Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Veterans of the Revolution

With Memorial Day approaching, I visited some of the local spots where American Revolutionary War soldiers are buried.  At the Princeton Battlefield, there is the mass grave that includes British soldiers.  But in some of the churchyards, we find the individual graves, and at Washington's Crossing on the Pennsylvania side, there is the row of graves of "unknown soldiers."

This is the grave of an unknown soldier who died in camp, before the march on Trenton.  When I see a grave like this, and consider the individual buried here, I experience an overwhelming sadness.  Here was a man, a unique human being, born in all the pain of childbirth his mother experienced, someone who experienced infancy, a childhood.  We can know nothing of his life because we cannot know him.  Was he missed? Mourned in absentia? What made him join the Continental Army? Dead by December 1776--had he fought at the Battle of Brooklyn in August? Had he killed? What jokes did he enjoy? How did he sound when he laughed? 

Howard Peckham's study of American casualties, The Toll of Independence, estimates American camp deaths at 10,000.  Total "probable deaths in service," including the camp deaths, killed in battle, and death as prisoners of war, totals 25,324.  Here is one. 

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