Monday, May 31, 2021

Civil War Veteran's Memorial Day Poem

Like stars that sink into the west,
So one by one we seek our rest;
The column’s brave and steady tread
With banners streaming overhead,
Will still keep step, as in the past,
Until the rear guard comes at last.
Ah, yes, like stars we take our flight,
And whisper, one by one, “Good night.”
Yet in the light of God’s bright day,
Triumphant, each again will say,
"Hail, comrade, here has life begun,
The battle’s fought, the victory’s won!”

by George M. Vickers

p.127 Under Both Flags  A Panorama of the Great Civil War as Represented in Story, Anecdote, Adventure and the Romance of Reality  Edited by C.R. Graham. 1896

    Graham cites three other poems by George M. Vickers in his book. On page 456 Graham gives a brief biography of George Vickers. “The author was a private soldier in the Second Regiment, Pennsylvania Reserve Corps, when commanded by Colonel, afterwards General, McCandless, and in more than one desperate battle witnessed [McCandless’s] heroism.” From the sentiment of this poem, it is definitely written post-war, as the veterans are dying off one by one. 
    Memorial Day observed on the last Monday of May, remembers and honors the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. Originally known as Decoration Day, it originated in the years following the Civil War with the great loss of life and the establishment of national cemeteries. By the late 1860s many towns across the US began to hold springtime tributes to their lost soldiers like this. There is much dispute as to the “origin” of this holiday. What seems most probable is that it arose as “tradition” in many towns across the US in both the north and the south in the years following the end of the war and gradually became part of the spring time tradition that finally became officially nationalized as an official federal holiday in 1971. It arose out of the grief over the loss of husbands/sons/fathers/brothers in the war as a means to find some relief in remembering and honoring them.
    On May 5, 1868, General John A. Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization for Northern Civil War veterans, called for a nationwide day of remembrance he called Decoration Day. “The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.” The date was chosen because it was not the anniversary of any particular battle.
    On the first Decoration Day at Arlington National Cemetery, General James Garfield made a speech to 5,000 who attended and who decorated the graves of the 20,000 Civil War soldiers buried there. Many Northern states held similar commemorative events, with the tradition being repeated in subsequent years. By 1890 each one had made Decoration Day an official state holiday. Southern states, on the other hand, continued to honor their dead on other days during the spring until after World War I.

Children’s Project:
Have your child draw a picture showing what Memorial Day means to them.
Ask your child to compose their own poem about Memorial Day