“i Wish I’d Been There”

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To mark the thirtieth anniversary ot American Heritage, we asked a number of authors and scholars, including members of the Society of American Historians, to consider this question:

What is the one scene or incident in American history you would like to have witnessed—and why?

The great majority of those we asked were intrigued by the idea of being a fly on the wall at an epochal event. And the range of their answers confirms that the historical imagination is as unbounded today as it was in 1954 when our first editor, Bruce Catton, established the founding principle of the magazine: “Our beat is anything that ever happened in America.”

On the pages that follow, you’ll find a selection from among the many replies. Taken together, they turn out to be an amusing, moving, and surprisingly coherent narrative history—one that we believe fulfills C. Vann Woodward’s challenge “to summon the past into the present.”

—The Editors STAR-STRUCK BEGINNING ADMIRAL OF THE OCEAN SEA WHO CAME FIRST? FIRST TASTE OF AMERICA ANNE HUTCHINSON ON TRIAL MUCH WELCOME, ENGLISHMEN THE DEATH OF MARQUETTE WITCH TRIAL THE END OF THE FRENCH EMPIRE EIGHT DEAD, TEN WOUNDED AT LEXINGTON WE DECLARE INDEPENDENCE SECRETS OF THE CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION WASHINGTON STEMS DISASTER THE BILL OF RIGHTS JEFFERSON’S COMEUPPANCE WITH LEWIS AND CLARK REACHING SHERMAN PEAK FIRST GLIMPSE OF THE PACIFIC HOMECOMING THE ERIE CANAL JACKSON TOASTS THE UNION INVENTING THE TELEGRAPH THOREAU’S WALDEN CROSSING THE MISSISSIPPI DANIEL WEBSTER, THE MAGNIFICENT PROLOGUE TO THE CIVIL WAR INSIDE LEE’S MIND LINCOLN’S FAREWELL EMANCIPATION PICKETT’S CHARGE THE ASSAULT ON FORT WAGNER COMING TO TERMS THE LINCOLN CABINET SURRENDER AT APPOMATTOX ALL QUIET IN SPRINGFIELD “TO SHOW WHERE THEIR FLAG HAD BEEN …” FIRST FLIGHT GRANT PUTS THE ARMY IN ITS PLACE RAILS WEST THE GOLDEN SPIKE STEALING THE PRESIDENCY THE BLIZZARD OF ’88 AN EVENING AT HULL HOUSE FALL RIVER LEGEND DARROW FOR THE DEFENSE TR’S BITE A PLEA FOR CIVIL RIGHTS THE WAR TO END WARS RHAPSODY IN BLUE THE DEPRESSION THE 1932 WORLD SERIES FDR THUNDERS FDR AND LBJ PEARL HARBOR THE NEWS REACHES CHURCHILL THE BOMB TRUMAN DEFEATS DEWEY RIDGWAY IN KOREA THE CIVIL RIGHTS ACT OF 1964 NIXON’S LAST DAYS