Memories of War

Memories of War: Visiting Battlegrounds and Bonefields in the Early American Republic

Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Memories of War
    Book Description:

    Even in the midst of the Civil War, its battlefields were being dedicated as hallowed ground. Today, those sites are among the most visited places in the United States. In contrast, the battlegrounds of the Revolutionary War had seemingly been forgotten in the aftermath of the conflict in which the nation forged its independence. Decades after the signing of the Constitution, the battlefields of Yorktown, Saratoga, Fort Moultrie, Ticonderoga, Guilford Courthouse, Kings Mountain, and Cowpens, among others, were unmarked except for crumbling forts and overgrown ramparts. Not until the late 1820s did Americans begin to recognize the importance of these places.

    In Memories of War, Thomas A. Chambers recounts America's rediscovery of its early national history through the rise of battlefield tourism in the first half of the nineteenth century. Travelers in this period, Chambers finds, wanted more than recitations of regimental movements when they visited battlefields; they desired experiences that evoked strong emotions and leant meaning to the bleached bones and decaying fortifications of a past age. Chambers traces this impulse through efforts to commemorate Braddock's Field and Ticonderoga, the cultivated landscapes masking the violent past of the Hudson River valley, the overgrown ramparts of Southern war sites, and the scenic vistas at War of 1812 battlefields along the Niagara River. Describing a progression from neglect to the Romantic embrace of the landscape and then to ritualized remembrance, Chambers brings his narrative up to the beginning of the Civil War, during and after which the memorialization of such sites became routine, assuming significant political and cultural power in the American imagination.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6567-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-xvi)
  5. Introduction: The Changing Nature of Battlefield Tourism and Commemoration
    (pp. 1-16)

    The Yorktown monument cornerstone-laying ceremony on October 18, 1881, the battle’s centennial, had been a long time coming. Two years before the commemoration of that final battle, the New York Times asked, “What permanent memorial can be founded at Yorktown to record for future ages the historic glories of the spot?”¹ For nearly a century, Americans had not been able to provide an answer to this question, at least in the form of a significant monument on the Yorktown battlefield. Throughout the late-eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Yorktown remained a sleepy, undistinguished port on the York River. Its Revolutionary War history...

  6. CHAPTER ONE Accidental Tourists: The Bonefields of Braddock’s Defeat and Ticonderoga
    (pp. 17-35)

    During the summer of 1776, when the Revolution’s outcome seemed far from certain, George Washington claimed, “I did not let the Anniversary of the 3d or 9th of [July] pass of[f] without a grateful remembrance of the escape we had at the Meadows and on Banks of the Monongahela.”¹ He referred to his military experience at Fort Necessity in 1754 and Braddock’s Field in 1755, two early battles during the Seven Years’ War that helped shape the future of western Pennsylvania, as well as the legacy of Washington himself. In each case he experienced defeat and witnessed death at close...

  7. CHAPTER TWO Forsaken Graves: The Emergence of Memory on the Northern Tour
    (pp. 36-64)

    One of the most introspective early records of a tourist’s visit to Ticonderoga came from the pen of Abigail May, a young Massachusetts woman spending the summer of 1800 at Ballston Spa, New York, in an attempt to improve her faltering health. To relieve the tedium of spa life she and a dozen others embarked on a multiday trip to Lake George. They found delightful scenery, wretched accommodations, and several historic sites along the eighty-plus-mile journey. May’s most extensive musing focused on Ticonderoga, where her party viewed the crumbling fort walls, dined, and paused only briefly before retracing their steps...

  8. CHAPTER THREE Retrieved Relics and New Monuments: Lafayette in Yorktown
    (pp. 65-98)

    Americans thrilled at the triumphant return of the Marquis de Lafayette. He visited the United States in 1824–25, welcomed by dignitaries and enthusiastic crowds across the nation. Gilbert du Motier de Lafayette had earned fame fighting as a young major general alongside George Washington during the Revolutionary War, as well as for his later defense of republicanism during the French Revolution. His visit marked an opportunity for the United States to reconnect with its past and to celebrate one of the last living heroes of their nation’s birth. Among the hallmarks of Lafayette’s tour were his stops at the...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR Memory without Tourism: Traces of the Southern Campaigns
    (pp. 99-126)

    When Robert Gilmor tried to visit “the celebrated field of battle” at Eutaw Springs, in South Carolina, in 1806, he got stuck on a swampy road en route and found “the accommodations at Richboro very bad.” He “gave up my plan of visiting” and continued on his journey to Charleston, never reaching the battlefield. Later Gilmor managed to visit “the celebrated field where the battle of Camden was fought at Hobkirk’s Hill,” perhaps because he did so during “my morning ride” from a friend’s nearby house.¹ A quarter century later Rowland Gibson Hazard managed a quick carriage ride from a...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE American Antiquities Are So Rare: Remembering the War of 1812 on the Niagara Frontier
    (pp. 127-158)

    Before she became a famous novelist, Catharine Maria Sedgwick toured battlefields. In particular, Sedgwick visited key War of 1812 sites in New York State and Canada during the summer of 1821, noting at Ogdensburg, “American antiquities are so rare that we all felt some emotion as we stood under the shadow of these leaning walls.”¹ The fort’s decaying ramparts, the site of a humbling American defeat, provided the ideal combination of history and sensibility that Sedgwick and others used to begin creating a distinctive memory of the War of 1812. Much of her journey and writing focused on the Niagara...

  11. CHAPTER SIX The Value of Union: Antebellum Commemoration and the Coming of the Civil War
    (pp. 159-184)

    Americans proposed six monuments at Revolutionary War battlefields between 1854 and 1860, more than during any other time in nineteenth-century America except the Revolution’s centennial. Add in a seventh monument completed from an earlier effort and these commemorations constitute almost half of the sixteen battlefield monuments proposed or completed before the Civil War (see table 1). In commemorating the Revolutionary War, antebellum Americans derived new meaning from the old conflict, tinting it with the rising sectional conflicts of their own time, seeking to remember the war as either a moment of common national purpose or as a vindication of states’...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 185-220)
  13. Index
    (pp. 221-232)