The American victory over the British at Saratoga in 1777 was arguably the pivotal event of the American Revolutionary War. The British defeat led France and Spain to declare war on Britain, transforming a colonial uprising into a world war and, by distracting the British with a European conflict, assuring the colonists’ success. The British troops at Saratoga were led by Lieutenant General John Burgoyne, and two years after his defeat he faced a parliamentary investigation into his conduct of the campaign.
In Burgoyne and the Saratoga Campaign, Douglas R. Cubbison presents the papers that Burgoyne gathered preparatory to his appearance before Parliament, together with Cubbison’s own interpretive narrative of the campaign, based on these documents and other sources. The papers, most of them published here for the first time, comprise Burgoyne’s correspondence with the governor general of Canada, the British secretary of state for America, and the commander of the British army during the Saratoga expedition. The letters and reports outline the campaign’s political organization and planning, logistical preparations, and implementation.
Burgoyne is one of the most colorful and fascinating figures of the American Revolution. A successful British commander in Portugal during the Seven Years’ War, he was also a popular playwright, and those of his letters included and carefully annotated here reflect his literary gifts. At the outbreak of the revolution in 1775, Burgoyne was promoted to major general. Thanks largely to his political connections, he was dispatched in 1776 to lead the detachment of the British army sent to stop the rebels from seizing Canada. Cubbison concludes that the ultimate defeat of this expedition at Saratoga was due to lax planning in London and in the field. Burgoyne’s cavalry career in Europe had not prepared him for warfare along the waterways and deep in the woods of Canada and New York. The general also seriously underestimated the capabilities of the American rebels.
The documents Burgoyne assembled in 1779—and Cubbison’s narrative and analysis of the challenges faced by Burgoyne and his associates—are crucial for understanding this turning point in the Revolutionary War.