"On this volcanic knoll, Oct. 13, 1777, General John Stark
mounted his battery and effectively obstructed the effort of Burgoyne
to withdraw his defeated army northward..."
Conservation Department plaque erected in 1938.
It is often of interest to dissect, through the careful chronological
examination of early maps and texts, the legends that work their way into our
local and national history. Such is the case of General Stark and the
Stark's Knob artillery.
There are four key maps that shed light on the story, and they span the
time from the 1777 battle to the early 20th century. Let's examine each one to see
what they tell us about the role of Stark's Knob in the final phase of
the Battles of Saratoga - 1777.
Click on maps to enlarge
This 1780 engraving is
a faithful British copy of the manuscript maps drawn by the British Army as
it lay under siege at Saratoga (Schuylerville). The military map makers drew
what they could see, what they knew about, and what was critical to the military situation.
As you can see, they did not enter any information about Stark's Knob, in
spite of the fact that the closure of the escape route to the north on October 13th
was a critical factor in the decision to surrender, and one of the generals
recorded that "...The rebels had now entirely enclosed us, and had placed a
post of observation on a height on our right flank..." (The right flank
would have been the area in which Stark's Knob was located.)
(The location of Stark's Knob on this map can be calculated accurately from the position of the mouth
of the Battenkill to the east, adjusted for change since 1777, and the bend in the Hudson River.)
This map, drawn in 1794, is a simplification of the 1780 British map. But it does contribute
one feature - an increased focus on the apparently isolated hill at the
northwestern perimeter of the British position. The fence drawn around it adds
to its prominence on the map.
Most people would assume this is Stark's Knob, but it lies opposite and slightly south of the
mouth of the Battenkill, to the east, while Stark's Knob lies substantially north of that position.
We can allow somewhat for inaccuracy in 18th century mapping, in general. But one must remember,
that the mapping done here was by professional engineers, who were not prone
to inaccuracies, especially when military factors were involved, and the British
were stuck in this besieged position for a full week; ample time to record and re-record
every detail of their situation.
(Enlargment = 57K)
This map was published as part of a series in the Centennial year - 1876 - when much attention
was focused on the military events of the Revolutionary War, the sites where these events tooks place,
and the commemoration of those places.
At first this map appears to be an almost cartoon-like oversimplification of the original
maps of the "seigefield" at Saratoga. But it contributes two critical pieces to the evolution of the
Stark's Knob artillery story. First, by the simplified style of its cartography, it even further detaches and
amplifies the hill on the northern periphery of the British position. It looks like the
conical hill at Stark's Knob. Additionally, the hill has crept northward, with this mapping, so that
now it appears to stand slightly north of the mouth of the Battenkill, in a position not unlike
that of Stark's Knob. (Of course remember, that no new data is being introduced here, and this is
the same hill which the British themselves mapped south of the mouth of the Battenkill in 1777.)
But most striking here is the introduction, for the first time, of an American troop position on the top of
this hill, complete with two pieces of artillery! Being a popular commemorative publication at a time
when the most well known legends of
the American Revolution were actually first being embedded into the American consciuosness, the impact
of this map cannot be underestimated.
In his accompanying text on the history of the Revolution, the author elaborates on the action at
Saratoga, but makes no mention of Stark's closure of the northern escape route, nor of the
placement of artillery on a hill in that area of the battlefield. So the origin of this
addition to the map remains a mystery.
Perhaps the most interesting, and useful, of the historic maps of the Saratoga
"siegefield" is that drawn in 1919 (left) by local historian John Brandow. This map is based on the topography
and field features for the Village of Schuylerville at that time, but overlays the
military information from the 1780 British map onto that modern landscape.
This map identifies Stark's Knob and the camp of John Stark that was established in the
gap between the Knob and the river. But it shows no guns on that hill. Instead, it shows
an artillery redoubt on the next hill to the south, a location mentioned in Brandow's text
as being an American gun position.
"...during the night Stark and his men had crossed the river just above
the mouth of the Battenkill on rafts, occupied the gap and erected a battery on a hill,
(probably the bare one back of Mr. D.A. Bullard's farm building)."
While we can not determine the source of his supposition that this gun emplacement existed, we can
find logic in its location. The high hill identified by Brandow is not an isolated peak,
as some maps have suggested, but is in fact the high end of an elongated ridge. Field
survey proves that the British mappers would not have seen exactly how this hill related to that
ridge, although they hint at it (see the 1780 map). They would have drawn it as a somewhat
isolated height of land from their perspective. Its position, opposite and slightly south
of the mouth of the Battenkill Creek matches the British mapping precisely and seems to
support this conclusion.
So in the end we find no concrete evidence for the use of Stark's Knob as a gun emplacement
in 1777, we find some later maps that seem to suggest a hill that could have been mistaken as
Stark's Knob had artillery on it, and we find finally in Brandow's map the suggestion that this hill
was in fact several hundred yards south of Stark's Knob.
It remains for some further detective work to discover the origins of the claim,
first voiced clearly in the 1930s, that Stark
placed guns on the Knob.
For more information...
If you have questions, or wish to obtain more detailed information about this subject,
New York State Museum
Room 3107 Cultural Education Center
Albany, New York 12230