The Saratoga Battlefield has occupied a special place in my heart since the seventies. I have walked skied and snowshoed every inch of the national park. My wife grew up only a few miles south of the battlefield. A nearby bridge over the Mohawk River is named for an architect of our victory over the British at Saratoga in 1777. It’s popularly called the Twin Bridges, but it has always been the Tadeusz Kosciuszko Bridge to me. For several years, a resident of the area has done her best to make sure people remember that.
To veterans advocate Carol Hotaling, of Clifton Park, the structure has a much deeper meaning - a tribute to the Revolutionary War hero that it's officially named after -- Gen. Thaddeus Kosciuszko. The bridge, which first opened in 1959, underwent a major reconstruction project this fall. "I would like to propose a rededication of this bridge," she said. "He (Kosciuszko) was born in Poland, came to a struggling America, volunteered his services to the Continental Army and became chief engineer."
Kosciuszko's accomplishments were many, including the fortification of West Point. But his most important contribution was designing the American defenses for the 1777 Battles of Saratoga, which proved to be the Revolution's turning point.
Gen. Horatio Gates, the American commander, gets most of the credit for the victory at Saratoga. Without Kosciuszko, though, it never would have happened. "It was his use of topography and design of defenses that gave Americans an extremely strong and defensible position," said Bill Valosin, a Saratoga National Historical Park ranger. Specifically, artillery placed atop Bemis Heights stopped the flow of British supplies on the Hudson River, directly below, and kept them from using the main north-south river road.
The southward advancing British army, under Gen. John Burgoyne, was trying to reach Albany, where it would meet British forces moving up the Hudson Valley led by Gen. William Howe. The goal was to split the colonies in two, and bring the American rebellion to a quick end.
At Saratoga, however, the river forms a bottleneck and thanks to Kosciuszko's well-designed defenses, the Americans controlled it. Burgoyne's army split up into three separate columns - one near the river; the other two about a mile and two miles inland, respectively. However, Kosciuszko built an L-shaped three-quarter-mile long line to the west, and another about two-thirds of a mile to the south and west, to hold off attacks from those directions, too. (Saratogian News)
A Virginian was also instrumental in that victory. Daniel Morgan and his Virginia Riflemen proved deadly to the British, Hessians and Canadian Loyalists that made up Gentleman Johnny Burgoyne’s forces. General Simon Fraser of Balnain fell to one of Morgan’s riflemen, Timothy Murphy. Morgan called on Murphy and said: "That gallant officer is General Fraser. I admire him, but it is necessary that he should die, do your duty." Murphy shot Fraser from a perch in a tree at a distance of 300 yards.
Today’s celebrations at the battlefield include administering the oath of citizenship to twenty immigrants, a reading of the Declaration of Independence, and thirteen toasts accompanied by celebratory cannon and musket fire.