NPS Saratoga National Park
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  • 113. Wilkinson Trail --Station M

    A trail marker post labeled Station M, Wilkinson Trail.

    Track 14: Station M --Weapons 

     "Her husband was not yet dead, but a cannon ball had taken off his arm close to the shoulder. During the whole night we heard his moans. . . the poor man died towards morning." –Baroness Frederika von Riesdesel 

    "In the course of the last action, Lieutenant Hervey, a youth of sixteen, received several wounds. . . a ball striking one of his legs, his removal became absolutely necessary, and while they were carrying him away, another wounded him mortally." –British Ensign Thomas Anbury, 24th Regiment of Foot 

    "The carnage became frightful, but the conflict was of short duration. Their gallant major received a musket ball through both legs…. The sufferings of the wounded were extreme, having neither beds under them nor any kind of bed clothing to cover them. Several surgeons were busily employed during the night extracting bullets and performing other surgical operations." –Samuel Woodruff, Connecticut Militia 

    Revolutionary War weaponry was very effective in killing or wounding soldiers. Amputations, infections and soldiers perishing in the crude field hospitals were all too common. 

    What types of weapons were used here in these battles? The largest proportion of soldiers used muskets, which fired a single lead musket ball, or a combination of "buck and ball," one full-size musket ball with a few smaller musket balls. 

    Muskets were smooth-bore firearms, meaning their barrels were smooth inside and therefore were not very accurate. However, it was relatively easy to learn the dozen or so steps to load and fire a musket, a well trained soldier could fire his musket 3-4 times per minute. Multiplied by several dozen soldiers, this produced an intimidating volume of gunfire. 

    A smaller number of soldiers used rifles, such as troops in Colonel Daniel Morgan's corps, one of the units George Washington had detached from his army. These were much more accurate, as the rifling, or spiral grooves along the length of their bores, made a musket ball spin like a well-thrown football. This also gave a rifle far greater range than a musket, allowing a trained shooter to hit a target two to three hundred yards, or two to three football fields, away. 

    Rifles required more training to use and more time to load and fire –about one to two minutes between shots. And they were generally not fitted for bayonets. This made rifles better suited to small unit actions such as scouting and skirmishing. 

    There were three types of artillery pieces used in the Revolutionary War: cannons, howitzers and mortars. In their day these were the most powerful, damaging, and far reaching human controlled weapons. 

    Cannons, the most frequently used artillery pieces, fired a solid, non-exploding, iron cannonball. It was the velocity and the mass of a cannon ball smashing through targets that made cannons so destructive. Cannons were named for the weight of the cannonball they fired, and here at Saratoga, 3, 6, and 12 pound cannons were used. Depending on their size, it took a crew of approximately 6-12 soldiers to man one cannon. Loading and firing cannons was dangerous, exhausting and deafening work. 

    Mortars and howitzer, by comparison, were shorter, stubbier tubes which fired hollow, exploding shells on a high arc. These artillery pieces were usually used in stationary situations like defending a redoubt, or for the lengthy siege of fortifications. 

    Artillery had an important place here at Saratoga and influenced the initial success, and ultimate defeat of the British army here. On September 19th, it was the Germans' arrival on the field along with two 6-pound cannons that prevented an almost certain British defeat that day at the hands of the Americans. In contrast, some of Burgoyne's own artillery, captured from his army in battle on October 7th, was used against him north of here at Saratoga —present-day Schuylerville.

    Hear the distant echo of the cannons firing? We are coming upon the scene of the second battle of Saratoga. Keep walking to hear some details of that fateful day....