Saturday, May 28, 2011

Memorial Day History

In honor of the members of my family who have died while serving in the United States military:

  • William Wardlaw, born 1771, died August 4, 1812, either of disease or at the Battle of Brownstown, Michigan.  William was my fourth great grand uncle in my paternal grandmother's family.
  • Samuel Kincaid, my fourth great grandfather in my paternal grandmother's family, died May 5, 1813 at the siege of Ft. Meigs, Ohio.
  • Campbell Dudley, born 1837, died July 29, 1864 while serving with the 48th Ohio Infantry when he drowned in the Mississippi River at Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  He was my great grand uncle in my maternal grandmother's family.
The following information is excerpted from The United States Department of Veterans Affairs website, which can be found at http://www1.va.gov/opa/speceven/memday/history.asp:

Three years after the Civil War ended, on May 5, 1868, the head of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan declared that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30. It is believed that date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country.


Clarence Dudley decorating the Lynchburg, Ohio
war memorial which honored Civil War dead,
including his uncle, Campbell Dudley.
The first large observance was held that year at Arlington National Cemetery, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.

The ceremonies centered around the mourning-draped veranda of the Arlington mansion, once the home of Gen. Robert E. Lee. Various Washington officials, including Gen. and Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant, presided over the ceremonies. After speeches, children from the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Orphan Home and members of the GAR made their way through the cemetery, strewing flowers on both Union and Confederate graves, reciting prayers and singing hymns.

Local springtime tributes to the Civil War dead already had been held in various places. One of the first occurred in Columbus, Miss., April 25, 1866, when a group of women visited a cemetery to decorate the graves of Confederate soldiers who had fallen in battle at Shiloh. Nearby were the graves of Union soldiers, neglected because they were the enemy. Disturbed at the sight of the bare graves, the women placed some of their flowers on those graves, as well.

By the end of the 19th century, Memorial Day ceremonies were being held on May 30 throughout the nation. State legislatures passed proclamations designating the day, and the Army and Navy adopted regulations for proper observance at their facilities.

It was not until after World War I, however, that the day was expanded to honor those who have died in all American wars. In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by an act of Congress, though it is still often called Decoration Day. It was then also placed on the last Monday in May, as were some other federal holidays.

Gen. Logan’s order for his posts to decorate graves in 1868 “with the choicest flowers of springtime” urged: “We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. ... Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.”

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