The American conduct of the Saratoga Campaign during the Revolutionary War (May 1777 to Oct 1777) is a textbook study of maneuver warfare at the operational and tactical levels. The campaign pitted a highly trained, professional British army (which at the time was considered one of the most powerful in the world), well-versed in European attrition tactics, against a smaller, makeshift American force. The Americans, led by Generals Schuyler, St. Clair, Gates, and Arnold, and Colonels Stark and Morgan, were able to defeat the British because they employed maneuver warfare principles, a philosophy that was uniquely American, born out of the frontier experience. Although he was tasked to conduct a defense at Fort Ticonderoga, St. Clair’s decision to withdraw in the face of superior force was in concurrence with Schuyler’s commander’s intent. By executing the withdrawal, he ensured the survival of the operational COG.
Once the British Commander, General Burgoyne, made his fateful decision to take the overland route to Albany, Schuyler developed a brilliant campaign plan. He quickly and accurately assessed friendly and enemy COGs, and implemented operations that targeted enemy critical vulnerabilities and protected his own. His shaping operations canalized British movements to a single LOC, which made their movements predictable. His obstacles delayed the British advance to the point that Burgoyne was forced to wait several times to build up supplies, which facilitated recruitment and reconstitution of the American force. The delays so impeded Burgoyne’s progress that Schuyler was able to risk detaching sizable portions of his force to concentrate on separate enemy elements at Bennington and Ft. Stanwix. As a result of Schuyler’s shaping, Burgoyne’s cohesion was shattered, and his campaign culminated before he reached the field of battle at Saratoga.
At the First and Second Battles of Saratoga, the American commander, wisely listening to General Benedict Arnold, conducted an aggressive, forward oriented defense that seized the initiative from the British attacks and clearly disrupted their preconceived plans. Tactically, the Americans showed a proclivity for seeking gaps and avoiding surfaces. As a result of the two failed attacks on the American’s defensive positions at Bemis Heights, Burgoyne was placed into such a situation that he was forced to surrender or suffer annihilation. On October 17, 1777, General Burgoyne surrendered his army to the American commander.
The Saratoga Campaign offers a uniquely American case study on the application of maneuver warfare techniques at the operational and tactical levels. The British defeat at Saratoga clearly demonstrates the superiority of maneuver warfare as a warfighting philosophy, and is of contemporary interest to the United States Marine Corps.