Saratoga is the first comprehensive history of this important campaign written from the ground up, utilizing extensive archival research based upon a firm understand of the battlefield. Mr. Luzader served as the park’s historian for many years. Theodore P. Savas, the managing director of Savas Beatie LLC, recently discussed this new book with its author.
: Why was the Saratoga campaign so important to the American Revolution
JL: The obvious answer is that its most apparent result was persuading France that the Americans had enough potential for military success that supporting the revolution with more than financial support would contribute to weakening the British Empire and restore France to its former power.
: How important was the removal of Burgoyne’s relatively small army from the playing field, so to speak?
JL: Well, removing a British army from service in North America was very important. If that veteran army had achieved its objective to make itself available to Sir William Howe for use in the Middle and Southern theaters—it would have made Howe’s grand strategy successful. The British lost a lot of experienced, good soldiers at Saratoga.
: Did the American victory force a change in British grand strategy?
JL: The 1777 offensive that ended in grief at Saratoga represented a continuation of the 1776 strategy for invading the northern frontier and carrying the war into the American interior. Its failure forced a new strategy upon Britain that ultimately favored Franco-American success.
: Can you elaborate?
JL: Yes. Britain shifted from undertaking the geographic re-conquest to concentrating upon seizing population centers and controlling the coast. Doing so seriously compromised its already poorly conceived strategy for capitalizing on the potential Loyalist strength in the colonies’ interior, where the war could have become a civil war. Tapping into that potential depended upon the military presence of a British army in the area of operations. Coastal campaigns could not provide that presence until success could force British arms into the regions where Loyalists lived. The movement northward from Georgia after Britain regained momentum is a case in point. Formerly rebellious colonists found it expedient to declare for the Empire.
Secondly, shifting the war to the coasts and the sea provided the Americans with the opportunity to challenge Britain's maritime supremacy because her new ally—France—had a large and powerful navy. It was that navy and its presence on the Virginia capes (and its land forces deposited ashore) that made American success at Yorktown possible. With France as a declared enemy, Britain faced naval war wherever French ambitions operated. France’s entry internationalized the war to England’s disadvantage. She faced war on more than one front—never an ideal situation, as Bismarck reminded his fellows when German hubris called for fighting France and Russia simultaneously. European credit became more readily available, and Britain’s envious of hostile neighbors came to have a stake in American success.
: And of course, the Saratoga victory was a giant shot in the arm for American morale.
JL: Oh, yes. I would say success in the North helped restore American morale and, together with George Washington’s stubborn employment of what we might describe as “Fabian tactics,” sustained the American capacity to summon the will to win until the opportunity to actually strike such a blow arrived in 1781 at Yorktown.
: I have long believed both John Burgoyne and Horatio Gates have been ill-treated by history. What is your assessment of how writers have treated these officers, and does your research deviate from the general public perception?
JL: I have a better opinion of the abilities and characters of both men than many students. John Burgoyne was more than a shallow, socially prominent playboy. He was a serious, intelligent student of his craft. His “Thoughts for Conducting the War from the Side of Canada” was, given the situation obtaining and how it was perceived at the beginning of 1777, soundly applied professional doctrine. Its principal weakness was its tentative nature that made it a litany of alternatives. If Whitehall had settled upon “concerted” policies, with clearly defined responsibilities for Burgoyne and Howe, that projection of options would have been an asset. Studying Burgoyne’s correspondence in the Germain Papers and in the British Public Records Office permitted me to see a man more capable and complex than the one portrayed by most authors. I think he more closely resembles the one fleshed out in Gerald Howson’s fine biography.
: And Gates?
JL: Horatio Gates was more complex than limning him a cowardly intriguer reveals. He was not cast in heroic proportions, and I would probably not have found much about him personally attractive. But he was also an intelligent practitioner of his craft—a competent, physically brave man with a better strategic sense than some have given him credit for.
: Can you provide a quick example of his strategic sense on display?
JL: Yes. Witness his understanding of Burgoyne’s strategy. He also had a firm appreciation of Americans combat limitations and how to realize success with an economy of manpower within the confines of those limitations. Gates’ selection of Bemis Heights as the place to challenge Burgoyne testified to very sound strategic judgment. And it is important to stress that it was Gates, not Arnold, not Schuyler, and not some anonymous farmer, who made that decisive choice. Neither Burgoyne nor Gates was a military genius, but neither was George Washington, whose genius lay in his character and not his professional expertise. The contents of the Gates Papers, the papers of men with whom he corresponded, have been useful in helping me understand a general too often defined in one-dimensional terms.
: How does your book differ from other books on the subject?
JL: Some students have approached the subject from a literary perspective, producing compelling and very well written narratives. I approached this topic as a fascinating research project with many complexities attached to it. I think I lack the talent for character analysis and dealing in large moral issues. Nor am I adept at ferreting out emotive implications—unless the people involved left a record of those experiences.
: What qualifies you to write an in-depth study of Saratoga?
JL: I spent four years of research for the preservation and interpretation of Saratoga battlefield. Those years were my introduction to the subject. I was fortunate in that Francis F. Wilshin, the first historian assigned to the area before World War II, developed a valuable bibliography of the campaign. After several years, the second, Charles Snell, undertook pioneering studies to produce historic base maps without which an understanding of the engagements is simply impossible.
: When did you find time to research this volume?
JL: This is a product of several decades of effort, frankly. It took a bit longer than I originally had hoped. I was also fortunate in that the park was closed to visitor service during the winter months, which allowed me to immerse myself in published literature and the park’s microfilm of the Gates and Schuyler Papers. Because the temporary absence of a ranger required me to carry out law enforcement activities during hunting season, I became thoroughly familiar with the four square miles that embrace most of the site of the climactic fighting. During those four years, we planned the tour roads, outdoor exhibits, and museum exhibits to interpret the campaign.
: When did you travel overseas to conduct research?
JL: I did that later, as staff historian for the service’s Office of Archeology and Historic Preservation. I had an opportunity to research records and personal papers in archives and libraries in the United Kingdom and Germany. Then and during the years I functioned as a research curator and planner, I took advantage of opportunities to study related sources in university libraries, historical societies, and state archives.
: Did you discover anything in your research that changed your assessment of Benedict Arnold’s role in the fighting?
JL: Yes. During my first year at Saratoga, I took on the preparation of a new form of research report, the Historic Structure Report for the Philip Schuyler House, a detached section of the park in Schuylerville, NY. That required studying General Schuyler’s private and public papers in considerable depth. It also fitted well with a study I prepared for a report on the campaign prior to the battles of Freeman Farm and Bemis Heights.
: I imagine the papers of Varick and Livingston helped flesh out this issue. . .
JL: They did indeed. The Varick and Livingston letters raised some questions that tied in with statements from participants in the fighting concerning the presence of general officers on the firing line. Because I was already skeptical about the personal participation of generals in combat, my interest was much more than superficial. That led to the preparation of a study of Arnold’s role in the fighting, including the Arnold-Gates quarrel. After more than one year of sifting through documents and thinking about this aspect of the battle, I finally concluded—largely on the basis of Arnold’s September 22, 1777, letter to Gates—that he, like Gates, remained at headquarters on Bemis heights, where he belonged, during the fighting on September 19. Because he certainly participated in the action of October 7, the problem was complicated. When, where, and under what circumstances did he appear on the battlefield? Originally I had accepted Hoffman Nickerson’s and Christopher Ward’s accounts, and those of Arnold’s biographers. But I changed my mind based upon my research, and the results are apparent in my book.
: If you had to select one major decision each army commander made that influenced the campaign up to and over its “tipping point” (against Burgoyne and in favor of Gates), what would those decisions be?
JL: I would have to say Gates’ decision to interdict the route to Albany at Bemis Heights and his determination not to be lured or driven from there. As for Burgoyne’s that requires a bit more explanation. Burgoyne’s decision was an unavoidable one. Once he reached Fort Edward, he crossed from the east to the west bank of the Hudson River, and for a sound reason: he had to do it to take Albany. But doing so meant he had to fight his way to the old Dutch town—providing the Americans were able to rebuild that capacity and find a place to challenge him. And, as we know, Gates did. Retaking Fort Ticonderoga was Burgoyne’s Rubicon, in my opinion. He had to advance to his objective and he had to do it before the Americans could recover and deny him access to his objective. Reaching Fort Edward was the highwater mark of the British offensive. Every event thereafter was a step closer to defeat—unless Americans lost their nerve or fell into a tactical trap of Burgoyne’s making. They did neither.
: Who was Gates’ best lieutenant on the field at Saratoga? Who was Burgoyne’s? Why?
JL: Gates’ best subordinate was Benjamin Lincoln. In a very important and overlooked sense, Lincoln was on the field at Saratoga. The Hudson’s east bank was, in the strategic sense, a critical part of the battlefield at Saratoga. Lincoln was at Saratoga on October 8 and was wounded during the British retreated. Lincoln is underrated in many respects.
: That surprises me. Why?
JL: It was Lincoln who successfully exploited Stark’s and Warner’s peculiar skills to frustrate every British design on the east side of the Hudson River and he had the sagacity and moral courage to deal with these difficult men as allies. Lincoln was, of course, a fellow Yankee with a healthy respect for those frontiersmen’s useful qualities.
: And Burgoyne’s most valuable lieutenant?
JL: Burgoyne’s most valuable lieutenant was his adjutant general, Robert Kingston. He knew his commander longer and more thoroughly than anyone else, and he gave form to his tactical decisions. Like Lincoln, he served unselfishly and very effectively. Again, a capable officer overlooked by history.
: You have a background of personal military service. Can you share some of that with us, and explain whether you relied on any of your own experiences to better understand combat in the 18th century?
JL: My military background was representative of thousands of men who went where they were sent and did what they were ordered to do. Because I experienced combat in the European Theatre of Operations as an Army Ranger, I identify with the men of both armies who did the fighting, faced death, and did so from a perspective that limited him to his immediate location while he tried to stay alive, function, and not let his comrades down. Like the common soldier of that era, we functioned in a hostile, often dangerous environment characterized by long periods of physical discomfort, homesickness, and loneliness, punctuated by moments of terror. The two wars were very different, of course, but the soldiers who served in both were limited by the technologies of their weapons and in the perspectives from which they viewed events. I also suspect that at least some of them became, as I did, skeptical of headquarters types and official interpretations of the events in which they participated. If they did, perhaps they also looked upon old soldiers’ stories as less than reliable accounts.
: Thank you for the opportunity to interview you.
JL: I appreciated the questions and hope my responses were satisfactory.
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