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Humanizing the Battle of Stoney Creek

 By Kevin Werner, News Staff

 The Battle of Stoney Creek was vicious, with limbs being hacked, bullets flying in all directions, and blood spurting everywhere during the tenacious close-quarter fighting.

Who participated in that mass of confusion in June 1813, which some historians believe was a crucial battle in the War of 1812?

McMasterUniversityprofessor Dr. Megan Brickley took on the challenge examining 2,701 bits of bone, to find out who were these men who fought and died on the long-ago battlefield.

For about 20 months Brickley, a research chair fromEngland, archeologist Dr. Tracey Prowse, and other researches attempted to piece together a story about who took part in the engagement.

“I wanted to know more about these people, to humanize them,” said Brickley. “There are still lots of questions that I haven’t found. But given the nature of the material, yes I’m satisfied about the information that came out.”

Brickley found there was a “mix” of nationalities fighting in the battle, young men from theUnited States, theUnited Kingdom, and Canadian militia. These men were youths, but researchers could find no political affiliation to any of the people.

“These men were younger than what we had thought,” she said.

The injuries found were made by weapons at close range, during what Brickley characterized as “chaotic fighting.” Some of the bones had evidence that they had been hacked by a bayonet or some other sharp object.

Based on the femur bones, and 13 teeth that were studied using isotope tests, and using mass spectrometry technology to determine the bone chemistry, Brickley found 12 bones were based on a European diet of wheat, and six bones had a North American corn diet. Four other bones had a mixed or marginal diet that could not be determined. There were five individuals that were discovered to have a North American origin, four were from theUnited Kingdom, and there were five bones that research could not conclusively say where they were from.

Brickley also conducted firearm tests using muskets and what is called buck and ball, ammunition that was used by North Americans, on pork chops.

“It provided a nice meat and piece of bone to use,” she said.

 Brickley found  the buckshot was used on three individuals, who were shot in the buttocks, leading to the possibility that they were victims of friendly fire.

Using a musket, no surprise the evidence revealed the closer a person was to a target, the better percentage he was to hit it. Brickley found the only shot that hit the bone was when it was fired from close range.

The records are not clear how many people were killed during the battle. The grave at Smith Knolls onKing Street in Stoney Creek was estimated to contain the remains of anywhere from 24 to 40 individuals. But the grave over the decades had been used as a garbage dump, and at one point had been mixed up with animal parts and had been used as part of a farmer’s field.

 Brickley couldn’t say how many individuals were there, since the bones found from a 1998-99 excavation, and a follow up search turned up only bits and pieces of bone.

Brickley and her team meticulously documented every bone fragment that had been discovered there.

“It was a huge amount of work,” she said. “I applied new technologies that have made some information clearer.”

During a recent presentation of her research at the Stoney Creek Historical Society at the Nash Jackson House, the 65 people sat in interested silence as they listened about a time they have only read about.

“It was like a university seminar,” said Kathy Wakeman, of the historical society. “It was fascinating, revealing, and very important.”

Brickley said she will be providing her research to the city for review. It is expected to be incorporated into any ceremony  the city holds next June to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the battle.

Brickley added that she will be publishing her research in a number of academic journals.

“It will raise awareness nationally about the battle.”

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