by Elaine Marie Cooper
For years in the early 1800’s, the grassy bluff overlooking the Hudson River in Schuylerville, New York, looked like an ordinary field. But the residents of the area knew differently. On October 17, 1777, it was the site where British General John Burgoyne surrendered to the American Army after the Battle of Saratoga—and the course of history changed as the Revolution began its victorious turn toward the birth of a new nation.
While other historic locales often had granite rocks of remembrance, the site of the surrender in Saratoga was left unmarked. Several citizens of New York State bemoaned the lack of a monument and determined to erect one.
On October 17, 1856 (the 79th anniversary of the surrender), a group of patriotic gentleman met in the town of Schuylerville to discuss a plan. After a small celebration including a banquet, the group organized a Saratoga Monument Association, with the intent to erect “a fitting memorial on the site of Burgoyne’s surrender.”
The outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 cast a gloom over the country and suspended all planning for a Saratoga Monument. It wasn’t until 1872 that the association was able to reconvene. In the meantime, several of the association’s original trustees had died—but the dream of creating a monument had not.
New members joined the cause and petitions were sent to the legislatures of the original thirteen colonies asking for their support. An architect designed a plan for the monument and a letter was sent to Congress requesting an appropriation of funds for this memorial to celebrate the upcoming centennial of the battle.
A petition to the Senate and assembly of the State of New York earnestly entreated support for “considerations of high patriotic duty…to commemorate the centennial anniversary of the great victory.” It was hoped that the laying of the corner stone might take place at that time.
Years of effort were finally accomplished on October 17, 1877, when a two-mile procession, replete with civic, masonic and military pageantry, marched to the site of the surrender where, in front of 40,000 viewers, the cornerstone for the Saratoga Monument was laid.
When the ground was broken during the memorial’s construction, the architect discovered two bullets from the 1777 battle within a foot of each other. While excavating the same area, workmen dug up two cannon balls.
Finally in 1883, the completed granite obelisk rose to its full height of 155 feet. It is an impressive sight both from a distance and up close. The four sides have arched alcoves, one for each heroic American officer who led at Saratoga in 1777. The niche facing west has a statue of sharpshooter, Colonel Daniel Morgan. The eastern alcove holds a likeness of General Phillip Schuyler and the northern niche, General Horatio Gates. Only the southern alcove is empty, representing Benedict Arnold who was a hero in Saratoga but turned traitor during the American Revolution. It is often said that if Arnold had died of the wounds he received in that battle, he would today be remembered as a hero. Instead his name is synonymous with being a turncoat.
The Saratoga Monument is now overseen by the National Park Service and is open for visitors during the summer months. For more information about visiting the monument and the Saratoga battlefield, you can visit their website here.
Elaine Marie Cooper is the author of the award-winning historic novel, Fields of the Fatherless. Her upcoming novel, Saratoga Letters, will be released by Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas in 2016. You can visit her website/blog here.