When Dean Snow first ventured onto the Saratoga Battlefield back during the winter of 1970, the fact that the tour road was closed didn’t stop him for a second.
Leaving his wife and baby daughter in the car, Snow set out across a wide, snow-covered field, assuring the two ladies he’d be right back. His first investigation of many into what some historians refer to as one of the most important battles in world history took a little longer than he thought, but about 45 minutes later he says, he was back with his family. Now, more than 45 years later he has returned to that seminal point in American history by producing a new book, “1777: Tipping Point at Saratoga,” offering a detailed look at the 32 days surrounding the two major engagements that make up the Battle of Saratoga.
‘1777: Tipping Point at Saratoga’
WHERE: Barnes & Noble, Saratoga Springs, 3029 Route 50, Saratoga Springs; and Saratoga National Historical Park, 648 Route 32, Stillwater
WHEN: 2 p.m. Saturday (at Barnes & Noble) and 1 p.m. Sunday (at Saratoga National Historical Park)
HOW MUCH: Free
MORE INFO: 583-7717 (Barnes & Noble), 670-2985 (Saratoga National Historical Park).
A native of Sleeping Eye, Minnesota, a former Burnt Hills resident and University at Albany professor, Snow is currently Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at Penn State, having retired three years ago. He has three books on Iroquois Indians, and his next project is updating and revising his 2009 effort, “The Archaeology of Native North America.”
Snow earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of Minnesota, his doctorate at the University of Oregon, and began his teaching and research career at the University of Maine in 1967. He spent 26 years at UAlbany from 1969-1995 and then headed to Penn State. He is returning to the Capital Region to talk about his new book on Saturday, Oct. 15 at Barnes & Noble in Saratoga Springs, and the following day, Sunday, Oct. 16 at the Saratoga National Historical Park. His book is published by Oxford Press.
Q: Why did you want to write a book about the Battle of Saratoga?
A: The idea to write a book developed slowly over time. Way back in 1971 I got a phone call from the National Park Service, which was trying to get ready for the bicentennial coming up in a few years. 1776 is the year we commemorate the Declaration of Independence, but the Saratoga battles were fought in ’77, and it was really important for the Park Service to get Saratoga in shape by 1977. I did the archaeology work they needed done, and as I got deeper and deeper into the importance of these battles, I got more interested. I’ve been back to the battlefield several times, and then, three years ago I retired and that gave me some more time.
Q: What is different about your book?
A: There are some really, really good books about the Saratoga campaign, including most recently John Lazader (“Saratoga: A Military History of the Decisive Campaign of the American Revolution”) and Robert Ketchum (“Saratoga: Turning Point of America’s Revolutionary War”), who offer superb treatments of the campaign as a whole. There is some other really good stuff out there done in the traditional way. What I wanted to do was produce a micro history of just the 32 days that those people were involved in the battles, not the whole nine months. So my book is laid out like a diary. What I try to tell is the story of the people involved, jumping back and forth from the American side to the British side, and follow those stories hour by hour.”
Q: How important was the Saratoga campaign and the American victory in October of 1777?
A: Well, we have to be careful not to brag too much about the American experience, but our country was a huge experiment at the time. The idea of inventing this kind of government we have, creating an army to defend it on the fly, getting away with it, and then coming up with a new system a few years later that would endure for more than 245 years is pretty extraordinary in world history. Saratoga really was the tipping point in the war. Prior to that pair of battles, there was no way we were going to be successful. Saratoga changed that. At the end of the battle, Burgoyne and his officers were saying to themselves, there’s no way to keep this from happening. Burgoyne was one of the first to figure out it was time to go home back to Britain. So after Saratoga, it was clear we were going to gain our independence.
Q: There are plenty of colorful characters from the Saratoga Campaign. Do you have a favorite?
A: Almost everybody was pretty likable, on both sides. If you read this material for 20 to 30 years and then you totally immerse yourself into it like I’ve done for the last three years, you eventually become pretty sympathetic to almost all of them. It may have been hard to deal with someone like Benedict Arnold throughout the whole thing because he had that kind of personality that today you might not be too fond of in a colleague. But most of them were good, decent people just doing their duty.
Some of them were great personalities, and a good example of that would be the Baroness von Riedesel, wife of the German general who fought with the British. She was there with her three young children. She’s up in Montreal with her husband and she decides to walk to Albany with the army and with her three kids. You wonder what she was thinking. Her youngest child was only a year old. How hard it must have been. She did have nannies and servants, but still to be out there in the middle of the woods making that long trip is really something.
Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or [email protected]