Revolutionary War Blood Traces Found

Category:  News
Wednesday, January 27th, 2016 at 10:01 PM
Revolutionary War Blood Traces Found by William Stevens

The Revolutionary War was waged between 1775 and 1783. However, some of the bullets fired remained on the Bennington battlefield for the next 241 years, buried with the passage of time. Hundreds of years after the battle, scientists have made an interesting discovery concerning this field.

Edinboro professor and forensic analyst, Dr. Theodore Yeshion, recently discovered traces of blood on buckshot located at the Bennington battlefield that dates back to the Revolutionary War. Yeshion mentioned that he has been doing this type of forensic work for more than 40 years.

“This Revolutionary War project came about...because they had a question as to whether blood was located on the ammunition or not,” Yeshion said.

“I have a reputation in forensics for having done a lot of work with blood detection, particularly with Luminol.

“Luminol is an exceptionally sensitive blood detection tool. It’s presumptive in that it does not identify that it’s blood to the exclusion of anything else. There are other things that can cause similar reactions.”

Yeshion explained that this was a big concern of his, particularly when it came to working with ammunition. Had the bullets been made of copper or certain other metal alloys, it is entirely possible that the bullets would have given him a false positive response.

“Fortunately not one unfired bullet reacted; they were all negative,” Yeshion said. “So there was no interfering substance. So if I do find a reaction, then I can still say that blood is indicated. “I can’t say that it’s definitely blood…because there could be things in the soil.”

Yeshion also mentioned that both the dropped bullets and the fired bullets were buried.

“That also led me to believe that there’s nothing in the soil that’s causing false positive reactions. Then out of the total number of fired buckshot there were seven that came up positive.”

“It was about a 30 percent positive hit, which was very acceptable,” Yeshion said with a chuckle.

Although it was nearly 100 years earlier, the Civil War also yielded some pretty significant discoveries for Yeshion.

Yeshion worked some similar cases around Gettysburg, as well.

Specifically he spoke about a case concerning Jennie Wade, who is said to be the only civilian casualty in the Battle of Gettysburg. According to Yeshion, the blood was found on a dough tray. Some was also found in the bedroom, where legend has it her body was placed while Union soldiers helped break through a wall to help the family escape the hail of bullets being fired at the house. At the time, it could not be confirmed if the blood actually belonged to Wade.

“There’s deterioration and degradation of biological material and none of this was visible to the naked eye. So [since] you’re starting with such a minute amount to begin with… the chances of getting a DNA profile from it just go out the window for the most part.”

That particular case investigation dates back to 2009 and efforts to obtain DNA results are still ongoing.

There was also another case Yeshion had worked on, concerning Native American arrowheads, also known as points. They wanted to know if the points were used to hunt animals or if there was any chance of human blood.

“They were carbon dated and found to be between 5,000 and 10,000 years old,” Yeshion said. “Buried in the ground, they still got positive reactions.”

“The point is, the Hemoglobin that contains the materials that allow these chemicals (i.e. Luminol) to operate never dies.”

Yeshion also mentioned several other forensic tests, but also stated those tests aren’t as sensitive. The other tests that could have been performed to find the blood are color tests and only have a sensitivity of 1 out of a range between 1,000 and 5,000.

“You’re not going to find anything on samples like I have tested when you have a maximum sensitivity of one part in 5,000. One in a million is a different story; that’s the same sensitivity a shark has to find your blood in the ocean.”

So what exactly do these discoveries mean for Edinboro University?

“It puts us on a map; archaeologists recognize that there’s expertise here to tap into as a resource,” Yeshion said.

“In this case I did not charge them anything. I did it as a favor on behalf of the institute [Edinboro University] so that we could get on someone's radar.

Yeshion also spoke about how he hoped to involve students in some of the cases that he is chosen to work on.

“I include them [students]; I closely supervise them because the results are significant and they’ve got to be accurate. So I’m very careful to make sure there’s checks and balances along the way.”

Yeshion mentioned the opportunity to publish something concerning the events that took place on the battlefields he investigated.

“They’re [the project managers] going to take parts of it and they’ve given me parts… the paper will probably be around 3,000 words.”

  Yeshion mentioned they [he and his students] are going to be responsible for a little over half of the word count. “I don’t want their names just to appear in the article in the form of an acknowledgment. I want them to work for it and understand what it’s like to put this together.

“For students to come out with a peer-reviewed publication before they’ve even graduated is a big thing. I want to support students in that respect as much as I can and I don’t get many opportunities.”

Yeshion also mentioned that there may be other opportunities for him to interact with students in that manner. 

“The project manager said ‘this is not the only battlefield that we’re looking at; there will be others’. There are other groups…trying to reconstruct the events that took place.”

Yeshion has been working for over 40 years in the field of forensic investigations. Yet recently, it seems Edinboro University has been “put on the map” thanks to the expertise of Yeshion and his students.

William Stevens is the Campus Life Editor for The Spectator and he can be reached at campuslife.spectator@gmail.com.

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