"We. . .had Something More at Stake than fighting for six Pence per day." –Major Henry Dearborn, Commander, American Battalion of Light Infantry.
On September 19th, 1777, daybreak was cold and damp with a low-lying fog. The British army advanced south in three columns, a few miles away from the American Camp. As the fog lifted, about 12:30 in the afternoon, the clash began.
Some of Daniel Morgan's riflemen brushed with the advanced guard of Burgoyne's center column in the clearing of Freeman's Farm. To the British, the Americans appeared a motley crew, mostly dressed in whatever piecemeal uniforms they could muster. But appearances were deceiving.
The Americans had a lot more at stake. Eyewitness accounts on both sides from that first day of battle recall some of the most heated fighting any of them had ever seen:
"such an explosion of fire I have never had any idea of before"
"Both armies seemed determined to conquer or die"
"the blaze of the artillery and small arms was incessant and sounded like to roll of the drum"
"it was the hottest Fire of Canon and Musquetry that ever I heard in my life"
"We continued to press on, keeping our lines as well as the ground would permit; loading and firing rapidly as possible as we advanced."
The battle swayed back and forth for more than three hours, with each side taking turns commanding the field. Morgan's riflemen singled out specific targets, while the massed Continental and British lines filled the air with volleys of lead. Sounds of men crying out in pain and fear could be heard across the field. Both sides scrambled to carry out their wounded.
Just as the British lines began to waver in the face of deadly fire from the numerically superior Americans, German reinforcements from the left column arrived from the river road with two 6-pound cannons, forcing the Americans to withdraw under the cover of darkness.