I like to make posts around the Holidays that have at least something to do with the Holiday that we are having. In this case, next week is the 4th of July. For those that know me personally, they know I was raised near a little town called Schuylerville, New York. Back during the time of the American Revolution, it was known as Saratoga. For students of American History, my little home town is where Gentleman Johnny Burgoyne surrendered his Army. We used to play Little League Baseball on the Surrender Grounds. It was a huge turning point in the American Revolution and a study in what can go wrong in planning and execution of a plan.
The British Plan for that year was intended to be a 3 pronged attack in New York designed to separate the New England States from the rest of the Colonies. There was an attack down the Hudson River led by General Burgoyne. There was an attack eastward through the Mohawk River Valley by Barry St. Leger. Finally, there was to be a thrust North from New York by General Howe. First thing you should realize is that this plan was complex. The attacks were spread over 100s of miles of pure Wilderness. Communications and coordination between the forces involved would be very difficult if not impossible. That in itself is a downside to this kind of plan. Complexity across wide spread fronts is a good way to be defeated in detail.
The plan went well to start with the British taking Fort Ticonderoga without any challenge. But then things began to go downhill. The Americans turned back the force under St. Leger in August. They also took steps to make the route South difficult to travel. This cost the British Forces time and resources. To get back resources, the British attempted a raid on Bennington but were defeated by local militia. On top of that, General Howe had used the bulk of his forces to take Philadelphia and the remainder had not started North to meet Burgoyne in Albany.
Now if you are going to make a plan at least make an attempt to follow it. Howe’s failure to move North doomed the campaign to failure at that point. Without pressure from the South, the Americans were able to dispatch forces West to defeat St. Leger and then concentrate forces to stop Burgoyne. Even if Howe did not make it to Albany he could have tied down valuable troops by being active and in the field. So now we have bad communications, complex coordination and failure to follow the plan.
Burgoyne made the situation worse by not adapting his plan to the changed situation. He attempted to stay the course in light of so many negative facts and tried to make his way Southward. He was defeated about a week before what was his drop dead day to turn back. One thing to remember, this was a Wilderness Area and Winter was Coming. The Winter of 1777 was harsh (see Valley Forge) and that was normal during the middle of the Little Ice Age. It would have been hard to return north with Americans pursuing them at the time, so better to break off early and retreat. There was nothing to be gained by staying. You have to know when to change or abandon your plans if you are not getting the results you expect.
All of those failures in planning and execution led to the involvement of France into the Revolutionary War. The rest is History. Don’t let poor planning and execution lead to your downfall.
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