The Revolutionary War
and the reasons for it shaped the culture of
America and the manner in which she tends to
her dead. The war involved the entire
country in a way that previous wars did not.
The army was comprised entirely of militia.
Every male between the ages of 16 and 60 was
required to serve. The responsibility to
create and protect this new nation fell on
the whole of the nation - not just a small
minority. Whole communities would often feel
the loss of the young men who left to fight.
The first year of the war brought large
numbers of casualties. These large battles
were often fought close to the strategic
ground of the cities. The reality of war
came to the doorsteps of America as they saw
battlefields left with dead bodies still
littering the ground; uncared for, and left
to the mercy of the elements. Battlefields
were always left in the hands of the victor.
Often, the victors would only have the time
to take care of their own dead. If they were
chasing the enemy, there was often not time
enough to take care of their own. Time and
the lack of technology to preserve the
bodies required quick burials often in
shallow, unmarked graves or in large mass
graves. Fighting the war was a priority; the
dead were dead and would have to wait.
Pressure from the public brought about
legislation from Congress that would give
guidance and requirements for the caring of
the war dead. The laws required the military
to bury the dead and return all of the
soldier's personal effects to the family.
However, we do see the beginnings of
military honors provided by the military
whenever the situation provided the
opportunity. Early accounts from journals
describe many of these funerals. Some of the
honors in the journals describe a scene that
would begin with the soldier's unit forming
outside of his tent. While drummers played,
the body would be born to the gravesite by
six soldiers from the man's unit. A
religious service would be performed, and
three volleys would be fired over the grave
after the body had been interred. The honor
afforded officers did not differ much from
those of the enlisted man. This would be the
start of recognizing the sacrifices of the
individual common citizen.