lines and had also intercepted Clinton’s response to Burgoyne’s plea for help.

Troop dispositions and initial movements at the Battle of Bemis Heights (Second Battle of Saratoga), October 7, 1777.
Troop dispositions and initial movements at the Battle of Bemis Heights (Second Battle of Saratoga), October 7, 1777.

The initial American attack was highly effective, and Burgoyne attempted to order a withdrawal, but his aide was shot down before the order could be broadcast. In intense fighting, the flanks of Burgoyne’s force were exposed, while the Brunswickers at the center held against Learned’s determined attack. General Fraser was mortally wounded in this phase of the battle. While frequently claimed to be the work of Timothy Murphy, one of Morgan’s men, the story appears to be a 19th-century fabrication. After Fraser’s fall and the arrival of additional American troops, Burgoyne ordered what was left of the force to retreat behind their entrenched lines.

General Arnold, frustrated by the sound of fighting he was not involved in, rode off from the American headquarters to join the fray. Arnold, who some claimed was in a drunken fury, took the battle to the British position. The right side of the British line consisted of two earthen redoubts that had been erected on Freeman’s Farm, and were manned by Brunswickers under Heinrich Breymann and light infantry under Lord Balcarres. Arnold first rallied troops to attack Balcarres’ redoubt, without success. He then boldly rode through the gap between the two redoubts, a space guarded by a small company of Canadian irregulars. Learned’s men followed, and made an assault on the open rear of Breymann’s redoubt. Arnold’s horse was shot out from under him, pinning him and breaking his leg. Breymann was killed in the fierce action, and his position was taken. However, night was falling, and the battle came to an end.

The battle was a bloodbath for the British troops. Burgoyne had lost 1,000 men in the two battles, leaving him outnumbered by roughly 3 to 1; American losses came to about 500 killed and wounded. Burgoyne had also lost several of his most effective leaders, his attempts to capture the American position had failed, and his forward line was now breached. After the second battle, Burgoyne lit fires at his remaining forward positions and withdrew under the cover of darkness. He withdrew his men 10–15 miles north, near present-day Schuylerville, New York. By the morning of October 8, he was back in the fortified positions he had held on September 16.

It took the army nearly two days to reach Saratoga, in which heavy rain and American probes against the column slowed the army’s pace. Burgoyne was aided by logistical problems in the American camp, where the army’s ability to move forward was hampered by delays in bringing forward and issuing rations. However, Gates did order detachments to take positions on the east side of the Hudson to oppose any attempted crossings. By the morning of October 13, Burgoyne’s army was completely surrounded. He held a council of war to propose terms of surrender. Riedesel suggested that they be paroled and allowed to march back to Canada without their weapons. Burgoyne felt that Gates would not even consider such terms, asking instead to be conveyed to Boston, where they would sail back to Europe.

Terms were agreed on October 16 that Burgoyne insisted on calling a “convention” rather than a capitulation. Baroness Riedesel, wife of the commander of the German troops, vividly describes in her journal the confusion and besetting starvation of the retreating British army. Her account of the tribulation and death of officers and men, and of the terrified women who had taken shelter in the cellar of what later became known as the Marshall House dramatizes the desperation of the besieged army.

Saratoga Monument in Saratoga National Historical Park at Victory, New York, United States. Photo taken on August 18, 2006.
Saratoga Monument in Saratoga National Historical Park at Victory, New York, United States. Photo taken on August 18, 2006.

On October 17, Burgoyne surrendered his army to Gates with full honors of wars. Burgoyne gave his sword to Gates, who immediately returned it as a sign of respect. Burgoyne’s army, about 6,000 strong, marched past to stack arms as the American and British bands played “Yankee Doodle” and “The British Grenadiers”. The British and German troops were accorded the traditional honors of war as they marched out to surrender.

Burgoyne’s failed campaign marked a major turning point in the war. General Burgoyne returned to England and was never given another commanding position in the British Army. The British learned that the Americans would fight bravely and effectively. Said one British officer:

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.”

In recognition of his contribution to the battles at Saratoga, General Arnold had his seniority restored. His leg wound left Arnold bedridden for five months. Later, while still unfit for field service but serving as military governor of Philadelphia, Arnold entered into treasonous correspondence with the British. He received command of the fort at West Point and plotted to hand it over to the British, only to flee into the British lines when the capture of his contact John Andre led to the exposure of the plot. Arnold went on to serve under William Phillips, the commander of Burgoyne’s right wing, in a 1781 expedition into Virginia.

Boot Monument at Saratoga National Battlefield in New York commemorating the wounded foot of :Benedict Arnold. Photo taken on August 18, 2006.
Boot Monument at Saratoga National Battlefield in New York commemorating the wounded foot of :Benedict Arnold. Photo taken on August 18, 2006.

Although he left the direction of the battle to subordinates, General Gates received a great deal of credit as the commanding general for the greatest American victory of the war to date. He may have conspired with others to replace George Washington as the commander-in-chief. Instead, he received the command of the main American army in the South. He led it to a disastrous defeat at the 1780 Battle of Camden, where he was at the forefront of a panicked retreat. Gates never commanded troops in the field again.

In response to Burgoyne’s surrender, Congress declared December 18, 1777, as a national day “for solemn Thanksgiving and praise”; it was the nation’s first official observance of a holiday with that name.

Under the terms of the convention Burgoyne’s army was to march to Boston, where British ships would transport it back to England, on condition that its members not participate in the conflict until they were formally exchanged. Congress demanded that Burgoyne provide a list of troops in the army so that the terms of the agreement concerning future combat could be enforced. When he refused, Congress decided not to honor the terms of the convention, and the army remained in captivity. The army was kept for some time in sparse camps throughout New England. Although individual officers were exchanged, much of the “Convention Army” was eventually marched south to Virginia, where it remained prisoner for several years. Throughout its captivity, a large number of men (more than 1,300 in the first year alone) escaped and effectively deserted, settling in the United States.

While in Virginia with the Convention Army, General Riedesel collapsed while working in the garden, and Baroness Riedesel spent her time as his nurse. Until he returned to Germany, General Riedesel could not sleep unless Frederika was with him. In 1779, the Riedesel family was allowed to move to New York. They were permitted to leave there for Canada in July 1781. Interestingly, General and Baroness Riedesel’s celebration of Christmas 1781 in Canada is credited with popularizing the German traditional Christmas Tree in the Americas.

Benjamin Franklin honored the victory in Saratoga by commissioning and designing an Augustin Dupré medallion. It was minted in Paris in 1783. Description: “LIBERTAS AMERICANA” Silver Medallion, 1783. Designed by Benjamin Franklin and Esprit-Antoine Gibelin; sculpted/engraved by Augustin Dupré. Struck at the “Mint for Medals at the Louvre”, Paris, France. Silver, 47.5mm, 45.7 gm (1.612 oz) Obverse: LIBERTAS AMERICANA (American Liberty) across the top over a bust of Liberty with flowing hair and Phrygian cap on a pole behind her. The Date 4 JUIL. 1776 (4 July 1776) is spelled from the shortened French form 4 JUILLET 1776, in the exergue, Signature DUPRE appears at the truncation of the bust. Reverse: The infant Hercules, symbolic of the United States, strangling two snakes that represent the British armies at the Battle of Saratoga and Siege of Yorktown; Minerva at the left with the fleurs-de-lis of France on her shield and a spear in hand thwarting the attack of a lion representing Britain. Above is the motto NON SINE DIIS ANIMOSUS INFANS, from Horace’s ode “Descende coelo” translates “The infant is not bold without the aide of the gods.” Two dates with a common month, 17 OCT. 1777 and 19 OCT. 1781 (shortened OCTOBRE, French for October), in the exergue signify the American victories at Saratoga and Yorktown. Signature DUPRE F. appears at the lion’s feet.

On December 4, 1777, word reached Benjamin Franklin at Versailles that Philadelphia had fallen and that Burgoyne had surrendered. Two days later, King Louis XVI assented to negotiations for an alliance. The treaty was signed on February 6, 1778, and France declared war on Britain one month later, with hostilities beginning with naval skirmishes off Ushant in June. This moved the conflict onto a global stage. As a consequence, Britain was forced to divert resources used to fight the war in North America to theaters in the West Indies and Europe, and rely on what turned out to be the chimera of Loyalist support in its North American operations. Being defeated by the British in the French and Indian War more than a decade earlier, France found an opportunity to undercut British power and ultimately of revenge by aiding the colonists throughout the Revolutionary War. Prior to the Battle of Saratoga, France didn’t fully aid the colonists. However, after the Battles of Saratoga were conclusively won by the colonists, France realized that the Americans had the hope of winning the war, and began fully aiding the colonists by sending soldiers, donations, loans, military arms, and supplies.

Spain did not enter into the war until 1779, when it entered the war as an ally of France pursuant to the secret Treaty of Aranjuez. Vergennes’ diplomatic moves following the French entry into the war also had material impact on the later entry of the Dutch Republic into the war, and declarations of neutrality on the part of other important geopolitical players like Russia.

The British government of Lord North came under sharp criticism when the news of Burgoyne’s surrender reached London. Of Lord Germain it was said that “the secretary is incapable of conducting a war”, and Horace Walpole opined (incorrectly, as it turned out) that “we are … very near the end of the American war.” Lord North issued a proposal for peace terms in Parliament that did not include independence; when these were finally delivered to Congress by the Carlisle Peace Commission they were rejected.

“Surrender of General Bugoyne”, oil on canvas painting by John Trumbell depicting the September 17, 1777, surrender in Saratoga County, New York. Completed December 1821, the dimensions of the painting are 365.76 cm by 548.64 cm (144.00 in by 216.00 in). All of the figures in the scene are portraits of specific officers. Trumbull planned this outdoor scene to contrast with the Declaration of Independence beside it.
Art of the United States Capitol, page 143, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1978
A key to figures in JohnTrumbull’s Surrender of General Burgoyne. From Art of the United States Capitol, page 143, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1978.

The surrender was the subject of an oil painting by John Trumbull. Included in the depiction are many leaders of the American Continental Army and militia forces that took part in the battle as well as the Hessian commander Friedrich Adolf Riedesel and two British Army officers: Burgoyne and General William Phillips.  The painting was completed in 1821, and hangs in the rotunda of the United States Capitol in Washington, D. C. It was reproduced on stamps released by the United States in 1927, 1977 and 1994, the latter prepared from an unused design originally intended for release in 1869.

Trumbull (1756–1843) spent the early part of the American Revolutionary War as a soldier, serving as an aide to both George Washington and Horatio Gates. After resigning from the army in 1777, he pursued a career as an artist. In 1785, he began sketching out ideas for a series of large-scale paintings to commemorate the major events of the American Revolution, and in 1791 he traveled to Saratoga, New York, where he sketched the landscape of the surrender site.

Upon his return from Britain after the end of the War of 1812, he promoted this idea to the United States Congress. On the strength of his application and the successful exhibition of Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker’s Hill, Death of Montgomery, as well as studies for other proposed paintings, the Congress in 1817 voted to commission four large paintings from him, to be hung in the United States Capitol rotunda.

“Self-Portrait,” oil on canvas, by the American painter John Trumbull. circa 1802, 29 3/4 in. x 24 9/16 in. Yale University Art Gallery, gift of Marshall H. Clyde, Jr. Courtesy of Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut.
A landscape sketch, ink, sepia wash on cardboard, of the scene at Saratoga, New York that was the site of General John Burgoyne's surrender in 1777. This sketch was made in 1791 in anticipation of Trumbull's painting Surrender of General Burgoyne in the 1820s.
A landscape sketch, ink, sepia wash on cardboard, of the scene at Saratoga, New York that was the site of General John Burgoyne’s surrender in 1777. This sketch was made in 1791 in anticipation of Trumbull’s painting Surrender of General Burgoyne in the 1820s.

The price was set at $8,000 per painting, with the size and subject matter to be determined by President James Madison. A size of twelve by eighteen feet (370 cm × 550 cm) was agreed, as was the subject matter for the four paintings: the Declaration of Independence, the Surrender of General Burgoyne, the Surrender of Lord Cornwallis, and General George Washington Resigning His Commission. Trumbull spent the next eight years executing the commission, completing this painting in late 1821. It was first displayed in New York City from January to March 1822, and Trumbull supervised its hanging in the Capitol rotunda in 1824. It has remained there ever since. Trumbull himself cleaned and varnished the painting in 1828, also effecting repairs to an area near Daniel Morgan’s foot.

The painting depicts General John Burgoyne prepared to surrender his sword to General Horatio Gates. Gates, showing respect for Burgoyne, refuses to take the sword and instead offers hospitality by directing Burgoyne to the tent to take refreshment; the American flag flies in the wind at the top of the tent. American officers gather at the sides to witness the event; their varied dress reflects their different units. In the center of the painting, and extending into the background, is Burgoyne’s army along with its German reinforcements. They were directed to the camp by American Colonel Lewis, Quartermaster-General, who rides on horseback in the far distance. The scene suggests peace rather than combat or hostility: beneath blue sky and white clouds, officers wear their dress uniforms, weapons are sheathed or slung, and cannons stand silent.

Trumbull created a smaller, substantially similar, version of the painting, that now belongs to the Yale University Art Gallery. The rotunda version was used as the basis for a commemorative stamp issued in 1994.

Battlefield of the Battle of Saratoga,, as viewed from the visitor center of Saratoga National Historic Park, in Stillwater, New York, United States, Photo taken on July 10, 2009.
Battlefield of the Battle of Saratoga,, as viewed from the visitor center of Saratoga National Historic Park, in Stillwater, New York, United States, Photo taken on July 10, 2009.

The battlefield and the site of Burgoyne’s surrender have been preserved, and are now administered by the National Park Service as the Saratoga National Historical Park, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1966. The park preserves a number of the buildings in the area and contains a variety of monuments. The Saratoga Monument obelisk has four niches, three of which hold statues of American commanders: Gates and Schuyler and of Colonel Daniel Morgan. The fourth niche, where Arnold’s statue would go, is empty. A more dramatic memorial to Arnold’s heroism, that does not name him, is the Boot Monument. Donated by Civil War General John Watts de Peyster, it shows a boot with spurs and the stars of a major general. It stands at the spot where Arnold was shot on October 7 charging Breymann’s redoubt and is dedicated to “the most brilliant soldier of the Continental Army”.

Six Army National Guard units (101st Engineer’s Battalion, 102nd Infantry, 125th Quartermaster’s Company, 181st Infantry, 182nd Infantry, and 192nd Military Police Battalion) are derived from American units that participated in the Battle of Saratoga. There are now only thirty units in the U.S. Army with lineages that go back to the colonial era.

United States - Scott #644 (1927) first day cover postmarked at Syracuse, New York, August 3, 1927. Roessler cachet.
United States – Scott #644 (1927) first day cover postmarked at Syracuse, New York, August 3, 1927. Roessler cachet.

Although Scott #644 is called the “Burgoyne Campaign” stamp, it commemorates several different events. In fact, General John Burgoyne isn’t the central character in the stamp and it wasn’t originally intended to honor him, as he was a British general fighting against America. The stamp pictures Burgoyne (left of center) handing his sword to General Horatio Gates of the Continental Army. The stamp image is based on John Trumbull’s 1821 painting “Surrender of General Burgoyne.” According to philatelic author Max G. Johl, the stamp was actually issued to commemorate the first occasion the U.S. flag was under fire. This occurred on August 3, 1777, at Fort Stanwix (later renamed Fort Schulyer), following the proclamation of The American Flag Act of June 14, 1777.

The governor of New York State, Alfred E. Smith, sent a letter to the Postmaster General endorsing a request made by the American Legion and the Rome and Utica Council of the Boy Scouts of America for a stamp to mark “the first display of the Stars and Stripes in the face of the enemy, on August 3, 1777, at the defense of Fort Stanwix, whose site is now included in the city of Rome, N.Y.” The original proposal called for a set of four stamps portraying the raising of the flag over the fort, the story of Herkimer under the beach tree at the Battle of Oriskany, the Bennington Monument, and the surrender of Burgoyne. At one point, authorities in Bennington, Vermont, also requested a commemorative stamp but were told they should come to agreement with New York as only one stamp would be permitted. Congressman F.M. Davenport of Clinton, New York, was authorized to ask for a single stamp release bearing  the names of Fort Stanrvix, Oriskany, Bennington, and Saratoga with Trumbull’s painting representing New York State’s part in the American Revolution.

In April 1927, New York State Historian Dr. Flick met with United States Post Office Department officials in Washington, D.C., where he was assured of a distinctive Burgoyne Campaign commemorat9ive stamp. However, when the stamp was released, the flag visible in the upper right of Trumbull’s painting was omitted. Nor did it appear on any subsequent versions of the painting produced by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.

Bureau of Engraving and Printing engraved vignette of John Trumbull’s painting Surrender of General Burgoyne (1821). Engraving by Frederick Girsch of the National Bank Note Company for the BEP. Scanned from an original impression, part of a Treasury Department presentation album of portraits and vignettes (c. 1902), possibly presented to Lyman Gage. This version also omits the U.S. flag flying over the tent at right.
Bureau of Engraving and Printing engraved vignette of John Trumbull’s painting Surrender of General Burgoyne (1821). Engraving by Frederick Girsch of the National Bank Note Company for the BEP. Scanned from an original impression, part of a Treasury Department presentation album of portraits and vignettes (c. 1902), possibly presented to Lyman Gage. This version also omits the U.S. flag flying over the tent at right.
The flag which appeared in John Trumbull's painting of Burgoyne's surrender at Saratoga and others, but which was omitted on portrayals of the painting on U.S. stamps issued in 1927, 1977 and 1994.
The flag which appeared in John Trumbull’s painting of Burgoyne’s surrender at Saratoga and others, but which was omitted on portrayals of the painting on U.S. stamps issued in 1927, 1977 and 1994. The flag pictured was made circa 1870-1890.

Of the many patterns of 13-star flags that exist, this particular pattern of 12 stars in the shape of a square and a single center star is among the rarest. Known as the Trumbull pattern after the artist who painted this configuration of stars in at least three of his works: The Battle of Princeton (1777), The Surrender of General Burgoyne (1777) and The Surrender of Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown, Virginia (1781). Although it is unknown if this pattern of flag was actually present at these battles, Trumbull served as second personal aide to George Washington and deputy adjutant-general for General Horatio Gates, and had deep first-hand knowledge of the war and the flags that would have been flown. He is also known for his meticulous attention to detail. Regardless of whether or not this pattern of flag was actually present on these battlefields, the pattern has become permanently associated with his name. Five or fewer sewn flags in the Trumbull pattern are known to exist.

The official notice for its release, sent to postmasters on July 15, 1927, stated,

Postmasters and others connected with the Postal Service are notified that the department is about to issue a new 2-cent Burgoyne Campaign stamp to commemorate the Battles of Fort Stanwix, Oriskany, Bennington, and Saratoga.

The new stamp is the same size and shape as the special-delivery stamp, 1-4/100 by 84/100 inches, and will be printed in red ink. The central design represents the surrender of General Burgoyne, and is enclosed in panels bearing the words “Fort Stanwix” at the left, “Oriskany” at the top and “Bennington” at the right, with the word “Saratoga” beneath the design. In a curved panel near the top of the stamp are the words “U.S. Postage” in white Roman letters, and on ribbon scrolls in both upper corners are the years “1777” and “1927”.  In an ornamental panel at the bottom of the stamp appears the word “Cents” with the numeral “2” in both lower corners within circles supported by acanthus scrolls. Immediately beneath the central vignette appear the words “Surrender of Genl. Burgoyne.”

The frame of the stamp was designed by C.A. Huston while the engraving was executed by J. Eissler and F. Lamasure of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. The BEP used the rotary press to print 25,628,450 copies of the stamp, perforated 11. The plates were of 200 subjects, cut into post office panes of 50 along the horizontal and vertical guide lines. Each plate carried eight plate numbers, top and bottom over or under the third stamp, and on the side margins these are placed opposite the fifth stamp from the top or bottom of each pane.

United States - Scott #644 (1927) plate block of six with the plate number from the top margin of the sheet
United States – Scott #644 (1927) plate block of six with the plate number from the top margin of the sheet

The carmine rose 2-cent stamp was issued on August 3, 1927, with first day of issue ceremonies at Syracuse, Utica, Albany, and Rome — all in New York State — and Washington, D.C. Oddly, the town of Schuylerville, New York, was not included despite the fact that the surrender depicted on the stamp actually occurred there.

Trumbull’s painting was also the subject of Scott #1728, issued on October 7, 1977, at Schuylerville, New York. This multicolored 13-cent stamp was a part of the multi-year Bicentennial Series and had 153,736,000 copies printed by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing using the photogravure process, perforated 11 x 10½. On this stamp, the painting is titled “Surrender at Saratoga”

In 1869, a stamp design was created based upon Trumbull’s painting. Although an engraving was made, the stamp was never issued. On May 5, 1994, a new stamp was issued using this 1869 engraving. The original design had a denomination of 30 cents but this was changed for the modern version (Scott #2560). It is not known why the 1869 stamp was never issued, although some experts point out that sensitive relations between the U.S. and Britain may have been a factor. This stamp is the first to make use of an original essay (a stamp prepared for issue but never released). Stamp Venturers Inc. printed 300,000,000 copies of the stamp in blue.

United States flag, Trumbull pattern (1777)
United States flag, Trumbull pattern (1777)

2 thoughts on “The Surrender of General Burgoyne at Saratoga

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