13 November 2007

That Brave and Fallen Few

(Ghosts of War, Manassas Battlefield Park)

I believe that there is no coincidence that the day that the whole world remembers their fallen occurs during the Month of the Dead.

At the eleventh hour, on the eleventh day, of the eleventh month of the year 1918, an armistice was forged between the Allies and Germany during The Great War (WWI). The war wouldn't be formally ended until June 28, 1919. November 11 became known as Armistice Day, and today we know it as Veteran's Day. It's a day that the entire world has set aside to honor those who have fallen fighting under their country's colors, for their cause of what they've belived to be the greater good. Because Veterans Day didn't come along until WWI, there were no 'days of rememberance' for soldiers that fell in battle in the 18th and 19th centuries.

It is interesting to me that prior to The Great War, there were no real monuments to wars fought in the US. Perhaps when the wars were still fresh in people's minds, they still managed to remember their fathers and sons that were lost fighting in the Revolutionary War, French and Indian War, Civil War, or others. Only the battlefield cemeteries themselves stand as reminders of those who fell during those tumultuous times. What I find interesting is that while our National Battlefield Cemeteries memorialize soldiers from the very different battles that were fought on or near those grounds there, they all have many similar characteristics.

On every battleground, there are placards inscribed with portions of a poem written for Kentucky troops fallen in the 1847 Mexican war by Captain Theodore O'Hara. I have many pictures from various battlefields that display portions of the poem. Just like many of our national parks are falling into disrepair, so are our battlefield parks and their ornaments. Of those that I've seen, I've put them in order below, but since it's quite a lengthy poem, I have not included it in its entirety.
(reinactors, Manassas Battlefield Park)

Where those placards are difficult to read because of age and wear, I have added the words:
On fame's eternal camping ground
Their silent tents to spread,
And glory guards, with solemn round
The bivouac of the dead

Sons of the Dark and Bloody Ground
Ye must not slumber there,
Where stranger steps and tongues resound
Along the heedless air.


Rest on embalmed and sainted dead!

Dear as the blood ye gave;

No impious footstep here shall tread

The herbage of your grave;

Nor shall your glory be forgot

While Fame her record keeps,

For honor points the hallowed spot

Where valor proudly sleeps.


Yon marble minstrel's voiceless stone
In deathless song shall tell,
When many a vanquished ago has flown,
The story how ye fell;
Nor wreck, nor change, nor winter's blight,
Nor time's remorseless doom,
Can dim one ray of glory's light
That gilds your deathless tomb.

(the pictures used in this post were taken in 2005, 2006, and 2007 at Manassas, Gettysburg, and Fort Stevens National Battlefield Parks. All are Civil War-era Battlefields)

No comments: