John Burgoyne (1722-1792) was educated at London’s renowned Westminster School, the early training ground of many of Britain’s generals, and, in 1737, purchased a commission in the elite Horse Guards. During the Seven Year’s War (1757-1763) Burgoyne saw action in Portugal and participated in raids along the French coast.
Assigned to Canada in 1776, he devised a plan to isolate the New England colonies from the others and thereby end the rebellion. In this campaign, which began in June 1777, Burgoyne lead the northern wing down the Champlain Valley to rendezvous in Albany, New York with two other British forces, one coming from the west through the Mohawk Valley and the other marching northward through the Hudson Valley. Burgoyne’s force reached Fort Ticonderoga on July 1, 1777. He ordered artillery to be placed on the summit of Mount Defiance, which commanded the American fortifications on both sides of Lake Champlain, thereby forcing the American commander, General Arthur St.Clair, to abandon Ticonderoga and retreat south to avoid encirclement and capture by the British. Burgoyne followed the American army until it turned and made its stand at Saratoga (now Schuylerville), New York, about 36 miles north of Albany. The Battle of Saratoga comprised two engagements. The first, the battle of Freeman’s Farm, September 19, 1777, was a British victory. However, the second engagement, the Battle of Bemis Heights, October 7, 1777, was a victory for the Americans. Cut off from his supply base and with no hope of reinforcement from the other two prongs that failed to support him, Burgoyne surrendered to General Horatio Gates, the recently appointed American commander, on October 17, 1777.
The Battle of Saratoga is considered the turning point of the American Revolution because it was a key factor in France’s and Spain’s decision to declare war on Great Britain. Severely criticized for his conduct of the campaign, Burgoyne was out-of-favor at Court for a few years but was restored to favor when his political friends came to power in 1782. He is buried in Westminster Abbey, close by where he attended school as a young boy.