Many defeats and decisive victory
Defense of New York appeared clearly hopeless, but Washington felt that he could not honorably abandon the city without a struggle. In the ensuing battle, Washington's plan was faulty, his generals did not execute their assignments, and the British numbers were overwhelming. His position became untenable, and he executed a masterly retreat in small boats from Brooklyn to the Manhattan shore. Providentially the wind held north, and the British warships could not come up the East River. Howe apparently never knew what was going on, and he lost his greatest chance to deal the American cause a crushing blow, perhaps even to end the war. For if Washington's army had been captured then, it would have been very difficult for the Congress to have raised another.
Washington, though constantly forced back, was able to keep his forces fairly intact until the year's end. Important victories at Trenton and Princeton revived colonial hopes. But once more calamity struck. In September 1777, Howe captured Philadelphia, drove Congress into flight, and left Washington to pass an almost despairing winter with his men at Valley Forge. The patriots, freezing at their camp-fires and leaving bloody footprints in the snow, seemed on the verge of defeat.
On the other hand, however, in the fall of 1777 also, the greatest American victory of the war had been won-the turning point of the Revolution in a military sense' The British general, Burgoyne, moved down from Canada with a force designed to gain control of the Lake Champlain-Hudson River line and thus completely isolate New England from the other colonies. He reached the upper Hudson River and was compelled to wait for supplies until the middle of September before he could proceed southward. Ignorance of American geography led him to imagine that it would be an easy matter for a raiding force to march across Vermont, down along the Connecticut River and back, collecting along the way at least thirteen hundred cavalry horses, together with beef, draught cattle, and wagons for the use of his army-all in a matter of two weeks. For this exploit he chose 375 dismounted Hessian dragoons and about three hundred Tories. They did not even reach the Vermont line. The Vermont militia met them, and few of the Hessians ever returned. In the meantime, the Americans in the Mohawk Valley prevented a meeting with the British reinforcements from Lake Erie which were trying to join Burgoyne.
The battle on the Vermont line had rallied most of the fighting population of northern New England, and Burgoyne's delay enabled Washington to dispatch regular troops from the lower Hudson. By the time Burgoyne finally got his unwieldy force in motion, he marched into the Yankee militia, flushed with the successes of their fellows, stiffened by regulars, and well commanded by a general of the regular army. With the early frost, fighting began. Two attacks by Burgoyne were repulsed and the British fell back to Saratoga. Autumn rains fell, many Hessians deserted, and Americans were in the front, rear, and flank in overwhelming numbers. On October 17, 1777, Burgoyne surrendered his entire army, still over five thousand strong, to the American General Gates. This was the decisive blow of the war, for it was not only of great strategic importance, but brought France, England's hereditary enemy, to the American side.