STILLWATER — Strolling through the tranquil grounds of the battlefield at Saratoga National Historical Park – with its grassy fields, rolling hills, long and windy roads and beautiful views of the mountains in the distance – it’s easy to forget how this ground helped give birth to a nation.
In this very place, American soldiers, led by heroes like Horatio Gates, Philip Schuyler and Benedict Arnold (yes, that Benedict Arnold) fended off a depleted and isolated British army led by Gen. John “Gentleman Johnny” Burgoyne and helped turn the American Revolution in the Colonists’ favor.
In the wake of the two Battles of Saratoga in September and October 1777, the French were inspired to join the American cause, which gave the Continental Army a boost of forces, money and supplies that helped complete the War of Independence.
The battlefield is actually one of four separate and distinct elements of the Saratoga National Historical Park administered by the U.S. National Park Service – the Saratoga battlefield, the Schuyler House, the Saratoga Monument and Victory Woods, site of the last British encampment at the Battle of Saratoga. Each is located within a 10-minute drive of one another about 15 miles north of Albany in central Saratoga County, easily accessible from the Adirondack Northway (I-87).
Polly Conley, of Yakima, Washington, reads history from 1776 in the museum at Saratoga National Historical Park. (Erica Miller)
And each one offers visitors a chance not only to experience the significant role this area played in American history, but also to appreciate and enjoy the beauty of the region.
Each summer, the park hosts numerous events and programs that will appeal to history buffs, casual visitors, families and those that merely visit to enjoy hiking , biking and picnicking.
There’s no admission to attend any of the four elements of the park, and one can either visit one, two, three or all four elements together or independently, depending on how much time you have.
Forest Ranger Bill Valosin said that many people usually come to the battlefield, then go see one or more of the other sites. It usually depends, he said, on which direction you’re coming from.
The summer calendar is full of activities.
The park hosts a series of ranger-guided bike and walking tours at the battlefield throughout the summer.
In August, it hosts a series of musical programs from noon to 1 p.m. Tuesdays.
A family explores the Neilson Farm at Saratoga National Historical Park in August 2014. (Daily Gazette file photo)
The battlefield features a 10-mile road that wends through the rolling hills and fields where Burgoyne’s Army met its fate against the better fortified, prepared and inspired American forces.
It offers self-guided driving tours with informational maps and brochures that can be obtained at the visitors center, which you enter by walking up some steps from the parking area.
The visitors center has exhibits of period clothing, weapons and supplies, as well as a three-dimensional map of the battlefield to give visitors perspective on the history of the site. Children can even dress up in Revolutionary War clothing and visitors can pose for photos with one of the cannons from the era that overlooks the battlefield.
Visitors can access the tours through a mobile app and cellphone. Two audio tours can be access by the free app or by calling a special phone number — one for adults and another for children that’s narrated by middle school students, Valosin said. CDs of the tour are also available for purchase.
The park offers 10 tour stops, each with its own parking area and markers explaining what happened on that particular site.
If you have your bikes with you, Valosin said bicycling is “a fantastic way to explore the battlefield” unrestricted by windshields. Helmets are required, he said.
If during your tour you’re curious about the long lines of wooden posts, painted at the top in either red or blue, that follow the contours of the property, those denote the various positions of British and American forces.
The park offers several miles of hiking trails as well, including the 4-1/4-mile Wilkinson Trail, which is the only walking trail marked with historical information.
On one recent Saturday morning, bicyclists could already be seen traversing the park, as hikers gathered together in the parking area to begin their tour.
There are monuments located throughout the park to the various historic figures, including Gen. Philip Schuyler and others.
Victory Woods in Victory, site of the British surrender at Saratoga, features a walking trail through a cemetery that was the original site of British fortifications in the area. The trail is marked with historical markers denoting events at the site. (National Park Service)
At one point along the road, visitors can walk up a slight wooded hill and see a small marker surrounded by rusted wrought iron fencing. The marker is a stone statue of a boot with a general’s star, but no name.
It marks the site where Major Gen. Benedict Arnold was shot in the leg as he heroically led a successful charge against a British redoubt. Arnold’s courage and initiative at the Battle of Saratoga contributed heavily to the American victory. But his later treason in turning over the plans to West Point to the British diminished the recognition he deserved for his role in the victory.
The Saratoga Battlefield is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. through Labor Day.
Philip Schulyer House
This is the home of Gen. Schuyler that was built shortly after the Battle of Saratoga on the original site of his original house. During the British occupation of the area, the original home was occupied by Burgoyne’s army. Upon their retreat, British soldiers burned it down. After the battle, Schuyler rebuilt the home in just 29 days on the original site, using many of the nails, hinges, doorknobs and other fixtures from the home that was burned down. Afterward, Schuyler — a successful businessman who went on to become a state legislator and a U.S. senator from New York to the first Congress — lived in the home, where he conducted his business affairs. Among the many famous visitors were Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and later President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
The home is virtually the same as it was when it was built 240 years ago.
The Schuyler House is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through Labor Day. It hosts regular 45-minute tours starting at 9:45 a.m., with the last tour of the day starting at 4:15 p.m. It is located on Route 4 in the village that bears his name, Schuylerville.
The Saratoga Monument is a 154.5-foot granite obelisk located at the site of Burgoyne’s last encampment prior to his surrender, and it commemorates the victory at the Battle of Saratoga. Visitors can climb the 188 steps up five levels to the top for a view of the valley. Inside are large plaques marking the history of the American Revolution.
If one looks up on the monument’s facade, one can see four niches, one on each side. Three of the niches contain bronze statues of Saratoga heroes Gates, Schuyler and Col. Daniel Morgan, whose troops help contain Burgoyne’s troops nearby and kept them from escaping. The fourth niche is empty and is there to honor the contributions of Benedict Arnold to the victory.
The Saratoga Monument is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, with the last climb starting at 4:45 p.m. It is located in the village of Victory. From there, visitors can access the trail head to Victory Woods and the Victory Woods walking trail.
Pictured: The Saratoga Monument in Victory, located at the site of British Gen. John Burgoyne’s last encampment prior to his surrender, commemorates the victory at the Battle of Saratoga. (National Park Service)
Victory Woods is a 22-acre site in the village of Victory within short walking distance of the Saratoga Monument. It marks the site where Burgoyne’s army retreated and finally surrendered to the American forces in October 1777. The site features a walking trail through a cemetery that was the original site of British fortifications in the area. The trail is marked with historical markers denoting various events at the site. It is open from dawn to dusk throughout the year.
For more information the Saratoga National Historical Park, including driving directions to the various sites, visit the park website at nps.gov/sara/