Around 16,000 soldiers clashed just east of Saratoga Lake during the late summer/early fall of 1777, and while men bore the brunt of the battle, there were plenty of women around with a vested interest in the outcome.
The Battle of Saratoga, as it would later be called, actually consisted of two separate engagements: Freeman’s Farm on Sept. 19 and then Bemis Heights on Oct. 7. And, when British General John Burgoyne surrendered his entire army to his American counterpart Horatio Gates 10 days after the fighting was over, he also handed over women and children.
“The Women Barefoot, Clothed in Dirty Rags,” a presentation by re-enactor Jenna Schnitzer, focuses on the women and children following Burgoyne’s British Army in 1777.
The demonstration is one of several scheduled for Saturday and Sunday as part of the Revolutionary War Grand Encampment, celebrating the 236th anniversary of the battles as well as the 75th anniversary of the Saratoga National Historical Park.
Revolutionary War Grand Encampment
WHERE: Saratoga National Historical Park and Battlefield
WHEN: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: Free
MORE INFO: 664-9821 or www.nps.gov/sara
“It ran the gamut of women who were very high up on the social ladder, down to women who were married to privates in the army,” Schnitzer said of the group usually referred to as camp followers by historians.
“Women with all kinds of socio-economic backgrounds were part of this group that traveled with the army, and it was quite a legitimate thing. There was a certain percentage of men who received permission to take their wives along.”
Traveling with Burgoyne’s troops was Baroness Von Riedesel, whose husband, General Friedrich Adolf Riedesel, commanded a detachment of German Hessians who were supporting the British. We know much of what life was like for camp followers during the American Revolution through a diary kept by the baroness.
“She distinguished herself through the publication of her diary, and while it is a wonderful diary with so many stories about women being told, most of her stories have no names associated with them,” said Schnitzer, who has been a re-enactor for the past two decades.
“They are nameless because they were of the lower class. The baroness writes about one woman who risked her life to get water for the soldiers but we have no idea who she was. What she did was far more daring than anything the baroness did, but we all know the baroness and nobody knows the other woman.”
Schnitzer will offer her presentation at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, although she will be joined by other female re-enactors throughout the day.
“We’ll have a few set presentations, but there will be plenty of other women there all day doing interactive interpretations with the public,” said Schnitzer.
“It’s going to be a very special event. For the first time, the park is going to be able to show some of the positions that the armies were actually in. This was a very significant battle in American history, one that changed the world, and people will get a sense of what it was really like.”
Along with the visitor’s center, the weekend’s event will have two general locations: The British Camp at tour road stop 8, and the American Camp, also with camp followers, at tour road stop 2. Other presentations will focus on Daniel Morgan and his rifle corps, General Burgoyne and the various troop movements during the two battles.
The re-enactors for this weekend’s affair are part of the Brigade of the American Revolution, a national umbrella group that helps coordinate special events. Park officials expect close to 250 re-enactors to participate, and around a fifth of that group will be men and women from the Capital Region.
On Saturday from 7-8:15 p.m., park rangers will offer a guided tour with live-action vignettes inspired by real-life events during the summer of 1777. Pre-registration is required for this part of the program.
Access to the park on Saturday will be by shuttle bus only, leaving from the parking area (at the Old Saratoga Muzzleloading Club) one mile north of the battlefield. The shuttle will run approximately every 20 minutes. Parking on Saturday at the visitor center will be restricted to handicap-only vehicles.
Cyclists will be allowed on the tour road, but cyclists must park their cars at the shuttle bus area and bike to the battlefield. Also, all hikers will be free to roam the battlefield, but they too must park in the shuttle bus area. Regular park traffic will resume on Sunday.