J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Thursday, March 31, 2016

A New Look at Saratoga

At the American Revolution Conference two weeks ago I met Larry Arnold, an expert guide to the Saratoga battlefield.

During a drive to the Green Spring battle site, Larry told us about a recent discovery he’d made on eBay. He saw a letter that mentioned Saratoga offered with a scan big enough to actually read. And when he read it, he realized it offered a new look into the fight.

This week the Daily Gazette of Schenectady broke the story:
The letter was written by New Hampshire militia adjutant Nathaniel Bacheller to his wife, Suzanna, and is dated Oct. 9, 1777. . . . He wrote that his regiment was told to join [Benedict] Arnold’s brigades on the uplands around the Nielsen house, and soon afterward Arnold went out on horseback with an aide to try to determine how large the British force was.

“General [Horatio] Gates Soon arived to our Lines & Inquired for General Arnol & was Told he was out of the lines to View the Enemy,” Bacheller wrote in the letter, which is full of the misspellings and punctuation errors typical of many 18th century writings.

Gates ordered one of Arnold’s regiments forward, and sent word forward to Arnold not to have his men fire on the nearly deployed unit.

Arnold soon returned, in Bacheller’s account, and told Gates the “Enemy Design was To Take Possession of a hill about a Quarter of a mile To the west of our lines.”

“General Arnol says to General Gates it is Late in the Day but Let me have men & we will have some fun with them before Sun Set,” wrote Bacheller, who incorrectly spells Arnold’s name throughout the letter.

The battle then commenced, and the British withdrew in defeat that evening. . . .

Bacheller’s account runs counter to standard narratives that say Gates stayed in his own headquarters and left others to do the fighting, or that Arnold angrily charged into the fighting after Gates deployed Arnold's men without Arnold’s involvement.
The document itself went to an unknown buyer for nearly $3,000, but the staff at Saratoga National Historical Park downloaded a digital copy for transcription. It should presumably be part of any new account of the battle.

1 comment:

John L Smith Jr said...

This is big stuff... to me. And I think to history.