British hopes that the American War for Independence would be brought to a swift conclusion began to wane in the early months of 1777. Despite brilliant victories over Washington and his continentals in the battles of Long Island and White Plains, the rebellious colonies were no closer to being pacified. Success in and around New York City was offset by a failed operation along the Lake Champlain corridor and negated, at least in terms of morale, by Washington’s stunning triumphs at Trenton and Princeton. After nearly two years of open warfare, Britain had little to show for its efforts. Nor was there an end in sight—the Americans, it seemed, were determined to fight on.
It was against this backdrop of stalemate and fatigue that, in early 1777, British Lieutenant-General John Burgoyne proposed a daring plan: to end the war, once and for all, with a powerful thrust from Canada, down along the Lake Champlain and Hudson River Corridors, that would permanently sever the head of the rebellion in New England from its dependencies to the south. Frustrated by American perseverance and desperate for a war-winning solution, King George III and his Secretary of State for the Colonies, Lord George Germain, quickly embraced Burgoyne’s vision.
Yet, as Kevin J. Weddle observes in The Compleat Victory: Saratoga and the American Revolution (Oxford University Press, 2021), the Saratoga Campaign—as it came to be known—was not the strategic panacea those in the British High Command assumed it to be. Loyalist support proved less enthusiastic than anticipated. Burgoyne’s decision to employ Native American auxiliaries only strengthened American resolve. The logistical, temporal, and operational vagaries of campaigning in North America led inexorably toward strategic incoherence. And, significantly, both Burgoyne and his superiors vastly underestimated the martial abilities of their American opponents. The Saratoga campaign, Weddle reminds us, was certainly lost by the British, but it was also actively won by the Americans.
Balanced in its analysis and critique of British and American strategic leadership, exhaustively researched, and vividly narrated, The Compleat Victory is a significant contribution to the field of American Revolutionary War studies. Weddle’s trenchant analysis goes a long way to advance the emerging new historiography of British leadership in the American War, and offers novel insight into the political, social, and military relationships that shaped the American response to Burgoyne’s offensive. In The Compleat Victory, Weddle has undoubtedly produced the definitive account of the Saratoga campaign.
Kevin J. Weddle is Professor of Military Theory and Strategy at the US Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. A West Point graduate, he served in the US Army for 28 years on active duty in command and staff positions in the United States and overseas, including Operations Desert Storm and Enduring Freedom, before retiring as a colonel.
Scott Lipkowitz holds a MA in History, with a concentration in military history, and a MLIS, with a concentration in information technology, from Queens College, City University of New York