by Dean Snow
Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press, 2018. Pp. xxii, 442.
Illus., maps, diagr., notes, biblio., index. $19.95 paper. ISBN: 019090061X
A Meticulous Account of the Battles at Saratoga
When 1777: Tipping Point at Saratoga was originally published in hardback in 2016, battlefield archaeologist Snow (Professor Emeritus, Penn State), was widely praised for his meticulous reconstruction of the chronology of the battle.
Snow opens with a chapter covering the events that led to the series of encounters that are commonly called the “Battle of Saratoga”. His next chapter takes a very detailed look at the Battle of Freeman’s Farm (Sept. 19th), in which the British under John Burgoyne arguably won, but was more essentially a draw, and a strategic win for the Americans under Horatio Gates. Snow follows with a chapter on the events over the next fortnight, which set the stage for the Battle of Bemis Heights (October 7th). Snow’s chapter on Bemis Heights is, if anything, even more detailed than that on Freeman’s Farm, and as is generally agreed, credits Benedict Arnold with the primary credit for the American victory. The final chapter covers the ten days from Bemis Heights to Burgoyne’s surrender, and is followed by an epilogue in which Snow considers the longer term consequences of the fighting, French intervention and, indirectly, Arnold’s treason.
At times Snow gives us an almost literally minute-by-minute look at events, shifting back and forth quickly between different corners of the theatre or the battlefield, and from the British to the American side of the front. Snow is adept at weaving technical details about organization, tactics, weaponry, uniforms, and other aspects of military practice into his narrative. For example, at one point he pauses his account of the action when a battery deploys for combat, for a concise, accurate, and readable explanation of how the artillerists prepared themselves for battle. Snow also offers us many word portraits of the men and women involved, some quite famous, such as Horatio Gates, Benedict Arnold, and John Burgoyne, but also on many men only on the stage of history for a moment.
Altogether 1777: Tipping Point at Saratoga is an excellent account of the battle that arguably insured American independence by encouraging French intervention, and worth a read by anyone with an interest in the Revolutionary War.
Note: 1777: Tipping Point at Saratoga is also available in hardback and several e-editions.