Toward the end of last summer the NPS released The War of 1812: Official National Park Service Handbook. The book was released for the bicentennial of that conflict, which is passing along with disappointedly little fanfare. Hopefully there will be increased interest as we mark such events as the Siege of Fort Erie all the way through the anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans in January 2015.
When I was on the Mall a few weeks back I picked up a copy at the Eastern National next to the Washington Monument. What I like about the Park Service handbooks is that the chapters are written by first-tier scholars and focus a wide range of topics. As did the Civil War handbook, the 1812 offering covers a wide ranger of economic and social topics, not just the minutiae of the battles.
One of the issues I am most interested in is the generational element between the Revolutionary War, 1812, and Civil War participants. It is intriguing that so many men in both the Union and Confederate armies thought of themselves as carrying on the traditions of 1776 and 1812. This is something that we have all of course know; it hit me with full force two years ago when I saw the Star-Spangled Banner at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. The flag that flew over Fort McHenry was commissioned by George Armistead, the uncle of Lewis Armistead who was mortally wounded in Pickett’s Charge. The flag was in the possession of the Armistead family until they gave it to the federal government in the early twentieth century, which they undoubtedly did as a gesture of reconciliation.
I am looking forward to delving into the handbook. I imagine in the coming weeks I will read an essay each morning during the am commute on the subway.