On September 19, 1777 the Royal army advanced upon the American camp in three separate columns within the present day towns of Stillwater and Saratoga. Two of them headed through the heavy forests covering the region; the third, composed of German troops, marched down the river road. American scouts detected Burgoyne's army in motion and notified Gates, who ordered Col. Daniel Morgan's corps of Virginia riflemen to track the British march. About 12:30 p.m., some of Morgan's men brushed with the advance guard of Burgoyne's center column in a clearing known as the Freeman Farm, about a mile north of the American camp. The general battle that followed swayed back and forth over the farm for more than three hours. Then, as the British lines began to waver in the face of the deadly fire of the numerically superior Americans, German reinforcements arrived from the river road. Hurling them against the American right, Burgoyne steadied the wavering British line and gradually forced the Americans to withdraw. Except for this timely arrival and the near exhaustion of the Americans' ammunition, Burgoyne might have been defeated that day. Though he held the immediate field of battle, Burgoyne had been stopped about a mile north of the American line with his army roughly treated. Shaken by his "victory," the British commander ordered his troops to entrench in the vicinity of the Freeman Farm and await support from Clinton, who was supposedly preparing to move north toward Albany from New York City.
For nearly three weeks he waited but Clinton did not come. By now Burgoyne's situation was critical. Faced by a growing American army without hope of help from the south, and with supplies rapidly diminishing, the British army became weaker with each passing day. Burgoyne had to choose between advancing or retreating. He decided to risk a second engagement, and on October 7 ordered a reconnaissance-in-force to test the American left flank. Ably led and supported by eight cannon, a force of 1,500 men moved out of the British camp. After marching southwesterly about three-quarters of a mile, the troops deployed in a clearing on the Barber Farm. Most of the British front faced an open field, but both flanks rested in woods, thus exposing them to surprise attack. By now the Americans knew that Burgoyne's army was again on the move and at about 3 p.m. attacked in three columns under Colonel Morgan, Gen. Ebenezer Learned, and Gen. Enoch Poor. Repeatedly the British line was broken, then rallied, and both flanks were severely punished and driven back. Gen. Simon Fraser, who commanded the British right, was mortally wounded as he rode among his men to encourage them to make a stand and cover the developing withdrawal. Before the enemy's flanks could be rallied, Gen. Benedict Arnold -who had been relieved of command after a quarrel with Gates- rode onto the field and led Learned's brigade against the German troops holding the British center. Under tremendous pressure from all sides, the Germans joined a general withdrawal into the fortifications on the Freeman Farm. Within an hour after the opening clash, Burgoyne lost eight cannon and more than 400 officers and men. Flushed with success, the Americans believed that victory was near. Arnold led one column in a series of savage attacks on the Balcarres Redoubt, a powerful British fieldwork on the Freeman Farm. After failing repeatedly to carry this position, Arnold wheeled his horse and, dashing through the crossfire of both armies, spurred northwest to the Breymann Redoubt. Arriving just as American troops began to assault the fortification, he joined in the final surge that overwhelmed the German soldiers defending the work. Upon entering the redoubt, he was wounded in the leg. Had he died there, posterity would have known few names brighter than that of Benedict Arnold. Darkness ended the day's fighting and saved Burgoyne's army from immediate disaster.
That night the British commander left his campfires burning and withdrew his troops behind the Great Redoubt, which protected the high ground and river flats at the northeast corner of the battlefield. The next night, October 8, after burying General Fraser in the redoubt, the British began their retreat northward. They had suffered 1,000 casualties in the fighting of the past three weeks; American losses numbered less than 500. After a miserable march in mud and rain, Burgoyne's troops took refuge in a fortified camp on the heights of Saratoga. There, an American force that had grown to nearly 20,000 men surrounded the exhausted British army. Faced with such overwhelming numbers, Burgoyne surrendered on October 17, 1777. By the terms of the Convention of Saratoga, Burgoyne's depleted army, some 6,000 men, marched out of its camp "with the Honors of War" and stacked its weapons along the west bank of the Hudson River. Thus was gained one of the most decisive victories in American and world history.