Saratoga Battlefield Wilkinson Trail: The Turning Point

Three of Three in a Series on Saratoga Springs, New York

Saratoga_Battlefield_Sign

Take the 4.2 mile hike through history.

So today I’m 364 days closer to age 30. In other words, I celebrated my 29th birthday yesterday. Between cards and calls, emails and presents (no Bounty Hunter; but highlights included a new backpack for both myself and Rufus), I thought about where I am today – and how I got here. Get your mind out of the gutter; I’m talking about turning points!

If you think about it, your life can be summed up in turning points: pivotal places in time where your path shifted in a new direction. A key turning point in my history was pulling out of my driveway in Ann Arbor, Michigan and heading for Syracuse, New York. I had lived most of my life in Ann Arbor, then went to University of Michigan, which was so close I could hear Big House football games from my bedroom window. Then, I moved to Syracuse, where I knew no one, with one goal in mind: independence. Seven years later, I’m still here. And while I miss Michigan family and friends, looking back with that fancy 20/20 hindsight vision – I can see I took the right path.

Saratoga National Historical Park's Ray Miller

NPS's Ray Miller.

A few weekends ago, I visited Saratoga National Historical Park , the site of a key turning point in a much more notable struggle for independence: The Revolutionary War. It was there that I asked the National Park Service’s Ray Miller a loaded question: So why, exactly, is this place known as the turning point of the Revolutionary War?Soon, I found myself and a dozen strangers peering into a glass-covered diorama of the Saratoga Battlefield, captivated by Ray’s account of the turning point. Behind Ray was the actual Saratoga Battlefield where I had just walked the four-mile Wilkinson Trail loop.

I had been so eager to hit the trail when I arrived at the Saratoga Battlefield on the first spring-like day in New York, I walked through the visitor’s center, only pausing to grab the interpretive map. Looking back, walking first then getting the history lesson second was a fortunate accident. As I progressed along the same trail that doomed British soldiers walked, I followed the sequential order of what happened there. This is more like real life, we don’t know what’s next – or what move will prove advantageous – or a mistake.

Saratoga Battlefield Station C Breymann Redoubt

Ben on the Wilkinson Trail, at Station C.

The trail starts on the grassy hill at Station A. This is the same place British soldiers stood, looking out at the Hudson River bluffs wondering how many rebels were encamped there. At Station E, I walked through a dense forest along the same path that British General Burgoyne marched, the forest floor hushing each step. Within the forest at Station H, the British troops set up camp for two weeks, waiting for reinforcements that never came. I could feel the desperation in the air. Moving on to Station I, I envisioned the German troops hired by King George struggling to pull cannons across the muddy creek then up the steep hill.  I paused at Station L, discovering that the British built a small fort here, not knowing what they were up against. Finally, the trail brought me Station M where hundreds of soldiers on both sides died in battle. Now that I understood the causes leading up to the turning point, I wanted to learn their effects, that’s when I approached Ray.

Saratoga Battlefield Station M The Field

Looking at the battlefield from Station M.

If you’ve ever spoken with a true history buff, you know they’re fascinated with cause and effect. Ray explained that the two patriot victories on both September 19th and October 7th, 1777 had tremendous after-effects. The British formally surrendered, laying down their weapons. News of this humiliating defeat spread throughout Europe, establishing the Americans as a force to be reckoned with. Impressed by the two victories, France finally decided to help fund the revolution, patriot morale improved and, as they say, the rest is history.

As Ray hovered over the battlefield diorama, I thought about how we can take a historian’s perspective with our lives: peering into the past at our own turning points. It’s fascinating to see the small moments that have a big impact on where we are today: We can see the stations of our life, where battles were won or lost, where a seemingly small decision or event redirected our course. What makes these turning points so interesting to me, is that rarely do we realize when we’re making history. We live our lives in present tense, without a historian’s luxury to see cause and effect. Therefore, every action we take has the potential to become a turning point in our own personal history. Who knows, maybe someday I’ll look back on a moment in my 29th year as one of life’s turning points; until then, I’ll keep fighting the good fight.
Saratoga Battlefield Station A View From Visitor Center

The Hudson River bluffs in the distance from Station A.


 

 

 

 

 

 

As the World Turns…Watch Ray Miller Explain the Turning Point at YouTube

 

Proud to Be an American

As readers of my blog know, I try to make a personal connection to each place I visit. By reflecting on the turning points within my own life, this post was not meant to minimize the importance of each soldier who fought in the Revolutionary War – and those who fight today. Standing at Station M, a large field where hundreds of soldiers lost their lives, I noticed this painting and felt gratitude for the soldiers who fought – and continue to fight – for American freedom. While each of us have our own battles to wage, a visit to the Saratoga Battlefield is an opportunity to honor soldiers; those who fight battles of life and death.


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Learn more about the Saratoga National Historic Park at the official site.

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10 comments to Saratoga Battlefield Wilkinson Trail: The Turning Point

  • Wow!! The kids are desperate, absolutely desperate to see this park. We came so close a few years ago, but missed it. It’s a long drive for us (6 hours round trip). The British surrender effected more awe (and support, at last!!) by the French than all of Benjamin Franklin’s bamboozling as our French ambassador. And it was Upstate NYers that did it, woohoo! The PBS series “Liberty” did a very good job with this section, I think. Worth seeing, if you haven’t seen it.

    Thanks for a great post. Now we have GOT to see this place.

  • Lindsay

    Mrs. Mecomber, thanks for the “Liberty” tip. I also need to make a trip to the Oriskany Battlefield after reading your post. I still can’t get over how strange it is that we both wrote about important battlefields in NY yesterday ;).

    Trailing Thought followers, check out Mrs. Mecomber’s blog if you haven’t already – we both are big fans of enjoying all that NYS has to offer…

    http://newyorktraveler.net/oriskany-battlefield-bloodiest-battle-of-the-american-revolution/

  • Fred Miller

    Hi Lindsay,

    I enjoy reading about your adventures!!!

    Fred

  • Amy

    Lindsay – You are so inspiring! Thanks for another great, informative writeup. I never liked history in school but you seem to make it interesting. Thank you! I miss Saratoga County. Can’t wait to see where you travel next.

  • Ranger Ray Miller SNHP

    Lindsay

    Your questions and inquisitive inquiries helped to captivate
    the visitors that took part in my talk. Your inquiries brought 20 people over to our battlefield diarama where many of their questions were answered. Your inquiries helped to bring to the visitors the trials and tribulations that plaqued both sides.

    Thanks again for making me a part of your hsitory quest.

    Ranger Ray Miller Saratoga National Historical Park

  • Lindsay

    Fred, I’m glad you like reading about my adventures, I hope your California adventure was enjoyable!

  • Lindsay

    Amy, I’m a dork…I loved history in high school. Math…er, not so much.

  • Lindsay

    Ray, friends of mine are getting married this spring in Saratoga Springs. I’ve already told the wedding party to make time for a trip to the Saratoga Battlefield (how romantic, ha). No pressure but they might be seeking you out for the turning point talk! Thanks for your feedback.

  • Lindsay
    I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to read your blog. You are so inspirational and so content with life it really shows. We really miss you and you will truely go down as one of the best writers we ever had at Designworks Advertising. Everything you write has a certain way of captivating an audience taking them to a different place. Don’t ever stop writing it is what you are best at.

  • [...] power returned the next morning, got gas, and headed for Syracuse. As I said last week, this was a major turning point in my life. It was an especially long drive for me; I had grown up and gone to college in Ann Arbor. [...]

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