New Hampshire's Decoration Day

New Hampshire, like many other northern states, first started celebrating what we call Memorial Day, as “Decoration Day” in 1868.  The charge of decorating the graves of those slain during the Civil War was then performed primarily by the surviving comrades of the dead–“the men who saw and knew their valor, shared their hardships, rejoiced at their successes, and were their earliest mourners.”

In 1868 the Commander in Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.), Chief John A. Logan issued an order designating May 30th as a memorial day “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….”

This is not the first known incidence of decorating the graves of Civil War veterans in the United States. The custom probably began in the southern states, where it is documented that it occurred even before the end of the war. I have no doubt that decorating graves on a date this early probably began in the south.  Anyone in New England who has seen snow fall on Mother's Day will agree with me that flowers are not a practical decoration even at the end of May. 

And in fact, in the early years of Decoration Day, New Englanders often placed wreaths of evergreens instead of flowers.  In April of 1870 the Bangor (Maine) Daily Whig & Courier complained about the date being set too early causing expenses “greater than they need to be [if held] two weeks later when the supply of flowers for decorating would be much larger.”

In general, the early Decoration Day proceeded as follows: “a solemn dirge, a funeral chant, an eloquent and touching address, eulogistic of the bravery of the fallen, and the distribution of flowers and garlands over the graves.” (Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, June 19, 1869, New York, NY). 

One such 'eloquent and touching addresses' appears in the Amherst, New Hampshire Farmer's Cabinet newspaper of June 13, 1876:  “The fires of patriotism are not dead. Our people are neither betrayed nor misled. The spontaneous celebration of Decoration Day is not a merely sentimental observance. Underneath all for the fleeting pomp and florid show there is an honest glow of patriotism which needs only a sudden stress to flash it into life. And it is a good sign that our people are this year turning their thoughts back to the great crises which have marked the beginning, growth, struggles and triumphs of the American Republic. As long as we rightly value the services and sacrifices of our own national heroes and statesmen, now removed from the tumults of life, the age of possible heroism is not past.”

A touching poem-eulogy appeared in the May 31, 1869 edition of the Daily Cleveland Herald as follows:

Keep My Memory Green

Beneath the summer sky,
How peacefully they lie
   At rest from wars;
Oh sacred hold the grave
Of each devoted brave,
Who poured his blood to save
   The Stripes and Stars.

Their marches now are o'er,
They wield the sword no more,
   To smite our foes;
No sound of hostile drum
To their low tents may come,
Or break the silence dumb
   Of their repose.

But grateful throngs shall bring
Each year their offering
   Of grief and love;
Bright garlands should be spread,
And tribute teardrops shed
For patriot heroes dead,
   Their tombs above.

To Thee, oh Lord, our God,
Up from this hold sod
   Our voices rise;
Here freedom's cause maintain
For which our brave were slain
Forbid our making vain
   Their sacrifice.


*Additional Reading*

-Memorial Day Observances in NH 2008-

Library of Congress: May 30th, Soldiers' Memorial Day.

-AnceStories–A Civil War Soldier: Pvt. Charles H. ROBBINS (1844 – 1934)

-Echo Hill Ancestors–Andrew Jackson Boss

-Small-Leafed Shamrock: A Modern Poet Looks Back on the Civil War

-Kurious Kitty: Poetry Friday–Thoughts on the Upcoming Memorial Day

-NPR: Remember the Homeless Vets-

-Atlantic Ave: Another Year, Another Reminder-

Apple's Tree: Happy Memorial Day

-Destination Austin Family: Soft Power vs Hard Power

-GeneaBlogie:The National Cemeteries-

-George Geder: Happy Memorial Day-

-Georgia On My Mind: Memorial Day Observed

-History is Elementary: Observing Memorial Day

-Itawamba History Review: Inscribed Names in Monument Reflect Stories of Valor

-Photo Detective: Military Memories

-Searching for Family Branches: What Memorial Day Means to Me-

-Millard Fillmore's Bathtub: Memorial Day 2008

And some articles found here at Cow Hampshire worth repeating:

-The Civil War Nurses-

-New Hampshire Genealogy: The Legend of the Irish Drummer Boy-

-North Barnstead New Hampshire's Harriet P. Dame: the “Florence Nightingale” of The Civil War (1815-1900)-

-Not New Hampshire: Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient: Dr. Mary Edwards Walker (1832-1919)-

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