STILLWATER, N.Y. – Military veterans who carefully dug and sifted through clumps of dirt this month at a Revolutionary War battlefield in New York did more than uncover artifacts fired from muskets and cannons.
The meticulous field work gave the veterans – some dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder and physical injuries – a familiar sense of camaraderie and mission.
So while the archaeological dig at the Saratoga National Historical Park produced evidence from the tide-turning Second Battle of Saratoga, the teamwork behind the finds also benefited the veterans.
“We can all come together, share your battle stories, your deployment stories, and share your love for the history of what you're digging,” said Bjorn Bruckshaw, of Laconia, New Hampshire.
Bruckshaw, 38, was part of a three-person crew that spent the morning digging small holes at spots that set off metal detectors, then searching though the damp clumps to uncover ... old nails, mostly.
But the self-described Revolutionary War buff was loving it.
Bruckshaw, an Army veteran injured in a roadside bombing in Iraq, is among 15 veterans taking part in the dig through American Veterans Archaeological Recovery, an organization that helps service members transition into the civilian world. While the group deals mostly with vets with disabilities, their focus is on what participants can do in the field instead of any injuries, said AVAR's Stephen Humphreys.
National Park Service archaeologist William Griswold said the team is looking for artifacts that shed more light on the Battle of Bemis Heights, or the Second Battle of Saratoga, on Oct. 7, 1777. The American victory over British and Germans is credited with persuading France to lend crucial support the fight for independence.
While maps and journal accounts from the time describe troop movements during that fateful battle, artifacts can pinpoint movements and provide a reality check.
“It's a good way to check a lot of these textual sources because in the fog of battle, people often make mistakes or embellish things,” Griswold said.
Field work was first conducted here in 2019, with supervision from the National Park Service's regional archaeology program. The American Battlefield Trust is a sponsor. Work was interrupted by the pandemic last year, but crews with shovels and metal detectors were back this month and wrapping up this week.
“It's partially about the chase,” said veteran Megan Lukaszeski. “You never know what you're going to find. You could dig and you could find nothing, or you could dig and find the most amazing things.”