The Foreign Burial of American War Dead
From the Preface:
This book was inspired by a glint of sunlight on sparkling water in the Northwest Arm of Halifax Harbour one summer day in 2007. Quiet waves lapped up against a small promontory across the Arm from the bobbing vessels of the Armdale Yacht Club, and the feeling of the place – the moving water, the sunlight, the small piece of land and a gentle breeze – was peaceful in a way that I hadn’t experienced before. It made no sense. This was not a place with a happy history. The clubhouse of the yacht club across the water had once been the warden’s house of Melville Island, one of Britain’s most notorious prisons of the early 19th century. And within the steep hill that rose up from the promontory were the bones of about 400 souls who had come to rest during that time as the dead of war, victims of disease and famine, and refugees from American slavery. Deadman’s Island, as it was known, was covered with deep forest and bramble.
Its residents had been remembered and forgotten a number of times over the hundreds of years. Occasionally they showed up as curiosities in the form of stray bones and skulls while the promontory supported other uses. Then, in the late 1990s, a developer had gained ownership of the land and made plans to convert it into a condominium project. The residents of the Arm began to mobilize against the effort on aesthetic and environmental grounds, but they were not able to succeed in their protest until it was discovered that the hill held the remains of approximately 180 American war dead who could be identified by name, age, hometown and cause of death. The land was saved, and enshrined by three nations in subsequent events that are described in the following pages. In 2007, it was a very comfortable place on a summer day in Nova Scotia.
One wondered: if almost 200 named Americans had been buried forgotten for 200 years in a hill in Halifax, where else in the world were American war dead still buried? The vast majority of them, of course, rested in the wonderful cemeteries of the American Battle Monuments Commission in ten nations from the Pacific to the Mediterranean. But it turned out that there were many more to find.
The expedition begins in England, France and Libya before and after the turn of the 19th century. From there, it moves to Spain and Mexico. Then it pivots on the American Civil War and the Spanish American War before it returns to Mexico, and moves on to all of Europe, then up to Arctic Russia. It stops in prisons and prison ships, in forgotten and isolated places, and in official and unofficial cemeteries, large and small. It is accompanied by melancholy poetry and Royal music. The story’s arc traces the evolution of American attitudes and practices about its war dead from the days when a loved one lost overseas may as well have been an unreachable star in the sky to the current era of immediate return of the loved one’s remains to a grieving family. It goes deeply, more than I expected, into the human results of war and remembrance: the seemingly endless potential of reverence for war dead, even over long measures of time, distance and hardship.
The Enduring Journey of the USS Chesapeake
Dickon traces a voyage that has already touched four centuries. Combining history, detective work and heritage preservation, The Enduring Journey is a fascinating story about the amazing survival of an American icon . . . at times assuming an almost mystical significance. - John Boileau, Halifax Chronicle Herald
Finalist: USA Best Book Awards, 2008
Chesapeake Bay Steamers
Beginning in 1813, the community of the Chesapeake Bay from Washington and Baltimore, south to Norfolk, and most of the small towns and tributaries in between, was grown through the travels of the passenger steamboats, always coming and going from point to point on America’s largest natural estuary.
Eastern Shore Railroad
In the 1890s, New York railroad magnate Alexander Cassatt looked at a map of America’s east coast and decided that he could overcome a challenge of geography if he thought of a new railroad in non-traditional ways. Since that time his railroad has followed a path through history that has been no less dramatic than the rise and fall – and curves in the right-of-way – of American railroading up to the present day.