A Battlefield Incident at Fredonia

Marvin Rasch, 3rd NY Reg't

First of all, I would like to thank the members of the NWTA who tended to my injury at the Fredonia so quickly and efficiently. I wish that I could thank each person individually and mention them in this letter, however I know that I would likely forget someone and I would prefer not to slight anyone. According to the doctors and nurses who have treated the burns, this quick attention prevented the injuries from being more severe. As of my most recent doctors visit, I am told that there will be no permanent loss of function or scarring.

For those of you who did not hear about the accident that I had at Fredonia or may not have heard accurate information, let me tell you what happened.

The incident occurred during the Sunday morning battle. The Continental Line proceeded down the hill on the Fredonia battlefield with our muskets primed and loaded. When we reached the first level area, the column was displayed with orders being given for me to take command of my unit. We fired our first round, and primed and loaded the second round. My unit fired a second round, and this was the beginning of the incident. After firing the second round, I delayed the lowering of my musket from the shoulder, in the event of a hang fire. I then lowered the musket and replaced the hammer stall and half cocked the musket. I then reached into my cartridge box to remove a cartridge and tore off the tail of the cartridge with my teeth. I then started to pour powder into the pan of the musket, and while doing this the cartridge ignited in my hand (obviously, there must have been an ember in the pan to cause this). I then started to shake my hand to get rid of whatever was causing the pain. The field commander and myself approached one another, with the field commander removing my musket from my left hand and calling a campfollower to assist me. This campfollower and another assisted me off of the battlefield to the metal barn at the top of the hill overlooking the battlefield, and asked the concessions people at the site for ice to place on my burns, At this point the initial campfollower that approached me lead me back to my camp, while the other returned to the battlefield.

As we approached the camping area of my unit, a number of individuals from my unit and others began to treat the burns, by placing my hand in a pan of cool water, and adding ice to the pan. In the process of this treatment, there were no less than a dozen people assisting, and three first aide kits utilized. In a short amount of time, other people including people who had participated in the battle started to arrive. At this time it was determined that I should be treated by a doctor, and a member of my unit transported my wife and I to St. Mary's Hospital in Cedarburg/Mequon.

A number of individuals inspected my musket following the incident and could not find any mechanical problem with the musket, and through my description of the incident determined that I had followed NWTA safety guidelines. The most likely cause of this incident, from these individuals seems to be a build up of black powder residue in the area of my pan, which in turn held the ember. There is differing opinion on how this could have been prevented, but let me present these and my own theory.

After completing the days activities on Saturday, I DID NOT clean my lock or musket, which allowed the build up of residue from that days use to remain. I participated in the firing of three rounds during Last Post on Sunday morning, with my musket firing each round. Shortly there after, I proceeded to the morning battle. Some people have said that it was the lack of cleaning the lock or pan on Saturday night or Sunday morning which resulted in the incident. Others say that it is irrelevant whether I cleaned the lock or pan following Saturday's use, because the firing during Last Post could have provided enough residue given the humidity that day. I would say that they are both right, and that my firing during the Last Post potentially compounding the situation. I say this because the heat generated during the firing of these three rounds was enough to dry out the residue from the previous days activity, and add more residue to that which was already in place.

Now most importantly, how can this incident be prevented in the future? In hind site (which may or may not be 20/20), I would strongly suggest to each person wipe down their musket after each battle or other firing demonstration, especially on Saturday evening. I would also recommend that units rinse out the pans of their guns, if not entire gun. Doing this with boiling water, will minimize the time needed for the gun to dry, if you choose not to dry the gun and/or barrel with rags or cleaning patches. Following this procedure may not eliminate the danger of this type of incident, but will at least minimize the potential for similar incidents to occur in the future.

By the time you read this letter, I hope to have attended at least one event in order to "get back on that horse" by firing my musket in battle at least once.

Again thank you to every one for your concern and assistance at the time of my injuries, and I feel that we can look at this situation as proving that the NWTA is in the true sense of the word a family. And one that I am proud to a member.

...[my gun] went off accidentally and apparently without cause."

Account of an accident by John Hudson, a thirteen-year -old Levie from New York just before the battle of Yorktown, in 1781:

"The levies mounted guard with the regular troops, and one morning just after being relieved at the usual hour, I had gone into our quarters and was sitting on the ground with my gun between my knees, when it went off accidentally and apparently without cause, the ball passing out of the hovel, but injuring no one."

From the article "Such Had Been the Blood..." An old soldier remembers Yorktown, the narrative of John Hudson, American History Illustrated, October, 1981, page 19.