The Pictorial Field-Book
of The Revolution
by Benson J. Lossing
THE story of the American Revolution has been well and often told, and yet the most careless observer of the popular mind may perceive that a large proportion of our people are but little instructed in many of the essential details of that event, so important for every intelligent citizen to learn. Very few are ignorant of the more conspicuous circumstances of that period, and all who claim to be well informed have a correct general knowledge of the history of our war for independence. But few even of that intelligent class are acquainted with the location of the various scenes depicted by the historian, in their relation to the lakes and rivers, towns and cities, whose names are familiar to the ears of the present generation. For example: the citizen of Saratoga may have a thorough knowledge of the memorable places in his own vicinage, and of the incidents which have hallowed them, yet how puzzled he would be if asked to tell the inquiring stranger, or his more inquisitive children, upon what particular stream, or lofty height, or broad plain, or -in what mountain gorge, occurred the battles of Rocky Mount, King's Mountain, Eutaw Springs, or the Cowpens. These are places widely known in their respective districts, and the events connected with them form as important links in the chain of circumstances which were developed in the progress of the colonies toward independence, as the surrender of Burgoyne and his army upon the plain at Saratoga. Among this class, claiming to be generally informed, but ignorant in many particulars, especially in relation to the character and situation of localities, the writer places himself; and to an appreciation of the necessity of a more thorough knowledge of these places, and of the men who are identified with the Revolution, the reader is partially indebted for the pages which follow this confession.
To obtain this accurate chorographical knowledge of our early history as a confederation of states, was not the only incentive to undertake a journey to the battlefields and other localities hallowed by the events of the Revolution. My limited observation had perceived many remaining physical vestiges of that struggle. Half-hidden mounds of old redoubts; the ruined walls of some stronger fortification; dilapidated buildings, neglected and decaying, wherein patriots met for shelter or in council; and living men, who had borne the musket and knapsack day after day in that conflict, occasionally passed under the eye of my casual apprehension. For years a strong desire was felt to embalm those precious things of our cherished household, that they might be preserved for the admiration and reverence of remote posterity. I knew that the genius of our people was the reverse of antiquarian reverence for the things of the past; that the glowing future, all sunlight and eminence, absorbed their thoughts and energies, and few looked back to the twilight and dim valleys of the past through which they had journeyed. I knew that the invisible fingers of decay, the plow of agriculture, and the behests of Mammon, unrestrained in their operations by the prevailing spirit of our people, would soon sweep away every tangible vestige of the Revolution, and that it was time the limner was abroad. I knew that, like stars at dawn which had beamed brightly through a long night, the men of old were fast fading away, and that relics associated with their trials and triumphs would soon be covered up forever. Other men, far more competent than myself to use the pen and pencil, appeared indisposed to go out into the apparently shorn and unfruitful field upon which I looked with such covetous delight, except to pick up a grain here and there for special preservation. I knew that the vigorous reapers who had garnered the products of that broad field, must have let fall from their full hands many a precious ear loaded with choice grain, and I resolved to go out as a gleaner, carefully gather up what they had left behind, and add the winnings to their store. Like the servants of Boaz, when Ruth followed the reapers, they seem to have" let fall also some of the handfuls of purpose for me, that I might glean them," for I found a far greater abundance than hope had promised. I have "gleaned in the field until even, and beat out that I have gleaned," and here is my "ephah of barley."
In the arrangement of a plan for presenting the result of these labors to the public in an acceptable form many difficulties were perceptible. Other histories of our Revolution had been written, embellished, and read; what could be produced more attractive\than they? The exciting literature of the day, ranging in its intoxicating character from the gross pictures of sensual life drawn by the French writers of fiction, to the more refined, but not less intoxicating works of popular and esteemed novelists, so cheaply published and so widely diffused, has produced a degree of mental dissipation throughout our land, destructive, in its tendency, to sober and rational desires for imbibing useful knowledge. Among the young, where this dissipation is most rife, and deleterious in its effects, it seemed most desirable to have the story of our Revolution known and its salutary teachings pondered and improved, for they will be the custodians of our free institutions when the active men of the present generation shall step aside into the quiet shadows of old age. Next to tales of love and gallantry, the young mind is most charmed by the narratives of the traveler. The woof of our history is too sacred to be interwoven with the tinsel filling of fiction, and we should have too high a regard for truth to seek the potential aid of its counterfeit in gaining audience in the ear of the million; but to the latter taste we may consistently pay court, and in behalf of sober history, use its power in disputing for the preference with the tourist. As my journey was among scenes and things hallowed to the feelings of every American, I felt a hope that a record of the pilgrimage, interwoven with that of the facts of past history, would attract the attention, and win to the perusal of the chronicles of our Revolution many who could not be otherwise decoyed into the apparently arid and flowerless domains of mere history. I accordingly determined to make the record of the tour to the important localities of the Revolution a leading feature in the work. Here another difficulty was encountered. So widely scattered are those localities, and so simultaneous were many of the events, that a connected narrative of the journey must necessarily break up the chronological unity of the history, and, at times, produce some confusion. To give incidents of the journey, and sketches and descriptions of the scenery and relics as they appear at present, in fragmentary notes, would deny to the work the charm of a book of travel, and thus almost wholly remove the prime object in view in giving such narrative. The apparently less objectionable course was chosen, and the history was broken into fragments, arranged, in the exhibition, in accordance with the order in which each locality was visited, the fragments individualized as much as possible, yet always maintaining a tie of visible relationship with the whole. The apparent difficulties in the way of the student which this plan suggests, are removed by the aid of a complete Analytical Index at the close of the work, while the narrative of the tour remains unbroken, except by the continually recurring appendices of history. How far this arrangement shall accomplish the desired result the candid judgment of the reader must determine.
To collect the pictorial and other materials for this work, I traveled more than eight thousand miles in the Old Thirteen States and Canada, and visited every important place made memorable by the events of the war; yet, in all that long and devious journey, through cities and villages, amid mountains and vast pine forests, along rivers and over fertile plantations, from New England to Georgia, with no passport to the confidence, no claim to the regard of those from whom information was sought, except such as the object of my errand afforded, and communing with men of every social and intellectual grade, I never experienced an unkind word or cold repulsion of manner. On the contrary, politeness always greeted my first salutation, and, when the object of my visit was announced, hospitality and friendly services were freely bestowed. Everywhere the memorials of our Revolution are cherished with devotional earnestness, and a feeling of reverence for these things abounds, though kept quiescent by the progressive spirit of the age. To those who thus aided and cheered me in my enterprise, I here proffer my sincere thanks. I cannot name them all, for they are too numerous, but they will ever remain cherished "pictures on memory's wall."
It has been said that "diligence and accuracy are the only merits which a historical writer may ascribe to himself." Neither labor nor care has been spared in the collection of materials, and in endeavors to produce a work as free from grave errors as possible. It has imperfections; it would be foolish egotism to assert the contrary. In the various histories of the same events many discrepancies appear; these I have endeavored to reconcile or correct by documentary and other reliable testimony; and if the work is not more accurate than its predecessors, it is believed to be equally so with the most reliable. Free use has been made of the available labors of others in the same department of literature, always accrediting the source from whence facts were derived. I have aimed to view men and events with an impartial eye, censuring friends when they deserved censure, and commending enemies when truth and justice demanded the tribute. The historical events recorded were those of a family quarrel concerning vital principles in jurisprudence; and wisely did a sagacious English statesman console himself, at the close of the war, with the reflection, "We have been subdued, it is true, but, thank Heaven, the brain and the muscle which achieved the victory were nurtured by English blood; Old England, upon the Island of Great Britain, has been beaten only by Young England, in America."
In the pictorial department, special care has been observed to make faithful delineations of fact. If a relic of the Revolution was not susceptible of picturesque effect in a drawing, without a departure from truth, it has been left in its plainness, for my chief object was to illustrate the subject, not merely to embellish the book. I have endeavored to present the features of things as I found them, whether homely or charming, and have sought to delineate all that fell in my way worthy of preservation. To do this, it was necessary to make the engravings numerous, and no larger than perspicuity demanded, else the work would be filled with pictures to the exclusion of essential reading matter.
The plans of military movements have been drawn chiefly from British sources, for very few were made by the engineers in the Continental service. These appear to be generally pretty correct, so far as they represent the immediate movements of the armies in actual conflict; but the general topographical knowledge possessed by those engineers, was quite defective. I have endeavored to detect and correct their inaccuracies, either in the drawings or in the illustrative descriptions.
With these general remarks respecting the origin and construction of the work, it is submitted to the reading public. If a perusal of its pages shall afford as much pleasure and profitable knowledge as were derived from the journey and in the arrangement of the materials for the press, the effort has not been unfruitful of good results. With an ardent desire that it may prove a useful worker in the maintenance and growth of true patriotism, I dedicate these volumes to the Spirit of VIRTUOUS LIBERTY.
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