The Path to Freedom Chapter 7
Christopher Baldwin

“I filed the edges of his hoof and put some grease on it, to keep it from splitting,” the young rifleman said, as he came into the circle, sat on a log and took a dish of peas and salt pork from Sylvie.

“Thank you, Miss,” he said to her, then continued to talk to Luke. “I smeared some grease on his cuts, too, to keep out the flies. We’ll get a farrier to replace that shoe as soon as things quiet down a little.”

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The Path to Freedom

The Path to Freedom is an eight-part Newspapers in Education serial story on upstate New York's role in the American Revolutionary War, running Wednesdays in The Citizen and on auburnpub.com from March 29 to May 17. This project is funded by New York State United Teachers and the New York Newspapers Foundation.

It had been a day and a half since the battle, a bloody clash that went throughout the day until it became too dark for the soldiers to see each other. Burgoyne had not won, but his redcoats were now on the hillside, sticking to the positions where they had been when the fighting ended.

Morgan’s men had stayed on the battlefield, ready for a second fight with the British the whole previous day, thinking they’d attack again once it was light and the fog had lifted.

But nothing had happened and now the Americans had begun to repair equipment and bury their dead, still keeping an eye out for the enemy.

Of the half dozen riflemen most often at Sylvie’s fire, two were missing, killed when the group had crossed a field and been surprised by British forces hidden by the thick brush.

Meanwhile, Luke blamed himself for poor Jonathan’s injuries.

The wagoners were nowhere near the fighting, but the sounds of gunfire shook the entire area.

Luke had staked out the horses in a meadow near the camp, close enough to each other that they could touch noses, but not so close that they would get tangled in each other’s ropes.

It worked well enough through the musketry early on, when the British first attacked. The battle was far down the hill from their campsite, and Jonathan shivered at the sounds but kept close to David, whose calmness seemed to help control his fear.

But when the cannons began to fire that afternoon, Jonathan panicked and bolted, pulling his stake from the ground and disappearing into the woods at the far edge of the clearing.

Luke had been watching; He put David on a lead line and the two of them followed Jonathan’s trail of crushed bushes and deep hoof prints until it was nearly too dark to see. Finally, they found him standing, shivering, in a small pond of water, his rope tangled around a tree.

Somewhere, he had lost a shoe, and he had small tears in his skin from running through the branches of the forest, but with the gunfire far behind them and beginning to die down with the evening, David’s presence calmed him again and Luke was able to lead the pair back to camp.

Tim, who had been a blacksmith in Virginia before the war, volunteered to do some doctoring on the still-shaken horse, once he was no longer required to stand guard.

Now he reached for a sourdough biscuit to go with his pease porridge. “Miss Sylvie, you are a wonder!” he said. “I swear, we eat better on this battlefield than we ever did at home!”

The other three riflemen grunted their agreement, and Seth Baker spoke up, pointing at Luke to emphasize his point.

“You need to keep those horses close by,” he said. “Artillery lost nearly all theirs yesterday and they’ll be looking to get more. They come poking around here, you just let us know. Those two are too good a pair to be taken off and shot for just hauling cannons around.”

“That’s right,” Tim agreed. “Nobody’s taking Jonny and Davey while we’re around, especially not the artillery.”

Seth cleared his throat before asking a difficult question. “Have you heard from your pa yet?”

Sylvie smiled. “He sent word he’s all right. I don’t know what he’s getting to eat or when he’ll get back to camp, but he got through the fighting.”

“Yorker regulars are still on patrol,” Seth said, “But I don’t think they’ll keep their militia out much longer.”

“Don’t you worry about him, Missy,” one of the other men said. “If they have him standing watch, it means he’s healthy. He’ll come home soon as he can.”

When their meal was finished, Morgan’s men began casting bullets for their rifles. Unlike muskets, each rifle needed its own bullets, cast from the custom mold that the gunsmith had made with it.

Meanwhile, Luke joined the other wagoners, workers and many of the women on the battlefield, gathering up ammunition pouches and powder horns from the dead soldiers who had still not been buried.

Both sides were short of powder and shot, and it wouldn’t do to let anything go to waste. Some were also picking up muskets that were not too badly damaged, and Luke thought how much easier it would be to load them into a cart, but he used Jonathan’s hoof as an excuse to keep the horses safely in camp, not down where they could be taken from him by either side.

And so the day ended, and the day after that.

There were quick skirmishes, and Morgan’s men were sent out in small groups to keep the British from moving any closer, firing at the redcoat guards nearest the American lines.

But the armies had nearly two weeks to prepare before the second battle at Saratoga.

Text copyright 2017, Mike Peterson; illustration copyright 2015, Christopher Baldwin.

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