J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Saturday, October 30, 2010

“The Ball Demolished His Head”

From Jeptha R. Simms’s Trappers of New York, published in 1850, comes this description of a gory incident from the Battle of Saratoga:

Among the death-daring spirits who followed [Benedict] Arnold to the Hessian camp, was Nicholas Stoner, and near the enemy’s works he was wounded in a singular manner. A cannon shot from the breastwork killed a soldier near Stoner, named Tyrrell. The ball demolished his head, sending its fragments into the face of Stoner, which was literally covered with brains, hair and fragments of the skull. He fell senseless, with the right of his head about the ear severely cut by portions of the skull bone, which injury still affects his hearing in that ear.

Shortly after, as the young fifer was missing, one Sweeney, an Irish soldier, was sent to seek out and bear him from the field; but a cannon shot whizzed so near his own head, that he soon returned without the object of his search.

Col. Livingston asked Sweeney where the lad Stoner was?

“Ja—s! colonel,” replied the soldier, “a goose has laid an egg there, and you don’t catch me to stay there!”

Lieut. William Wallace then proceeded to the spot indicated by the Irishman, and found our hero with his head reclining upon Tyrrell’s thigh, and taking him in his arms, bore him to the American camp. When young Stoner was found, a portion of the brim of his hat, say about one-fourth the size of a nine-pound shot, was observed to have been cut off very smoothly, the rest of it was covered with the ruins of the head of Tyrrell, who, to use the words of Stoner, did not know what hurt him.
(Irishmen in nineteenth-century stories are always saying, “Jaysus!”)

Nicholas Stoner was a fifer, about fifteen years old at this time, according to Simms. For more on his career (most of the details taken from Simms), here’s a 1965 American Heritage article. According to this webpage from Fulton County, New York, that photo above shows the “Nick Stoner monument at the Caroga Golf Course.”

TOMORROW: George Washington: Buried Alive?!

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