Chris Dickon

Books by Chris Dickon

A Rendezvous With Death: Alan Seeger in Poetry, at War
Coming mid-2017. A biography of the World War I American poet killed in action with the French Foreign Legion on July 4, 1916.

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
From the Preface:

What was it exactly? Where had it come from, and where would it be going? These were more than poetic questions, for the Chesapeake Mill was built of traveling wood. Some of its beams and lintels had once grown on the coastal islands of America. They had been put together in one form and then taken apart and put together in another over the time of a circular history shared by the two Portsmouths of Virginia and England. In their construction as one of the original six frigates of the U.S. Navy, the USS Chesapeake, they had sailed the roiling waters of the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. They had passed through uncountable storms at sea, and sat becalmed in the sun. They had taken prizes from the enemy, and been taken prize themselves. They had seen the deaths of hundreds, and the birth of at least one child. They were most famous as a stage for one of the most storied battles in the history of sailing frigates, a brief and violent encounter off Boston Light between the Chesapeake and HMS Shannon in 1813. . .

Americans at War in Foreign Forces
From the Preface:

This book tells a story that is mostly unknown in the history of American participation in the two World Wars of the Twentieth Century. I did not first learn about it myself until a fine spring day in 2009 at the Brookwood American Cemetery outside of London, England. I was researching my book The Foreign Burial of American War Dead, about American military members still buried abroad since the Revolutionary War, and the assistant director of the cemetery was giving me a tour.

At one point, we stopped amid the headstones of members of U.S. Forces who had rested at Brookwood since World War I, and he pointed to a patch of grave markers away from the main cemetery, at the edge of a woods. “Those are all Americans, too,” he said, “but nobody seems to know about them.” We walked to the very neat rows of stones, which were designed and placed differently than those of Brookwood’s official American burials. They told of service in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps and similar forces, but they did not note that the deceased were American citizens.

I went on to learn and write about the approximately 3,500 such Americans buried in Commonwealth Graves Commission cemeteries in more than 25 nations on five continents. But the larger questions remained: who were these Americans, why were they there, what was their experience, how were they perceived by their own country, what were their circumstances after returning from war?

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.

Selected Works

History
Coming mid-2017. A biography of the World War I American poet killed in action with the French Foreign Legion on July 4, 1916.
A survey of American war dead still buried abroad since the Revolutionary War.
A sailing USN frigate, now a watermill in England: . . . a gem of a book. Virginian Pilot, Norfolk.
"Readers seeking untold tales of dedicated Americans serving under foreign flags during the world wars will read this book avidly, wondering perhaps why they’re learning about these adventures for the first time."
At the end of the 19th century an audacious railroad sets sail across the Chesapeake Bay.