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American Bicentennial Issue: Surrender at Saratoga

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13-cent Surrender at Saratoga single

On October 7, 1977, the Postal Service issued a 13-cent American Bicentennial issue, Surrender of Burgoyne (Scott 1728). The stamp commemorates the 200th anniversary of the surrender of British General John Burgoyne (1723-1792) to General Horatio Gates (1726–1806), commander of the American forces, at Saratoga. Designed by Bradbury Thompson, the scene depicts a John Trumbull (1756-1843) painting completed for the Capitol Rotunda, Washington, D.C., in 1826. The central figure in Trumbull's painting is Horatio Gates, who refused to take the sword offered by General Burgoyne, and, treating his former foe as a gentleman, invited him into his tent. All of the figures in the scene portray specific officers. Trumbull planned this outdoor scene to contrast with his 'Declaration of Independence', which hangs beside it in the Capitol Rotunda.

The multicolored 13-cent issue was printed on the Bureau of Engraving and Printing seven-color Andreotti gravure press (601) as sheets of 160 subjects, tagged, perforated 11, and distributed as panes of forty (five across and eight down). Mr. Zip, “MAIL EARLY IN THE DAY,” electric eye markings, and five plate numbers, one in each color used to print the sheet, are printed in the selvage.

On September 19, 1777, the British army under General Burgoyne advanced upon the American camp, located within the present-day towns of Stillwater and Saratoga, New York, in three separate columns. Two columns headed through the heavy forests that covered the region; the third, composed of German troops, marched down the river road. The battle that followed shifted back and forth for more than three hours. Though he held the immediate field of battle, Burgoyne had been stopped about a mile north of the American line. Shaken by his 'victory', the British commander ordered his troops to entrench in the vicinity of the Freeman farm and await support from Sir Henry 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. Burgoyne's situation was critical, so he decided to risk a second engagement. In this second engagement on October 7, the Americans, rallied by General Benedict Arnold, eventually overwhelmed the British lines. Darkness ended the day's fighting and saved Burgoyne's army from immediate disaster.

The British began their retreat northward on October 8. They had suffered a thousand casualties. American losses numbered less than five hundred. 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 surrounded Burgoyne's 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 history.


Doug D'Avino

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