Who was Christian Pabst? He was a member of the Regiment Royal Deux-Ponts, which was raised in the French-German border provinces, and which came with Rochambeau to America in 1780. We know little of Pabst, except that he gave his life an ocean away from home, during the Yorktown campaign of 1781 — the campaign that ended British aspirations to regain control of most of British North America.
He’s one of the Frenchmen who died for you. Even if your family wasn’t here yet.
There are hundreds of others, and his name, all of their names, came to be forgotten; the graves, even those once known, neglected; and their sacrifice unmarked, not even by a cenotaph, for over 200 years.
In time, both Frenchmen and Americans who understood the importance of honoring such sacrifices knew that they had to correct this neglect. And they did, finally:
During the Bicentennial of the Battle of Yorktown in 1981, members of the French veterans’ organizations attending the celebration noted that there was an area on the battlefield where approximately 50 French soldiers were buried in an unmarked, common grave. Although this area was indicated by a cross and a plaque, none of the names of any French soldier was inscribed there. It has long been a point of cultural tradition in France that the graves of those who died serving France are marked with their names whenever possible, or that the battlefields have a memorial with their names inscribed.
At the urging of French veterans’ groups, the Ambassador of France to the United States, His Excellency M. Emmanuel de Margerie, appointed a committee to correct this oversight. It was the Committee for the Yorktown French Memorial, with Professor Andre Maman of Princeton University serving as its president.
The purpose of the committee, which included both French and American members, was to create a memorial to honor all French soldiers and sailors who gave their lives in the Yorktown campaign in 1781. The memorial was to include the names of the some 600 Frenchmen* who lost their lives in this campaign, including the Yorktown siege and the naval battle of Chesapeake Bay, or the Battle of the Capes, as it is sometimes called.
The committee’s tasks included the design, approval, funding and dedication of the memorial.
The design was completed with the approval of the Ambassador and the National Park Service. Members of the French Societies of the Sons of the American Revolution, Daughters of the American Revolution and the Order of the Cincinnati as well as French veteran and cultural organizations here were engaged in fundraising to reach the goal needed to bring the project to reality. Various American hereditary and cultural societies also participated as a gesture of appreciation for the French forces joining us in those desperate days in 1781 as General Washington and the French commanders adopted the extremely risky plan which led, against all expectations, to the final great victory at Yorktown.
Thanks to the twitter feed of Angry Staff Officer, whose blog should also be on your to-read schedule. (The best staff officers are often the angry ones, as they’re burning to be back in command). Of this Yorktown situation, he says:
It wasn’t till 1980s that the names of the French soldiers who gave their lives for our Independence were codified.
This makes me sad. Since the French gave us their land to bury our WWI dead, and took great care to honor their memory.
That’s the fact, Jack. The French who work at the cemeteries treat our dead with reverence and veneration.
Our cemeteries became almost shrines for them. While we fed ourself the narrative that we won the RevWar solo cause Merica.
We as Americans are so often that loud, boisterous, braggadocios, dudebro at the international party, making it all about us.
We forget so often our place in the world & how we got there that I sometimes think we don’t deserve all the liberties we have.
Not much to say but we agree. But then, staff officers are good at boiling down issues to a one-page decision memo; it’s what they do. (Well, part of it).