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.
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