Posts Tagged ‘Memorial Day’

Origin of Memorial Day

May 27, 2010

Click for larger image. From the Carroll Sentinel – May 28, 1903


Three Versions of the Genesis of Today’s Custom of Decorating Graves of Soldier Dead — Ceremony in Honor of Marines Past and Gone.

When, early in May, 1868, General John A. Logan, then Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, issued the order creating a Grand Army Memorial Day, — “and it was the proudest act of my life,” he wrote later, — he called into official being what had already had many a local habitation though no name. How had the custom grown up? What suggested his action to “Our Jack”?

General Chipman used to attribute it to a Cincinnati soldier, who wrote Logan a letter describing the decorating of the soldiers’ graves in Germany; and General John B. Murray has advanced the claim of a celebration held at Watertown, New York, in the May of 1866, as being the incentive for a national memorial day.

This latter story has it that the body of one of the soldier sons of the town had been brought up from the south for burial in the little churchyard at home. The grave had been dug beneath an apple tree, and just as the solemn rites were over and the last shovel of earth had been thrown upon the mound, from its low-hanging branches came floating down hundreds of the white petals of its blossoms, as if in honor of the boy who laid down his life for his country. Among the friends who had gathered there were several of those who had played their parts in that red flame of carnage that had swept Pickett’s Division from the field of Gettysburg, and one of these, according to General Murray, took the story to General Logan, who found in it the inspiration for his famous order.

A third story told of the origin of the day throws back the date to 1863, and whether by chance or design, to April 13, the anniversary of the fall of Fort Sumter. On that day it is declared, the two little daughters of Chaplain May, of the Second Michigan Infantry, then in camp near Mount Vernon, were gathering wild flowers, when in the course of their wanderings they came suddenly upon one of those rude and unmarked graves, which even in those early days of the great struggle were beginning to appear about Washington. Josephine, the elder of the two, at once suggested that they use their blossoms to cover the bare earth, and while little Ella, aged eight, pulled out the weeds that had begun to push up to the light through the fresh mound, violets and dandelions and daisies were laid here and there in grateful profusion.

Happy over their work, the children planned an excursion for the next day, when more flowers were to be found and more graves decorated, and that evening they told their mother of it. Mrs. May, moved by the significance of the act, as perhaps only a woman could have been moved, even then living in the very heart of the horror and suffering of war, joined them in their mission, a Mrs. Evans, a Red Cross nurse, forming a fourth, and within the week this little band had marked all the graves in walking distance of the camp.

When the next spring came ’round they repeated the custom begun at Mount Vernon, and so with each of the years which followed. And always they were noticed, always did others join in their labor of love, and going out into the world, spread the observance further, till at last, — so runs this version of the custom’s growth, — it had found followers all over the country, General Logan’s order merely giving official sanction to the observance.

But the “Decoration Day” of the northern states — May 30th — is not the day which is honored by the majority of the commonwealths which lie to the south of the old Mason and Dixon’s line. In Alabama and Florida and Georgia the earlier spring, with its earlier buds and blossoms, has caused the setting of April 26th for this ceremony of reminiscence and patriotism. In Tennessee it falls on May 8th and in the Carolinas two days later. On one date or another, however, every state in the now indivisible Union recalls the men who fell during “the great debate.”

Very recent years have added a new feature to Memorial Day — the honoring of the sailor dead, whose far-scattered graves must for all time remain unmarked. In 1900, at the suggestion of Mrs. A.S.C. Forbes, a California woman, the school children of Los Angeles gathered at Long Beach to throw upon the water laurel and flowers and tiny flags, while the burial service for those who had died at sea was read. Then the regulation salute of three volleys was fired, as the tribute was borne out to sea on the ebbing tide. — May Issue, American Boy.

The Carroll Times (Carroll, Iowa) May 28, 1908


This poem is credited by an exchange to “Women’s Works,” a paper published at Atlanta, Ga. It expresses beautiful sentiments appropriate to Memorial Day anywhere:

Life’s battle o’er, the hero sleeps!
Upon another shore he wakes;
His guardianship still o’er us keeps,
And in our weal deep interest takes.

The master mind lives on today,
The giant will retains its power;
Genius that carved so rare a way
Was not the glory of an hour.

Invisibly he walks our streets
Counsels his nearness thus to prove;
In sympathy his great heart beats,
This idol of our pride and love.

His monument, a tablet stands
Enshrined within each noble heart;
A treasured gift fresh from the hands
That bore so well life’s nobler part.

Dear friend, we honor thee today,
We pledge anew our faith and trust;
That thy name shall live alway
Foremost among the true and just.

To thee we drink the sacred wine
From chalice fashioned by they hand;
The purity of its design
Forever, crystal-clear shall stand.

And on thy brow we set the seal
Of virtue, honor, truth and love;
While passing years their debt shall feel
And nobler gratitude approve.

The Carroll Times (Carroll, Iowa) May 28, 1908

Click for larger image.

The Drums of ’61: A Memorial Day Poem  – By Joe Lincoln

From the Carroll Herald (Carroll, Iowa) May 29, 1901

Memorial Day 1919

May 24, 2009

memorial cartoon 1919



…Lieut. Wm. Jensen who delivered a fitting eulogy on the departed comrades of the lae war. He said:

“On this Memorial Day we honor the living by honoring the dead., and a great nation — America — today breathes words of tribute for those who gave their lives on this and the other side of the water, in the late war, that Liberty, Justice and Right might prevail.

“Those who died before leaving the training camps, occupy graves in local cemeteries, but a large portion of those who answered the call of their country in 1917 and 1918 sleep on the battlefields of the Argonne, Alsace and Juvigny. Their graves have been marked by the government and eventually cemeteries will be laid out for those whose relatives prefer that they sleep near where their heroic service cost them their lives, while others will be brought back to America for interment.

“What I may say here today as a tribute to the honored dead of the late war, will soon be forgotten, but their deeds, their service to God and country, will live as one of the brightest pages in American history.

“Today we can best picture the scenes at the first Memorial service after the Civil war, for this nation has again made an offering on the altar of country and in the cause of humanity. Words of mine cannot do full justice on an occasion  like this. How I wish I could bring a message of their undying devotion to you today. What a consolation it would be to the fathers, mothers, wives and sweethearts if they buy knew how heroically these sons of America died, never faltering in the face of danger.

“Today we sympathize with the bereaved, and our thoughts are of them. As the years go on, our Memorial services will have a greater interest, for now we have the memory of those of another war to keep green. You may rest assured my friends that they are not forgotten in France today. American soldiers together with the citizens of France will strew their graves with flowers and our chaplains will pay fitting tribute to their memory. While there are hearts sad today within the hearing of my voice, still they are comforted and reconciled in the thought that those near and dear to them made the supreme sacrifice as heroically as the patriots of old who gave us through their blood, this great country, the gathering place of the flower of every nation, and which was blended into beautiful types of manhood, who demonstrated their patriotism on the field of battle. As the years drift by, we the living, have a solemn obligation to perform. We must not forget the bereaved ones, but rather let us today pledge ourselves to the great task of honoring those of every home where a Gold Star appears. Words and flowers are little in the way of compensation unless we, through deeds show our undying devotion to those who made the supreme sacrifice. As we go forth from here today let us be true to God and country, and then we will see and do those things which will make those bereaved, happy, in the thought that the sacrifice was not in vain.”…

Sheboygan Press (Sheboygan, Wisconsin) May 31, 1919

Memorial Day 1879

May 24, 2009


Fourteen swift years have passed since the flag of Rebellion was furled in defeat on the battle-field; since the Flag of our Union, as the emblem of National supremacy, was restored to its place of honor over every section of the Republic; since the loyal citizen-soldiers who had survived the terrible contest, returned to their peaceful homes, laying aside the sword and musket in the belief that the great principles for which they had fought were fully and finally established. Fourteen swift years — and how events have outrun even the haste of time! To-day it is for the loyal of the Nation to turn back the hands upon the dial, and in the presence of the Nation’s Dead to remember the full measure and purpose of that devotion which inspired the Grand Army of comrades, fathers, husbands, brothers, sons, who have laid even the costly sacrifice of their lives upon the altar of their country.

It is not merely to celebrate a military triumph of Greek over Greek, that the patriotic people of the land assemble amid the graves of heroes to-day. Such homage would mean little to the living and yield scant honor to the dead. The garlands and blossoms are brought as affectionate tribute to the champions of a righteous cause, to the upholders of the principles of Liberty and Justice; to the patriots who walked even into the valley of the shadow of death that the Republic might live, purified, regenerated and exalted among the nations.

The tender observances of this day are not simply expressions of personal remembrance and sorrow — they are the loving tribute of a People who have not yet forgotten the debt they owe to those who died “that government of the people by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth.”

As the long, long Roll of Honor grows longer year by year, while the surviving veterans close up in thinner ranks around the monuments of their departed comrades, it is meet that there should be serious remembrance of the cause for which so many precious lives were given on the murderous field, in the weary hospital and amid the horrors of the prison pens of the South.

That cause is the legacy of the Nation’s Dead to the loyal living of to-day, and amid all the beautiful and appropriate exercises of Memorial Day let us remember that beyond the utterance of eulogy and the strewing of sweet flowers, we can best honor the memory of our heroes by firmly maintaining what they have bequeathed to us; by cherishing their comrades and aiding the widows and the fatherless, and by standing guard over the welfare of the Nation they redeemed, with that unceasing vigilance which is the price of Liberty.

Whig and Courier (Maine) May 30, 1879

110 Years Ago: Memorial Day 1899

May 23, 2009
Image from the "Gettysburg Compiler," May 30, 1899

Image from the "Gettysburg Compiler," May 30, 1899

Click image for larger/clearer image.

MEMORIAL DAY. [excerpt]


Addresses at the National Cemetery by D.D. Woodmansee, of Cincinnati, General Sickles, General Daniel Butterfield and Others — The Blue and the Gray Represented.

Memorial Day was observed last Tuesday at Gettysburg, the place of all other with which the memories of war are most closely associated, with fitting and impressive ceremonies.

At least 6000 people from Washington, Baltimore, Harrisburg and the neighborhood attended the exercises and witnessed the strewing of flowers on the graves of the dead.

The one disappointment of the day was the absence of General Longstreet…

The oration was delivered by D.D. Woodmansee, of Cincinnati, O., who said in part:

“Many are the lessons we have learned from the examples of the heroic dead who offered up their lives on this, the most historic battlefield of the Republic.

“New-made graves in various parts of this fair land revive in us a desire to keep fresh the memories of those who have dared to die for our country. the active, busy men of the Republic who lived in the early sixties have passed away, and it is a new generation, unfamiliar with the conflicts of the Civil War, that must solve the problem of our future. It is possible that the battles and the sacrifices and the victories of the last year have been made necessary that we may work out our greater destiny.

“The question as to whether the Philippines shall be ours is not the most important question before the American people. It is of a far greater concern to us to know whether this native land between the seas, which is already ours — this land which has been beautified and developed, and made the abode of the highest order of civilization — shall be preserved inviolate for generations to come.

“We must learn the lesson of protection, that saves us from ourselves, as well as from a foreign foe. Law and order must prevail. We will open our doors wide to the best civilization of both hemispheres, but we must keep them forever barred against all elements of society that do not measure up to our standards of manhood and womanhood.”

Gettysburg Compiler (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania) Jun 06,  1899


Memorial Day in Manila

Manila, May 31. — Memorial Day was celebrated at Battery Knoll, where Scott’s guns were planted against the Filipino trenches in the first day’s fighting at Manila. Nearly 300 soldiers lie buried there on a bleak mound, surrounded by rice fields, rough boards marking the graves, which are arranged in five unbroken rows. Beyond these are Spanish block houses and bamboo hedges, which were torn by shells from the American guns.

The few soldiers who could be spared from the trenches came to Battery Knoll, dusty and bronzed, bearing flowers with which to strew their comrades’ graves. A silk flag was placed over each mound. The day was as mild as a New England spring day. Just before sunset a few hundred Americans gathered in a circle around Battery Knoll in blue and brown uniforms. Among the soldiers were groups of American women, while brown-faced natives peered curiously at the unwonted spectacle from points near by.

Portsmouth Herald (Portsmouth, New Hampshire) Jun 01, 1899

Memorial Day Poem by Captain James T. Long

May 22, 2009

Memories in Month of May

The muffled drum’s sad roll will beat
And heroes brave march through the street,
With locks once dark, but now turned gray
In honor of Memorial Day,
While thoughts of Comrades brave and true
Who proudly wore our Union blue,
Who fought and fell in Fiercest fray
Are in our minds in month of May.

How thoughts of Fair Oaks, Malvern Hill
And Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville,
Antietam, Bull Run, Mary’s Height
Old Glory waving in the fight,
With whiz of shot and shriek of shell
The Yanks, Hurrah: “The Rebel yell;”
The charge on breastwork of the gray
Come back to memory in this May.

How thoughts of Gettysburg and Meade
Rush through our brains with lightning speed,
and “Little Mac.” and Hancock true
Phil Kearny,  Meagher,  Sickels too,
With Grant and Sheridan conquering Lee
And Sherman marching to the sea,
Ah; how these thoughts come back today
These memories dear in month of May.

Our comrades brave, the rank and file
Who fought so glorious all the while,
Whose mangled bodies, torn and slain
Now sleep ‘neath fields of waving grain,
Where oak and pine and hemlock wave
Ah; there they lie in unknown grave,
There sleep in peace the blue and gray
God rest their souls this month of May.

Oh memories, how you crowd our brain
When month of May returns again,
As down Life’s path of time we go
Our thoughts go back to long ago,
When Comrades true we loved so well
Who for their Country fought and fell,
Whose faces dear, come back today
In memory sad — this month of May.

Then strew sweet flowers on heros’ graves
And let old Glory proudly wave,
They served their country well and true
Their life blood dyed their union blue,
They’re undisturbed by cannon’s boom
While glory guards their hallowed tomb
With God we hope they are today
In Heaven, at peace this month of  May.


The Gettysburg Times (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania) May 29,  1909