Burgoyne’s invasion of the Hudson Valley had been fraught with difficulties, but it could still cut the troublesome New England from the Middle and Southern colonies. Baum’s defeat at Bennington was a disaster and the loss in prestige stripped away many of the Indian allies Burgoyne relied on for skirmishing and reconnaissance. To the south, American Major General Horatio Gates massed his army on Bemis Heights, a position Burgoyne would have to secure if he wanted to continue to Albany.
Bemis Heights was a strong position but not impregnable. As the British approached, the command difficulties between the cautious Gates and his aggressive subordinate came to a head. BG Benedict Arnold wanted to go out and meet the British before they got into position.
To placate the irritating Arnold, Gates allowed him to take his division forward to Freeman’s Farm while he stayed on Bemis Heights. The forests north of Freeman’s Farm were well suited to American familiarity with fighting in the wilderness and Arnold slowly wore down the enemy. Morgan’s Riflemen targeted British officers and the cannon crews which sowed chaos in the British lines. Seeing Arnold’s success, Gates fed men into the battle, but never enough at any one time to fully press the advantage. Arnold kept pushing a break in the British lines, but a timely charge led by one of Burgoyne’s few remaining artillery officers finally secured the breach. In the meantime, Hessian troops again marched unwittingly on to the American flank. In the end, Arnold and the Continentals fell back to Bemis Heights.
The British held the field and the Americans were back where they started. But the British paid a heavy price for Arnold’s aggressiveness. Burgoyne took casualties that he couldn’t afford, and Bemis Heights were still an obstacle that he’d have to overcome. He lost a lot of troops because of Arnold, and the task of taking Bemis Height didn’t get any easier.