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Saturday, May 26, 2007

Memorial Day I - Early History

A GAR postcard citing "Bivouac of the Dead"

What we know as Memorial Day began as a tradition of decorating the graves of soldiers fallen in the Civil War -- in both the South and the North.

Memorial Day was proclaimed officially in 1868 by an order of the Grand Army of the Republic (the organization of Union veterans of the Civil War), as a day of reconciliation and remembrance, and flowers were placed on the graves of both Confederate and Union soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.

A popular poem linked to the 19th century celebrations of Decoration Day, as the day was also known, is Theodore O'Hara's "Bivouac of the Dead," written to commemorate Kentuckians fallen in the Mexican War in 1847.

Here are two of the most cited stanzas:
The muffled drum's sad roll has beat
The soldier's last tattoo;
No more on Life's parade shall meet
That brave and fallen few.
On fame's eternal camping ground
Their silent tents to spread,
And glory guards, with solemn round
The bivouac of the dead.
. . .

Rest on embalmed and sainted dead!
Dear as the blood ye gave;
No impious footstep here shall tread
The herbage of your grave;
Nor shall your glory be forgot
While Fame her record keeps,
For honor points the hallowed spot
Where valor proudly sleeps.

Decoration Day Parade, Shawnee, Ohio - 1910s

The Memorial Day series--
Saturday: Memorial Day I - Early History
Sunday: Memorial Day II - A Remembrance of all who have fallen
Monday: Memorial Day III - Plainfield's War Memorial Flagpole
Online resources:
The US Memorial Day Organization website
The Memorial Day Foundation website
The VA's Memorial Day Resources website
Waterloo, NY - Birthplace of Memorial Day

-- Dan Damon

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tiny said...

Dear Mr Damon,
a graveyard exsist on Plainfield Ave. and Fifth Street that has been neglected, it dose'nt even have a name,can u do an article on this travesty.

Thank you,