Untouched by Human Hands

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Adrian Rutt

Life is like one of those sand art thingies that gets destroyed after it's completed.

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  1. Avatar Mike Dwyer
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    I have always believed that experiencing history in person, touching, breathing, etc – is by far the best way to understand it. I’ve only had the good fortune to visit one historic battlefield, a minor Civil War site we excavated here in Kentucky, but it was a powerful experience. I’m glad to hear that Yorktown has not suffered from over-attention. I will also say that in my experience, the further north you go on the east coast, the more willing they seem to be to leave things alone.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Mike Dwyer
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      The idea of “experiencing” history is an interesting one. On the one hand, history is partially defined by having taken place… being part of our past… and therefore impossible to experience. And, yet, that is obviously false.

      As a proponent of experiential learning, it strikes me that the best way to understand the past is to experience it. While many folks are fortunate enough to be able to learn through means other than experience, many of us can’t or still learn best when we can engage directly with the subject matter, sinking our hands into it, immersing our ears with it, taking it in with our eyes.

      I’m not much of a student of history. I have a general interest in the overarching arc of human development but I was never one for dates and names and the like. But when I visit the Met and stand inside the Temple of Dendur (a 2000 year old Egyptian temple), I can’t help but feel a bit of awe.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Mike Dwyer
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      says:

      WV has some beautiful civil war battlefields, I’m told…
      But oh, you should see Gettysburg. It’s not schmaltz, but so many people.Report

  2. Avatar Kazzy
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    says:

    For a moment I thought this was going to be about some anti-hipster paradise and I got really excited…Report

  3. Avatar Kolohe
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    says:

    Landscaping projects have more of a strategy of containment rather than beautifying, so, whether it’s intentional or not, this brings another level of realism to my surrealism.

    growing up in Northern Virginia, there are a metric s***-ton of Civil War battlefields and monuments within a quick drive (and if you’re far enough north, you actually got both sides of the story).
    But there’s one big thing I never realized until visiting Vicksburg. In Vicksburg, there’s one sector where they’ve trimmed all the vegetation down to the nubs, to recreate what the sight lines were for the fort and the surrounding area at the time. But the rest of the hillside is rather heavily wooded – which it wasn’t during the siege.

    A great deal of Civil War preservation is, (or maybe was, they might have retrofitted more since the 80s) not stuck in the Civil War era, but closer to the 1910s or so, as the civil war generation was rapidly dying off. They kept was human built structures were left, and prevented people from building any more, but they generally did very little about 50 years (now 150 years) of tree growth in fallow fields.

    The revolutionary era sites must be even harder to envision, as they tend to be closer to modern urban-suburban development, and they don’t have the benefit of Matt Brady et al photographs to accurately picture what the landscape looked like – and how open a lot of it was, compared to now.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Kolohe
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      says:

      They’re restoring gettysburg back to what it was like during the civil war.Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Kim
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        says:

        Covered in dead bodies?Report

      • Avatar El Muneco in reply to Kim
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        says:

        I was too young when I visited Gettysburg (school trip to DC in 6th grade – that’s age 12 for those in different school systems).

        Coming from Seattle (where downtown is the #1 place to show off your virtuosity with a manual sans hill-holder clutch), and without yet having picked up wargaming knowledge of tactical crest lines, I wasn’t ready to appreciate Cemetery Ridge. It was so much less steep than I had imagined for such a significant battlefield feature…Report

    • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Kolohe
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      says:

      …but they generally did very little about 50 years (now 150 years) of tree growth in fallow fields.

      I grew up a plains kid. I remember thinking on more than one occasion after I had moved to the East Coast, “There’s something wrong with ground where you leave it alone and it grows trees.” For me, “climax forest” was buffalo grass a couple of feet tall waiting to burn off :^)Report

  4. Avatar David Schneider
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    says:

    Thank you for this article. Walk Yorktown in late Autumn. The wind off the river can cut into one’s bones and the trees stand like silent guardians. It evokes feelings of melancholy and reverence for the lives lost on those redoubts, and for what was won.Report

  5. Avatar Slade the Leveller
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    says:

    By far, the best site I’ve ever visited was Little Bighorn. A ton of wide open space, punctuated by the hill where Custer and his men made their stand. There’s nothing around it, so development has left the site more or less unscathed.

    My other memory of that place is the interpretive ranger who is the most spellbinder storyteller I’ve ever heard. Sadly, my kids were little and pitching a fit about having to stand and listen, so we had to leave.Report

    • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to Slade the Leveller
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      says:

      I’ve gone on U.S. Park Service tours from Colorado to Boston and every single one of them have been amazing. I’d like to go through their training program just so I can tell better drinking stories.Report

    • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Slade the Leveller
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      says:

      What was even more amazing than the absolutely phenomenal ranger at Little Big Horn was that there were at least two of them. My wife and I arrived to the welcome station when the talk was about half over, so we meandered around the site and came back when the next ranger talk was scheduled. I was disappointed at first that it wasn’t the same guy, but when this guy spoke, he was equally phenomenal.Report

  6. Avatar Richard Hershberger
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    says:

    The Yorktown campaign was an interesting anomaly. It only happened because the French Navy beat the Royal Navy. What’s up with that? Even for that to happen a bunch of stuff had to come together just so, such that the French Navy was in the critical spot at the critical moment.

    On the land side of things, I gather that Washington had to be prodded heavily by the French commander. Washington had tried earlier in the war to fight set piece battles, and had uniformly been whupped. He wasn’t eager for another round of that. But things had changed. Partly it was the participation of French regulars. While the Royal Navy routinely beat the French Navy, the armies fought on equal footing. And the Continental Army was a lot better trained and disciplined by this time. The mere fact that they could pull off a bayonet charge showed this.

    What we see here is the transition from a guerrilla to a conventional war. Once Washington got over the idea of fighting set piece battles, the war had stabilized into a classic guerrilla insurgency. The British were solidly ensconced in Saigon –Oops! I meant New York City. They could send a flying column more or less wherever they wanted to, but they couldn’t really do anything once they got there. Cornwallis had been campaigning in the South in the hope of splitting it off from the revolution. He was working his way north when he got himself cornered, with the Navy unable to help him. It turned out that the Franco-American alliance was now able to win a conventional battle. Clinton was still in New York City and could have stayed there to this day, but there clearly was no point. The British would have had to have been willing to commit far more troops to accomplish anything.Report

  7. Avatar notme
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    says:

    Adrian:

    So you mean Hamilton actually did something to deserve being on our $10?Report

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