Memorial Day and the G.A.R.
Waterloo, N. Y.
In 1865, Henry C. Welles, a druggist in the village of Waterloo, NY, mentioned
at a social gathering that honor should be shown to the patriotic dead of the
Civil War by decorating their graves.
In the Spring of 1866, he again mentioned this subject to General
John B. Murray, Seneca County Clerk. General Murray embraced
the idea and a committee was formulated to plan a day devoted
to honoring the dead.
Townspeople adopted the idea wholeheartedly. Wreaths, crosses and bouquets
were made for each veteran's grave. The village was decorated with flags at half
mast and draped with evergreen boughs and mourning black streamers.
On May 5, 1866, civic societies joined the procession to the three existing
cemeteries and were led by veterans marching to martial music. At each
cemetery there were impressive and lengthy services including speeches
by General Murray and a local clergyman. The ceremonies were repeated
on May 5, 1867.
Selection of May 30th
The selection of May 30th is attributed to a Virginian of French descent,
Cassandra Oliver Moncure, who may have selected this date because
it was "The Day of Ashes" in France-the day that Napoleon's remains
were returned to France from St. Helena.
Official recognition of
The first official recognition of Memorial Day as such was issued by General
John A. Logan, first commander of the Grand Army of the Republic. This was
General Order No. 11 establishing "Decoration Day" as it was then known.
The date of the order was May 5, 1868, exactly two years after Waterloo's first
observance. That year Waterloo joined other communities in the nation by
having their ceremony on May 30.
Headquarters, Grand Army of the Republic
Washington, D.C., May 5, 1868
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 defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose
bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the
land. In this observance no form or ceremony is 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 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 foe? Their soldier
lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains, and their death
a tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms. We should guard their graves
with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste 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 found 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 free and undivided republic.
If other eyes grow dull and other hands slack, and other hearts cold in
the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth
of life remain in us.
Let us, then, at the time appointed, gather around their sacred remains
and garland the passionless mounds above them with 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 as sacred charges upon the
Nation's gratitude,--the soldier's and sailor's widow and orphan.
- It is the purpose of the Commander-in-Chief to inaugurate this
observance with the hope 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 lend
its friendly aid in bringing it to the notice of comrades in all parts of the
country in time for simultaneous compliance therewith.
- Department commanders will use every effort to make this order effective.
By command of:
JOHN A. LOGAN,
N. P. CHIPMAN,
29 September 2003