Mortar bombs, like the one featured here, were hollow exploding iron spheres used by militaries in the 18th century. Mortar bombs were often used during sieges because they could be fired at a high angle so that the bombs would drop behind earthworks or wooden walls and cause interior damage to a fort (Gooding 1980: 4). During the 21 day siege of Fort Schuyler (previously named Fort Stanwix), British troops lobbed 4.5 inch "Royal" mortars, pictured here, at the fort (Hanson and Hsu 1975: 78).
In his journal, Lieutenant William Colbrath noted that from August 2nd to the 15th, Fort Schuyler had sustained relatively heavy fire (Lowenthall 1983: 33). Lt. Colbrath recorded that the British fired nearly 137 bombs at the fort. While the fort sustained consistent fire, the shots were often not accurate or effective. On August 20th, 1777, First Lieutenant Philipp Jakob Hildebrant, noted in his journal that the British fired eight mortar bombs at the fort, but only one successfully hit and exploded within the fort (Retzer and Barker 2012: 39).
NPS archeologists uncovered numerous mortar bomb fragments during their excavations in the 1970s. Recent archeological excavations at the park in 2013 revealed an additional mortar bomb fragment at the bottom of a feature located outside the original fort walls (pictured on right). The park's collection currently includes 185 mortar bomb fragments and two unexploded mortar bombs (one pictured above). While this may seem to be evidence of a large number of mortar bombs infiltrating the fort, the weight of the 185 fragments "indicates that there was only enough metal [recovered by archeologists] to account for 11 mortar bombs in the collection" (Hsu and Hanson 1975: 78).
Ultimately, Fort Schuyler withstood the British siege for 21 days and claimed victory. This victory was one of the events that undermined Burgoyne's Campaign and lead to the American triumph at the Battle of Saratoga only a few days later.
Through archeological excavations and collection management, the Division of Cultural Resources at Fort Stanwix National Monument works to ensure that these fragments of history are preserved as evidence of the feats of the early American military.
Gooding, S.J. 1980. An introduction to British Artillery in North America. Historical Arms, vol. 4. Museum Restoration Service, Ottawa.
Hanson, L. and D. P. Hsu. 1975. Casemates and Cannonballs: Archeological Investications at Fort Stanwix National Monument, Rome, NY. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.
Lowenthal, L. 1983. Days of Siege: A Journal of the Siege of Fort Stanwix in 1777. Eastern National. Edited and reprinted from original Colbreath Journal located in the Rosenbach Museum and Library.
Retzer, H.J. and Barker, TM. 2012. The Hessen-Hanau Jägers, the Siege of Fort Stanwix and the Battle of Oriskany: The Diary of First Lieutenant Philipp Jakob Hildebrant. The Hessians: Journal of the Johannes Schwalm Historical Association 15: 35-44.