STILLWATER, N.Y. (AP) — One of John Burgoyne's cannons is finally back where the British general and his redcoats lost it more than 230 years ago: the Saratoga Battlefield, scene of one of American history's most important battles.
After spending the past 40 years at a museum in Alabama, the cannon has been returned to the upstate New York landmark, thanks to a chance remark four years ago — and some dogged investigative work by U.S. Army and National Park Service employees.
The rare, 555-pound artillery piece, known as a six-pounder for the weight of the ball it fired, disappeared in the early 1960s from a barn near the battlefield, officially known as the Saratoga National Historical Park.
"The long-timers here at the park had always heard about this cannon that was legendary among park staff," said Christine Valosin, the Saratoga park's curator.
Known in Department of the Army records as "Saratoga Trophy Cannon, Six-Pounder No. 102," the wayward relic from the Revolutionary War's Battles of Saratoga was tracked down to the Tuscaloosa Museum of Art. Acquired in the early 1970s by museum founder Jack Warner, a paper company owner and major art collector, the cannon had been on display for years.
In 2009, an Alabama man visiting Saratoga Battlefield remarked in the visitor center how the cannon on display there resembled one in a museum back in his home state. The Saratoga cannon he was talking about actually was another British six-pounder captured here in 1777 and loaned to the battlefield by a museum in Ohio. Longtime park Ranger Joseph Craig overheard the man's remark and passed the information along to park officials.
That set off an investigation involving historians, law enforcement in the Army and the park service. Valosin began compiling information that traced the cannon's history from its creation in 1756 at a foundry outside London to its surrender by the British when they laid down their arms on Oct. 17, 1777, 10 days after their defeat in the second Saratoga battle.
Many historians consider Saratoga the turning point of the war because the American victory convinced the French to join the fight against England, an alliance that eventually led to the British defeat at Yorktown in 1781.
After Saratoga, details of the cannon's travels get murky. Park historians believe American troops used the gun during the Revolution, and possibly during the War of 1812. It eventually wound up in the New York City area, where the cannon was displayed at Brooklyn's Prospect Park in the early 20th century. In 1934, the city loaned the cannon to the town of Saratoga for a public display commemorating the battles.