Horses have been a huge part of Saratoga summers since 1863, but way back in 1777 the poor ponies were involved in a different game with much bigger stakes than The Travers, The Whitney or The Alabama.
The Battle of Saratoga, often referred to as the Turning Point of the American Revolution, was fought on a landscape of farm fields and forests less than 10 miles to the east of Saratoga Race Course, where today the world’s top jockeys and fastest horses test their mettle in the sport of thoroughbred racing.
Saratoga Battlefield, officially named Saratoga National Historical Park, isn’t a place where horses dominated the story, but they did play a vital role in the proceedings, according to Ranger Joe Craig.
“There were some open fields, but there were a lot of trees, hills and ravines, so it wasn’t really calvary country,” said Craig. “There were men mounted, typically officers and dragoons, but it was mostly an infantry fight. I don’t think there were any horse troops used as a combat arm. They were mostly used for hauling.”
The Battle of Saratoga was actually two separate engagements (Sept. 19 and Oct. 7). During the second confrontation between the armies, two horses were involved in famous incidents that helped turn things in favor of the Americans. British Gen. Simon Fraser was shot off his horse and killed by Schoharie Valley sharpshooter Timothy Murphy. Later in the day, American Gen. Benedict Arnold, while rallying troops, was shot in the leg and wounded, his horse killed by another bullet. Craig says the names of the two horses have been lost to history.
‘Public Workshop for Saratoga Battlefield Wayside Exhibits’
WHERE: Saratoga Town Hall, Spring Street, Schuylerville
WHEN: 7-9 p.m., Wednesday
HOW MUCH: Free
MORE INFO: 670-2980, www.nps.gov/sara
But if the public wants to hear more about the equine contribution during the Saratoga Campaign of 1777, they may get the opportunity. The park, a recent recipient of a $750,000 federal grant, is putting together a Comprehensive Wayside Rehabilitation Plan that should richly enhance the visitors’ experience. Part of the strategy is listening to input from the public.
“Our park staff has been considering improvements for many years and is looking forward to unveiling the plan and getting visitor feedback,” said Park Superintendent Joe Finan, who announced a special public workshop at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Saratoga Town Hall on Spring Street in Schuylerville, where park staff will entertain ideas from the audience.
“We hope park users and community members will join us for this opportunity to add their voice to the plan. This is one of the most exciting projects to come out of the park’s General Management Plan.”
Gina Johnson, chief of interpretation at the park, expects to hear some valuable suggestions from amateur history buffs who love the park.
“We’ve already talked to academics and historians, now we want to hear from the public,” she said. “You know the saying ‘can’t see the forest through the trees.’ We here at the park are all so close to it. Sometimes the public thinks of things that we overlook.”