Materiality and the King of Battle

I’m working on pulling together a talk for an upcoming NPS conference on battlefield archaeology. I’m focusing on artillery ammunition, because I’m that kind of geek (seriously, my master’s thesis was all about artillery ammunition).

One of the angles I’m looking at (and I don’t know if I’m even going to throw this into the final talk at this point), is the way in which we can use artillery ammunition as a referent (an index, if you want to whip out the semiotics) for the artillery piece itself. When we talk about deposited ammunition (small arms or artillery), we often use it as a direct connection to the weapon that fired it, which itself is a connection to the soldier(s) operating said weapon.

I’m pulling together anecdotal evidence on how gunners curated and maintained their pieces, and how big a deal it was when someone lost (gasp) or captured/saved artillery pieces in battle. There were 11 Medals of Honor earned during the Civil War for capturing or saving an artillery piece in combat.

I need to find more information on the relationships soldiers developed with their weaponry during combat and military service, particularly in the 19th century. It’s a profoundly different relationship than that which they had with most of the other things we find on a battlefield, which are almost all ammunition and therefore meant to be expended.

For those who feel like this last bit is a little too touchy-feely, I’ll leave you with a section of the Rifleman’s Creed, and you can file your complaints with the U.S. Marines.

My rifle is human, even as I am human, because it is my life.  Thus, I will learn it as a brother.  I will learn its weaknesses, its strengths, its parts, its accessories, its sights and its barrel.  I will keep my rifle clean and ready, even as I am clean and ready.  We will become part of each other.