When I was a child I thought of Boston, Lexington and Concord as the place where the bulk of the Revolutionary War was fought. Of course, that’s not accurate at all; it’s the place where it started. Or rather, where the underlying tensions felt across the thirteen colonies erupted into open rebellion and eventually violent conflict. Names like Yorktown, Valley Forge, Princeton, Trenton and Saratoga are just place names unless you’ve been there and felt the lay of the land. Having grown up there I’d done that in Boston but it wasn’t until I was an adult that I started visiting these other places.
Monday I drove from an appointment in Castleton, Vermont to Clifton Park, where I would have meetings the next morning. Before the drive I did my usual survey to see what was on or near the route. I was already very close to Hubbardton, which I’d visited on my last trip up this way. But there was another significant side trip not far from my route…. Saratoga.
As with any battlefield the action took place across a wide area over a period of time. The Saratoga Campaign took about a month, with other related skirmishes contributing to the overall result. I didn’t have time and wasn’t dressed for an extended tourist campaign myself, so I chose the visually stunning Saratoga Battle Monument as a priority, and let serendipity take over from there. It didn’t take long as I passed two historical markers of consequence next to each other. First was a sign marking the location of Starks Knob, named after John Stark, who held the high ground on this “basaltic pillow lava formation” which blocked the retreat to the north of General Burgoyne’s British and Hessian troops. Second was a monument to the Knox Trail, marking this ground as significant on a few occasions during the war.
With Stark blocking retreat to the north, and Colonel Daniel Morgan‘s troops blocking retreat to the west, and the Hudson River blocked retreat to the east, options were running out for Burgoyne. He was cut off with nowhere to go. So on the morning of October 17, 1777 General Burgoyne and his 6000 soldiers surrendered. The Saratoga Battlefield Monument commemorates this event.
Time or the necessary footwear to visit the battlefield itself weren’t available Monday… Another time perhaps. But seeing this magnificent monument, and seeing Starks Knob to know the lay of the land were worth the detour. History books only tell part of the story. Saratoga was a massively important global event that changed that history. Walking and driving around these places helps me understand what these names on the page were facing.
I didn’t hear the whispers of ghosts when I visited the monument, but I did have my breath taken away as I drove around the bend from the site Morgan held and saw the monument rise up before me. And I had a shot of adrenaline when I saw the sign for Starks Knob. These places, where these things happened, matter to me, and I continue to seek them out in my travels.