Honoring the Revolutionary Soldiers
In the years right before the Civil War, a group of men formed a military organization to honor an idol and hero of the American people. These men formed the organization not only to honor current heroes, but the heroes of the past. In particular, the regiment was named after the great General Israel Putnam. These men displayed a respect for their forefathers that brought about national pride. It is here that we see Americans remembering their historical roots, and honoring it.
The military organization started in Hartford, Connecticut. The initial reasons for starting the organization were to celebrate the return of a hometown hero, Thomas H. Seymour. However, instead of being a temporary organization, the Putnam Phalanx grew and became a permanent unit in Connecticut. The men dressed in the uniforms of Continental soldiers and marched to the music of the Revolutionary War. The organization had ranks and officers, and held meetings at their “Armory.”
In 1859, the Phalanx voted to take an excursion starting on October 4 and ending on October 7. The plan was to visit Boston in order to see Bunker Hill, as well as visit the Navy Yards in Charlestown, Massachusetts, and the city of Providence, Rhode Island. The Phalanx had a non-member write of the events that occurred during their travels, and a poem of their hero (Putnam) was included in the front. In the account, people in every city seemed to be excited about this parade of men. Upon their arrival to Boston, the train car that had the Battalion were “…immediately surrounded by an enthusiastic crowd, anxious to catch the first sight of the Corps…”
The Hartford Tribune has several accounts of this organization, including small snippets and advertisement of the organization. The organization was seen as a way to bring people together, for everyone to have an enjoyable day. The Phalanx went to honor their fathers at Bunker Hill and to honor their current brothers fighting in the Navy. Thousands of people showed up wherever they went, showing their appreciation and excitement for their service to America's beginning. The people treated them as heroes for honoring America’s national heritage.
Kammen writes about this as a traditional culture being born. Early in the nineteenth centuries, monuments built to remember battles of the Revolution ended up as mundane obelisks. They represented not only the lack of "anti-democratic" ideals, but also did not elevate one singular person as a hero. This contradicts what later became a celebratory event to remember the Revolution. James Russell Lowell noticed that this was the time period for celebrating the American Revolution, yet in time, those celebrations waned. While certain holidays continued to be less celebrated, the Putnam Phalanx gave the American Revolution a chance to be celebrated not just for holidays or parades, but to respect and honor the American identity.
- Putnam Phalanx, Excursion of the Putnam Phalanx to Boston, Charleston, and Providence, October 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th in the Year of Our Lord 1859 (Hartford, Connecticut: The Putnam Phalanx, 1859), 1-108.
- Michael Kammen, Mystic Chords of Memory: The Transformation of Tradition in American Culture (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1991), 55, 255.