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The American Revolution
Revolutionary War: The Turning Point, 1777-1778
Victory at the Battle of Saratoga, October-November 1777

Washington's military instincts about what the British should have done during their 1777 campaign were more than borne out by General Horatio Gates's victory over British General John Burgoyne at Saratoga, New York. As previous documents have suggested, Washington thought that General Howe should move up the Hudson River to join forces with Burgoyne. In fact, at one point this was exactly the British plan; however, that plan was only one of several and, as it turned out, not the one that Howe followed. As a result of the British blunder, Gates's forces were able to defeat Burgoyne. In the following documents, what is Washington's view of Gates's success? In the third document, what does Washington say should be done with respect to the surrendered British troops? Why?

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Washington to General Israel Putnam, October 25, 1777

Dear Sir: I have your favour of the 20th. inclosing a Copy of Genl. Burgoyne's Capitulation which was the first authentic intelligence I received of the affair, indeed I began to grow uneasy and almost to suspect that the first accounts you transmitted me were premature. As I have not received a single line from Gen. Gates, I do not know what steps he is taking with the Army under his Command, and therefore cannot advise what is most proper to be done in your quarter. But I should think, if a junction of your force was formed, part to proceed down upon one side of the River and part upon the other, that Sr. Henry Clinton would be obliged to retreat immediately before you, or if he suffered you to get between him and New York, you perhaps might, in its weak state, get into it. I mention this merely as matter of opinion, taking it for granted you will pursue the most proper and efficacious measure. Whatever may be determined upon, I beg may be constantly communicated to me, as the operations of this Army may depend much upon the situation of yours.

Washington to General Horatio Gates, October 30, 1777

Sir: By this Opportunity, I do myself the pleasure to congratulate you on the signal success of the Army under your command, in compelling Genl. Burgoyne and his whole force, to surrender themselves prisoners of War. An Event that does the highest honor to the American Arms, and which, I hope, will be attended with the most extensive and happy consequences. At the same time, I cannot but regret, that a matter of such magnitude and so interesting to our General Operations, should have reached me by report only, or thro' the Channel of Letters, not bearing that authenticity, which the importance of it required, and which it would have received by a line under your signature, stating the simple fact.

Our affairs having happily terminated at the Northward, I have, by the advice of my Genl. Officers, sent Colo. Hamilton, one of my aids, to lay before you a full state of our Situation and that of the Enemy in this Quarter. He is well informed upon the subject, and will deliver my Sentiments upon the plan of operations that is now necessary to be pursued. I think it improper to enter into a particular detail, not being well advised how matters are circumstanced on the North River, and fearing that by some accident my Letter might miscarry. From Colo. Hamilton you will have a clear and comprehensive view of things, and I persuade myself, you will do all in your power, to facilitate the objects I have in contemplation. I am etc.

Washington to General William Heath, November 13, 1777

Dear Sir: In my Letter of the 5th. in answer to yours of the 22d. Ulto. I mentioned, that it was not our interest to expedite the passage of the prisoners to England. Upon a review of the matter, I am more and more convinced of the propriety of the observation. The most scrupulous adherence on the part of the Enemy to the Convention of Saratoga, will justify their placing the prisoners in Garrisons, as soon as they arrive in Britain, and will enable the Ministry to send out an equal Number of Troops to reinforce Genl. Howe, or upon any other service against these States. This being the case, policy and a regard to our own Interest, are strongly opposed to our adopting or pursuing any measures to facilitate their embarkation and passage Home, which are not required of us by the Capitulation. If by our exertions these ends are promoted, our generosity will be rewarded, in the arrival of as large a Force, by the end of March or early in April, for the purposes suggested above. These considerations lead me to observe, that it is highly probable, Genl. Burgoyne will apply to you or perhaps to the Council of the State, to dispense with the Articles of Convention, so far as they respect the port for their embarkation, and to change it from Boston to some place in Rhode Island or in the Sound. I know he has received a hint upon the Subject from Genl. Howe. Should such a requisition be made, it ought not to be complied with upon any principles whatever. It cannot be asked as a matter of right, because by the Articles Boston is assigned as the port. It can not be granted as a matter of Favor, because the indulgence will be attended with most obvious and capital disadvantages to us. Besides the delay which will necessarily arise from confining them to Boston, as the place of departure, their Transports in a voyage round at this Season may probably suffer considerable injury and many of them may be blown as far as the West Indies. These considerations and others needless to be added have struck me in so important a point of view, that I have thought it expedient to write you by Express.
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View the original documents by clicking on the links above. All of the documents can be found in the George Washington Papers. Use your browser's Back Button to return to this point.