Victory at Saratoga

After a series of discouraging military defeats, on September 19, 1777, continental soldiers fighting under American General Horatio Gates defeated the British at Saratoga, New York. Within weeks, Gates joined forces with American General Benedict Arnold to vanquish the redcoats again at the Second Battle of Saratoga. On October 17, British General John Burgoyne surrendered his troops under the Convention of Saratoga, which provided for the return of his men to Great Britain on condition that they would not serve again in North America during the war. American victory at the Battles of Saratoga turned the tide of the war in the colonists favor and helped persuade the French to recognize American independence and provide military assistance outright.

[Burgoyne’s Surrender at Saratoga]. Percy Moran, artist, c 1911. Prints & Photographs Division

Born at Malden, Essex, England, circa 1728-29, Gates’ mother served as housekeeper to the Duke of Leeds. Gates joined the army while a very young man. He first came to North America to fight in the French and Indian War—the American theater of the worldwide conflict called the Seven Years War. Through distinguished service in Nova Scotia, New York, and Martinique, he achieved the rank of major. Encouraged by friend and former comrade-in-arms, George Washington, he returned to America a decade later and settled in western Virginia—the frontier at that time.

U.S. Capitol Frescoes. Fresco in Senate Corridor in U.S. Capitol, Horatio Gates..Theodor Horydczak, photographer ca. 1920-50. Horydczak Collection. Prints & Photographs Division

Sympathetic to the American cause, Gates’ name was the first proposed by Washington when Congress asked him to nominate officers for the Revolutionary Army. In 1775, Gates accepted his nomination as adjutant general of the Continental Army and by 1777 had replaced General Philip Schuyler in northern New York. After Saratoga, Gates, an able administrator, served as president of the Board of War. He had many friends in Congress and was, perhaps unwittingly, drawn into the “Conway Cabal”—an attempt to replace Commander-in-Chief Washington with Gates. Although criticized for his conduct during the battle of Camden, he continued to serve the American cause until the end of the war.

Troubled by the issue of slavery, Gates manumitted his slaves and relocated from Virginia to New York after the Revolution. He served one term in the state legislature but much of his time and money was spent aiding Revolutionary veterans. General Horatio Gates died on April 10, 1806.

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Poets and the Seasons

On September 19, 1819, English poet John Keats, inspired by the beauty of the changing season, wrote “To Autumn,” External a three-stanza ode to the splendor, bounty, and melancholy of fall.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they? Think not of them, thou hast thy music too…

John Keats, “To Autumn”

Trees. Maple trees. Theodor Horydczak, photographer, ca. 1920-1950. Horydczak Collection. Prints & Photographs Division

Meditations on the tension between the transcendent nature of ideals and the constancy of change in the physical world, Keats’s odes are considered his greatest poetic accomplishment. With the exception of “To Autumn,” written in September, the odes were composed between March and June of 1819. During this intense period of mourning his brother’s recent death while struggling with his own fatal illness, Keats carried on an impassioned love affair with Fanny Brawne to whom he later became engaged.

Born in London, England, in 1795, he trained to become a surgeon before devoting himself to poetry in 1817. John Keats died of tuberculosis on February 23, 1821. Just twenty-five years old, his death cut short the life of a great poet.

Site of Thoreau’s Hut, Lake Walden, Concord, Mass. c 1908. Detroit Publishing Company. Prints & Photographs Division

Close observation and description of the natural world characterized the poetry of the English Romantic Movement. Interested in the relationship of humans to the natural world, poets William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and John Keats profoundly influenced both the American Transcendentalists and the Conservation movement.

American writer Henry David Thoreau continued the tradition of the Romantic poets in his prose journals. In his journals he describes the seasonal changes of the woods around Concord, Massachusetts, and the lives of the animals and plants who were his closest neighbors during the years he spent living in a cabin on Walden pond. In the posthumously published Excursions, Thoreau describes a magnificent red maple tree:

Some single trees, wholly bright scarlet, seen against others of their kind still freshly green, or against evergreens, are more memorable than whole groves will be by-and-by. How beautiful, when a whole tree is like one great scarlet fruit full of ripe juices, every leaf, from lowest limb to topmost spire, all aglow, especially if you look toward the sun! What more remarkable object can there be in the landscape?

Henry D. Thoreau, “The Red Maple” in Autumnal Tints. Published in Excursions. Boston: Ticknor & Fields, 1863. p227. The Evolution of the Conservation Movement, 1850-1920

West Virginia. Highway scene II. Theodor Horydczak, photographer, ca. 1920-1950. Horydczak Collection. Prints & Photographs Division
Trees. Trees in Rock Creek Park during autumn. Theodor Horydczak, photographer, ca. 1920-1950. Horydczak Collection. Prints & Photographs Division

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  • Browse the Author Index of the collection The Evolution of the Conservation Movement, 1850-1920 to read selections from American naturalists such as Thoreau, John Burroughs, and John Muir.
  • The collections of the Library’s Manuscript Division represent all areas of American studies, including our country’s rich cultural and literary legacy. The letters and drafts of several American poets and writers, including Walt Whitman, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Langston Hughes are among those showcased online. Another item featured is “Autumn,” a poem written in 1893 by thirteen-year-old Helen Keller. Search the Library’s collections on the keyword poet to find more documents by or about American poets.
  • Search Today in History on poet to retrieve features on poets, including Phillis Wheatley, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Walt Whitman, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Archibald MacLeish, Langston Hughes, and Robert Penn Warren.
  • See the guide Library of Congress Poetry Resources to learn more about collections and search strategies for finding poetry.
  • The Library of Congress holds recordings of many notable poets and writers reading their works. Search the Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature on the keyword autumn to find additional poems read by their authors.
  • The Library of Congress website holds beautiful photographs that capture the splendors of the season. To locate these images, search the pictorial collections on the keyword autumn.