SARATOGA NATIONAL HISTORIC PARK, STILLWATER, N.Y. – A detachment of Army lawyers, and the Soldiers who support them, air-landed at the site of a Revolutionary War battle here on March 12, ready for the demands of a road march and lessons in military history.
The 18 Judge Advocate General Corps members included company grade officers, NCOs and enlisted personnel from across New York Army National Guard's commands, along with members of the U.S. Army Reserve's 7th Legal Operations Detachment, based in Schenectady, New York.
The troops arrived by UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, courtesy of the New York Army National Guard's 3rd Battalion, 142nd Aviation, based in Latham, New York. The air movement – conducted as part of the helicopter battalion's training - brought the legal Soldiers right to the site of Gen. John Burgoyne's British headquarters during the Saratoga Battles of September and October 1777.
The troops completed a partial march through six miles of the battlefield, visiting British and American lines to discuss the battles, the units, the leaders and the legal implications of the battle.
"The number one training objective is to provide a historical context for the value of Judge Advocates in the Operational Law Setting," explained Maj. Nestor Berge, a Joint Force Headquarters attorney adviser. "The Law of Armed Conflict tie-in will come from our discussion of the Convention Army's actions post cessation of hostilities."
The Convention Army, as it came to be known, refers to the 5,900 troops surrendered by Burgoyne following the American victory.
Burgoyne's expedition was a thrust south from Canada, intending to capture Albany and link up with other British forces that would attack north from New York City, in effect severing the New England colonies from the rest of the newly declared independent states.
The plan for the three-pronged attack stalled when Burgoyne encountered difficult terrain and increasing resistance from the Continental Army and local militias in his approach from Fort Ticonderoga to Albany.
The other two attacks also failed to meet with Burgoyne’s force at Albany, one defeated at Oriskany, New York, and the other in the Hudson River Highlands near West Point, when half-hearted diversionary attack by Gen. Sir Henry Clinton from New York City.
Burgoyne surrendered his force in October 1777.
The Battle of Saratoga is considered by many historians as the turning point in the Revolutionary War, bringing recognition of the newly formed United States and the support of French military forces into the war.
The group was led by two former park rangers, Patrick Niles and Larry Arnold. The two provided historical context for the battle, with extensive knowledge of the terrain, tactics and troops of that 1777 battlefield.
"This is really quite different for me," Arnold said during the march between battlefield visitor stations. "I'm much more accustomed to the historical context for today's Soldiers through the eyes of an infantryman, talking about terrain, weapons or tactics. But this group and their focus on legal issues reminds me that the Saratoga battlefield really has so many more stories to tell."
The ruck march through the battlefield included discussion of the legal issues facing the forces of 1777.
In addition to the legal issues for the laws of land warfare and military discipline of 18th Century armies, the very surrender of Burgoyne’s estimated 6,000 troops was controversial for the legal details in the Articles of Convention. Burgoyne specifically kept the term surrender out of the negotiation.
The Articles of Convention provided for the return of British prisoners back to Europe with a pledge not to participate in the Revolutionary War any further. Gen. Horatio Gates, commander of the Continental Army forces in northern New York, agreed to the matter to conclude the battle, but this point was rejected by the Continental Congress and Gen. George Washington.
The redeployed British forces would simply be replaced by other units, and keeping them as prisoners of war would contribute to the negotiating power of the new United States and provide parity for the treatment of American prisoners under British control, Washington argued.
The Continental Congress agreed, and refused to allow the British and German mercenary troops to be released.
Instead, the 5,900 British and German troops of the “Convention Army” were marching to Virginia, and then to Pennsylvania, from their original prison camp in Cambridge, Massachusetts, before being released at the end of the Revolutionary War in 1783.
Along the way more than 2,000 prisoners escaped and faded into the countryside, becoming Americans, while others died of fever and other diseases.
"Saratoga offers a chance to connect with a site where American Forces were victorious but naivety and dereliction lead to being outmaneuvered on post-conflict actions by the forces defeated in battle," Berge explained, referring to the legal actions of Burgoyne v. Gates in the treatment of surrendered British forces after the battle.
Burgoyne's Judge Advocate was part of the negotiations that lead to the very generous Articles of Convention, whereas Gates' Judge Advocate, who was only a second lieutenant, was not part of the negotiations.
"Beyond the history, this is really just fun," said Staff Sgt. Corey Lehman from the Army Reserve's 7th Legal Operations Detachment. "Any time we can get out for training is a good opportunity."