After the First Battle of Saratoga, both sides regrouped while skirmishes continued. The British secured Bemis Heights on September 19, 1777, but refused to press their case. The American leadership openly feuded while an apparently shell shocked British general awaited reinforcements. Horatio Gates and Benedict Arnold argued over strategy while Burgoyne sought assistance from his superiors. British reinforcements never arrived and Arnold was relieved of command. Despite this, Arnold disobeyed orders, turned the Second Battle of Saratoga in America’s favor, inflicted an embarrassing defeat on the empire, and captured an entire British army.
The Americans outnumbered Burgoyne nearly 2-to-1. The British fielded over 6,000 men on paper, but probably had 5,000 effective soldiers. The Americans enjoyed twice that number. Burgoyne considered retreating, but decided to probe the rebels for weakness. Meanwhile, Gates relieved Arnold of duty and banished his rival to his tent. The pair disagreed over strategy to such a point that Arnold bordered on insubordination. With his rival out of the way, Gates countered Burgoyne’s movements with strategic re-deployments.
Gates and Burgoyne finally stopped their three week waltz. The second battle began in the early afternoon on October 7. The British opened fire, but the Americans held theirs. Frustrated, the British charged into the American line which finally opened up. Meanwhile, Daniel Morgan’s sharpshooters decimated the British force on the other end of the field. Burgoyne’s horse and hat each suffered bullet wounds, but the general remained unharmed. However, the British teetered on the brink of collapse, but Gates refused to push the issue.
Benedict Arnold immediately recognized the opportunity. The general ignored orders, left his tent, and rode into the action. Enraged, Gates sent a subordinate with orders for Arnold’s return. The British began to retreat with Arnold in pursuit. Next, the exiled general attacked a strong British defensive position. Arnold captured the position, but was wounded in the leg in a fierce firefight. His horse suffered several wounds and fell on Arnold’s wounded leg. Arnold’s efforts opened the way for the Americans to capture Burgoyne’s camp and army. Eventually, Burgoyne recognized his precarious position and surrendered. His troops faced starvation or capitulation.
The American victory changed the course of the revolution. Benjamin Franklin used Arnold’s triumph to convince the French to enter the war. Louis XVI’s decision to enter the conflict transformed the rebellion into a world war. England faced the prospect of losing its entire empire as opposed to thirteen unruly colonies.
Benedict Arnold’s insurrection won the Second Battle of Saratoga. British forces wilted under American pressure, but Gates refused to deliver the coup de grace. Arnold disobeyed orders, left his tent, and attacked. Arnold’s initiative turned the tide against the British. General Burgoyne’s forces collapsed, found themselves trapped, and surrendered. Gates became the “Hero of Saratoga” while Arnold’s contributions ignored.