Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Book Review: Luzader's Saratoga

I have had my eye on this title for a couple of years, ever since my gaming group started our own Saratoga project, building armies around the OOB for Freeman's Farm. For some reason, the Saratoga campaign just never made much sense to me. I had seen a few documentaries on it and read accounts of the campaign in general histories of the war, but the narrative always eluded me. Maybe I didn't have the geography quite clear, or maybe I didn't understand the ways events influenced each other.

Everything gelled for me when I listened to the Teaching Company's course on the American Revolution. The lecturer, Dr. Guelzo, finally put it all together. It's amazing what a good teacher can do. Still, a half hour long lecture can't possibly cover the campaign in the same depth as a book. Enter John Luzader, former staff historian at Saratoga National Historic Park. This book is the product of a lifetime's research, and it shows.

Luzader begins with sketches of the campaign's major personalities. From there, he gives a brief background to the campaign, discussing Carleton's 1776 attempt to force the Champlain-Hudson corridor and Burgoyne's pitch for a 1777 campaign. The campaign narrative which follows contains a large digression on the intrigue in the American high command which saw Schuyler replaced by Gates. Luzader concludes the book with a series of appendices, fleshing out his conclusions by weighing conflicting primary and secondary sources.

I was expecting the book to contain detailed accounts of the campaign's various battles, and was slightly disappointed to find their coverage uneven. Probably this is because the evidence is just not there for some of the fights. This is a minor criticism, though, since all the battles are clearly presented and Luzader explains how each shaped the campaign.

I love a good controversy, and Luzader confronts them all. He addresses the soundness of the British movement from Canada and untangles just where blame for the British defeat should lie. He judges the merits of the various American commanders, concluding that Gates has been unfairly criticized for his conduct of the Saratoga battles. Luzader's judgments on Arnold, Stark, and Schuyler all go against the grain of mainstream historical opinion, but Luzader grounds his arguments in such careful inspection of primary sources that I am convinced he is right.

Almost every military history book has something to contribute to its subject. It is rare, however, that I set a book down convinced that it is the definitive account of its subject. Luzader's Saratoga is one of those rare books. If you have any interest in the Saratoga campaign, surely one of the more decisive campaigns in American history, you'll want to read this book.


  1. might be an interesting book my libary is very thin on the revolution, thanks for a excellent review


  2. I appreciate your review and will have to add Luzader to my shopping list.