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North Vernon Sun - May 15, 1930
By Elmo Scott Watson
Peonies in my yard in Vernon - My mother always called them "Piney's", a favorite for decorating Indiana graves.

    No one can say for certain just where and when the idea of Memorial day originated. A recent historian, Loyd Lewis, attributes it to the grief which swept the nation at the death of Abraham Lincoln. Writing in Liberty magazine two years ago under the title of "Memorial Day is Born" he says:
    "Always there will be a dispute over where the day began, because the day itself came from nowhere and - everywhere. The greater the number of claimants for its birthplace, the plainer the proof that the Republic was aching vaguely with eagerness to speak its grief after four years of killing. Seven hundred thousand men, Blue and Gray, were dead.
    "The funeral of the war's greatest figure pointed the way.
    "Each little fugitive decoration of was a seed springing from ground that had been harrowed into fertility by the Lincoln funeral spectacle. Sentiment crystallized as that burial drama, with its pomp and storms of flowers fitted into the mood of the moment."
    As for the various claimants, there can only be regarded the facts of their observances, each of which contained the germ of the idea, in their chronological order without attempting to assign any priority to any one. On May 1, 1865, Warrentown, Va., held memorial services over the grave of a Confederate hero, John Quincy Marr. On May 1, 1865, a memorial service was held in Charleston, S.C. which had been organized by James Redpath (war correspondent and later founder of the Redpath Lyceum Bureau) who was then superintendent of the freedmen's schools in that city.
    That same year, some time in the spring of 1865, the women of Columbus, Gab., had decorated the graves of their war dead and the following January the members of the Ladies' Aid society there decided to perpetuate the custom. They picked upon April 26, 1866, the anniversary of the surrender of Gene. Joseph Johnston, the last formal act of the Civil war, as the date for their Memorial day celebration. Montgomery, Ala., observed the same day, April 16, 1866; Fredericksburg, Van., decided upon May 10, 1866, and Camden, Ark., decorated graves in November, 1866. Up North only one memorial service was held in 1866. Gene. John J. Murray of Waterloo, N.Y., and some of his comrades in the Union army are said to have decorated graves in their home cemetery on May 22, 1866.
    But even though it is impossible to establish definitely any exact priority in the matter of origin of this day, it is possible to trace a succession of events which led to the observance of what perhaps, may be characterized as the "first Memorial Day" in its close resemblance to the event as it is now celebrated. On April, 1866, the women of Columbus, Miss., held memorial services in the cemetery of that town and decorated not only the graves of the Confederate war dead but also those of some Union soldiers buried there.
    The next spring there appeared in a New York newspaper a brief paragraph which stated that "the women of Columbus, Miss., have shown themselves impartial in their offerings made to the memory of the dead. They strewed flowers alike on the graves of the Confederate and of the National soldiers." Among those who read that item was a young lawyer named Francis Miles Finch who was living in Ithaca, N.Y. It inspired him to write the following verses:


By the flow of the inland river,
Whence the fleets of iron have fled,
Where the blades of the grave-grass quiver,
Asleep are the ranks of the dead:
Under the sod and the dew,
Waiting the judgment-day;
Under the one, the Blue,
Under the other, the Gray.

These in the robing's of glory,
Those in the gloom of defeat,
All with the battle-blood gory,
In the dusk of eternity meet:
Under the sod and the dew,
Waiting the judgment-day;
Under the laurel the Blue,
Under the willow, the Gray,

From the silence of sorrowful hours
The desolate mourners go,
Lovingly laden with flowers
Alike for the friend and the foe;
Under the sod and the dew,
Waiting the judgment-day;
Under the roses, the Blue,
Under the lilies, the Gray.

So with equal splendor,
The morning sun-rays fall
With a touch impartially tenderer,
On the blossoms blooming for all:
Broidered with gold, the Blue
Mellowed gold the Gray.

So when the summer calleth,
On forest and field of grain,
With an equal murmur falleth
The cooling drip of the rain:
Under the sod and the dew,
Waiting the judgment-day;
Wet with the rain, the Blue,
Wet with the rain, the Gray.

Sadly, but not with upbraiding,
The generous deed was done,
In the storm of the years that are fading
No braver battle was won:
Under the sod and the dew,
Waiting the judgment-day:
Under the blossoms, the Blue
Under the garlands, the Gray

No more shall the war-cry sever,
Or the winding rivers by red;
They banish our anger forever
When they laurel the graves of our dead:
Under the sod and the dew,
Waiting the judgment-day;
Love and tears for the Blue,
Tears and love for the Gray.

    When this poem was published it achieved instant popularity, it was widely reprinted and later set to music so that its message of reconciliation was carried to all points of the country.
    Meanwhile on April 6, 1866, there had been organized at Decatur, Ill., a group of Union veterans who took the name of the Grand Army of the Republic and within a short time thousands of men who had worn the blue were members of the G.A.R., as it became familiarly known. In 1868 the national commander of the G.A.R. was Gen. John A. Logan of Illinois. On a cold raw day in March of that year a party from Washington set out to visit the battlefields around Richmond. The leader of the group was Col. Charles L. Wilson, a Chicago editor of that time, and with him his niece, fiancee and Mrs John A. Logan. They rode from one scene of desolation to another touched by the poverty of the region, once the proud capital of the Confederacy. And above all they noticed the numberless Confederate graves, most of them decorated with faded flowers and bunting, with here and there an improvised gravestone.
    Returning to Washington, the Richmond pilgrims went to the rooms of General Logan, who, had been unable to accompany his wife on the trip because of the pressure of congressional business. The war-torn country about Richmond was described to him; the rows of graves, each marked by some loving hand, now covered by a gentle snow that, nevertheless, could not dim the tokens of devotion left upon them.
    "The Greeks and Romans," said General Logan, "In the day of their glory, were wont to honor their hero dead by chaplets of laurel and flowers, as well as "bronze and stone." And he added that this thought should be carried over to the United States. It could be done, he believed, by the issuance of an order from him, and commander in chief of the G.A.R. to the posts established throughout the North.     General Logan immediately set about writing the order and the following night called a meeting of the G.A.R. staff officers in his rooms at the old Willard hotel, Washington, where the order he had written was submitted for their approval. The staff was unanimous in agreement and not long thereafter "Order No. 11" was broadcast from G.A.R. headquarters all over the country. In part that famous order reads as follows:

Headquarters Grand Army of the Republic.
Adjutant General's Office,
445 14th Street, Washington, D.C.
May 5, 1868
General Orders, No. 11
    I.   The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defence of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies lie in almost every city, village, hamlet and churchyard in the land. In this observance, no form of ceremony's prescribed, but posts and comrades will, in their own way, arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect, as circumstances may permit.
     We are organized, comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the purpose among other things, "of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers, sailors and marines, who united together to suppress the late rebellion." What can aid more to assure this result than by cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foes. Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains, and their deaths the tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms. We would guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and tasse of the nation can add to their adornment and security, is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no vandalism of avarice or 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.
    If other eyes grow dull,m and other hands slack, and other hearts grow cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well, as long as the light and warmth of life remain to us.
    Let us, then, at the time appointed, gather around their sacred remains, and garland the passionless mounds above them with the choicest flowers of springtime; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor; let us, in this solemn presence, renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon a nation's gratitude-the soldier's widow and orphan.
    II.   It is the purpose of the commander-in-chief to inaugurate this observance, with the hope that it will be kept up from year to year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades. He earnestly desires the public press to call attention to this order, and to lend its friendly aid in bringing it to the notice of comrades in all parts of the country in time for simultaneous compliance therewith.
    III.   Department commanders will use every effort to make this order effective.
    By order of        John A. Logan
    Official:        N. P. Chipman,
              Adjutant General

    As a result of this order formal exercises were held at Arlington, Va. (later the site of the present Arlington National cemetery) on May 30, 1868, the principal ceremony being the decoration with flags and flowers of the monument to the "Unknown Dead," a memorial that had been erected to the memory of 2,111 unidentified dead found on the fields of Bull Run and the route to Rappahonnock. The principal address was delivered by James A. Garfield, twelve years later elected President of the United States. As yet the term Memorial day, or Decoration day, had not been linked with the observance, and his address, afterward printed in pamphlet form in Cleveland, Ohio, was simply entitled: "Oration of Hon. James A. Garfield, delivered at Arlington, Va., May 30, 1868, on the Occasion of Strewing Flowers on the Graves of Union Soldiers."
    The idea spread rapidly and at the ceremonies held by the G.A.R. in Monument cemetery in Philadelphia on May 29, 1875, it was recorded that "the annual floral decoration of the graves of our dead soldiers has become a national custom." For it was doing much to heal the wounds of the war and, in uniting to honor their dead, the North and the South were forgetting the bitterness of a few short years before. One of the most significant bits of evidence of this occurred in Brooklyn when on the eve of May 30, 1877, a great throng assembled in the Academy of Music to hear the chief orator of the day-Judge Roger A. Pryor, formerly brigadier general in the Confederate army.

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