SARATOGA SPRINGS — The New York Military Museum in Saratoga Springs has added a 12-pound historic cannon to its collection, but the provenance of the weapon is unclear.
The cannon was shipped from Utica to Saratoga Springs earlier this month and is now waiting to be renovated by officials at the Military Museum. The cannon was named “Old Saratoga,” according to Oneida County historian Joe Bottini, who believes the gun was used by the British Army during the Battle of Saratoga in the summer of 1777. However, Eric Schnitzer, a ranger at Saratoga National Historical Park and Battlefield in the town of Stillwater, doesn’t think that information is correct.
“The cannon is very clearly an iron gun, and we know for a fact that the British had only bronze — also called brass — artillery pieces at Saratoga,” Schnitzer said. “I haven’t seen the cannon myself, only photos, but for that reason alone — it being an iron cannon — it couldn’t possibly be from General Burgoyne’s army that came here in 1777.
“I guess, theoretically, it could have been around during the American Revolution, and some Americans got their hands on it and it ended up in Utica. But we know exactly what cannons were here at Saratoga, and I just don’t feel that cannon was one of them.”
In the late summer and early fall of 1777, British and American forces met near the Hudson River in what is now the town of Stillwater, sparking one of the most important military engagements in history, according to many experts in the field. After two days of fighting (Sept. 19 and Oct. 7), Burgoyne’s army surrendered to the Americans, changing the course of the revolution.
The story in Utica has the cannon being built in the 1740s and brought to the U.S. with Burgoyne during the revolution. At some point after the Battle of Saratoga, the gun showed up in Utica, probably the late 1780s, according to Bottini.
“All I know for sure is that all the paperwork we have about the cannon tells us it was from Saratoga,” Bottini said. “I can’t prove it.”
Regardless of where it came from, “Old Sara,” or “Ms. Toga” as Bottini likes to call the gun, does have quite a history.
“We know that it was fired off when General Lafayette visited Utica in 1824,” Bottini said. “It was used for quite a while for each Fourth of July celebration, and it’s been resting on the front lawn of our hospital and on the grounds of two armories in Utica. We feel like it’s a famous citizen of the city and that it should be back in Utica.”
Bottini said he has no quarrel with Schnitzer’s opinion about the cannon’s origin. His fight is with Utica officials, the Military Museum in Saratoga Springs, which is a part of the state Division of Military and Naval Affairs, and the National Guard.
“We feel like it was kidnapped and carted off,” he said. “It doesn’t belong to the state. It belongs to Utica.”
According to Eric Durr, director of public affairs for the state Division of Military and Naval Affairs, Bottini is incorrect about who owns the relic. He told the Utica Observer-Dispatch last week that the museum is responsible for artifacts found at armories across the state.
“I didn’t like his reasons,” Bottini said of Durr, who could not be reached for comment Wednesday. “With over 200 years of Utica residence and successfully fending off a previous attempt at possession by the state, when did she all of a sudden become the property of the state?”
According to Schnitzer’s research, the British had 35 cannons at Saratoga and the Americans had 22. Schnitzer said “Old Saratoga” couldn’t have been an American gun.
“From the photos I’ve seen, there is a British cypher on it, which definitely means that it’s some form of British cannon,” Schnitzer said. “The Americans had no 12-pounders here, and we have four of the five British 12-pounders here at the battlefield. The fifth one is out there somewhere, but it’s bronze, so it’s not the one at the Military Museum.”
Officials at the museum couldn’t say when the cannon, which is in need of repair and restoration, would go on display.
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