Animals in Warfare Subject of New Exhibit at Saratoga National Historical Park

This statue of George Washington—on horseback—is found in Boston. Photo by by Kevin Burkett via Creative Commons and flickr.

A new exhibit at Saratoga National Historical Park explores an aspect of warfare from centuries past that seldom receives much attention: the often important roles played by animals in military campaigns.

The exhibit, "They Had No Choice: Animals Exploited and Appreciated in the Revolutionary War," opened to the public on May 28, 2011, and will be on display at the park for the next year.

According to a park spokesman, "the exhibit features historical images, artifacts, contemporary artwork and original accounts depicting the multi-faceted roles played by horses, oxen, cattle, dogs and many other animals during the Battles of Saratoga and the Revolutionary War. It also reminds us that animals still play a vital role in modern conflicts as well."

In the days before mechanized transportation animals did play a much more important role in military operations, but that's a factor that's often forgotten today. Park Ranger Joe Craig notes, "No army of the time could have functioned without using many different animals for transportation, food and clothing. It wasn't their conflict - but it became their fate."

Also often overlooked is the critical communications advantage provided by animals such as horses and even carrier pigeons. Paul Revere's famous ride, after all, wasn't made on a Harley, and the time gained in prompt delivery of a message via a swift steed could be of vital importance.

In addition to the new exhibit, the park is also offering a free, downloadable iPod/MP3 narrated tour program of the "Wilkinson Trail" which is available on the park's website. This program features male and female actor's voices describing personal experiences during the Battles of Saratoga. Visitors can listen to the program (on their own device) as they walk the scenic 4.2 mile trail. The free, downloadable files are available on the park website.

The campaign at Saratoga, although perhaps not as widely known as some other events during the American Revolution, was nonetheless an important one. The park website notes, " Here in the autumn of 1777 American forces met, defeated and forced a major British army to surrender. This crucial American victory renewed patriots’ hopes for independence, secured essential foreign recognition and support, and forever changed the face of the world."

"Because of the incredible impact caused by the American victory in the Battles of Saratoga, they are known as the "Turning Point of the American Revolution", and are considered by many historians to be among the top 15 battles in world history."

Saratoga National Historical Park is located 40 miles north of Albany, New York, and approximately 15 miles southeast of Saratoga Springs. You'll find information to help plan a visit on the park website.