ELKTON — Each week, we take a look back in time to examine what was on the minds of Cecil County readers. Rotating through the Whig’s 177-year history, we hope to not only provide direct text from our archives, but also context as to why the issue was important at the time.
Join us as we thumb through the pages of our history.
150 years ago (May 30, 1869)
As we just marked Memorial Day, we thought it was be a good time to take a look at the ceremonies held 150 years ago, only the second time America recognized what was then called Decoration Day. In that era, the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars were still 50 years away from formation, so the organizers were typically Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) posts, which were composed of veterans who fought for the Union military forces in the Civil War. We found it interesting that the author noted the lack of inclusion of African-American soldiers and the light interest of the public.
Decoration of the Soldiers’ Graves
Bring flowers, pale flowers, o’er the bier to shed,
A crown for the brow of the early dead!
For this, for this, through its leaves hath the white rose burst,
For this in the woods was the violet nursed!
Through they smile in vain for what was once ours — pale flowers
They are love’s last gift — bring ye flowers
”Four hundred thousand men —
The brave, the good. the true.
In tangled wood, in mountain glen,
On battle plain, in prison pen.
Lie dead for me and you!
Four hundred thousand of the brave
Have made our ransomed soil their grave
For me and you!
Good friends, for me and you!”
The ceremony of decorating the graves of the soldiers was performed by the Post of the Grand Army of the Republic, at this place, on Monday last. Dr. R.H. Tuft, as Adjutant of the Post, had command of the ceremonies. At 9 o’clock, a.m., the members of the Post, (and such persons as desired to take part in the ceremonies) assembled at their room, and at 10 o’clock, after prayer by Rev. Thos. L. Poulson, a line was formed and marched to the Roman Catholic burying ground, where the remains of several soldiers were laid. The procession, standing in line around the first grave approached, Rev. Mr. Poulson made an impressive prayer, when the line broke, and the graves in this cemetery were appropriately decorated, each grave having a little flag stuck upon it, and a wreath and bonnets of flowers placed on the head and foot of the mound, where sleep the “unforgotten brave.” The floral tribute having been paid to the graves in the Catholic cemetery, the line was again formed and marched to the Methodist graveyard, and the same beautiful tribute paid to the memory of the soldiers whose remains sleep there. The company next assembled under a large tree, near the graveyard, and all joined in singing the 1031st hymn in the M.E. Collection, followed by a prayer by Rev. R.F. Price. James T. McCullough, Esq., made a brief address, which he concluded by reading the following circular:
“The 30th day of May proximo — a day set apart by the Grand Army of the Republic to commemorate the glorious deeds of our departed comrades — will be observed throughout the United States in such manner as befits the solemnities of the occasion, and as will testify the undying love of a grateful people for the memory of those who died that the nation might live. This is the second public observance of the occasion, which, it is trusted, will recur, yearly, while there remains a heart loyal to the cause in which our comrades fell: and while the moving principle of that struggle is worth preserving. If our organization had no other object, that alone of keeping green the resting place of our nation’s defenders, by this annual commemoration, would be motive enough to hold us together in a fraternal band. The Commander-in-Chief desires to thank those patriotic men and women who gave their aid and sympathy on a former occasion to make successful this national memorial day. and they are cordially invited to unite with the comrades of the Grand Army in the approaching ceremonies.”
The following neat and appropriate address was delivered by Rev. T. L. Poulson:
“True heroism is self-abnegation. It is only when toil and sacrifice are inspired by a desire to secure the happiness of others, that these noble virtues attain their highest forms, and prove the title to heroic living. The world’s heroes have not all stood on the high cliffs of prominence before the gaze of her admiring multitudes. Some of this royal line have walked in unapplauded silence, where the blaze of human glory never rested on their bared brows.
“He who plows and plants that others may reap is of noble blood; but he who dies that a nation may live, is made of the stern stuff that justifies the song that sings his deeds, and the wreathed marble that marks the sacred spot where his ashes sleep.
“The toilsome march — the weary bivouac — the ghastly wounds — the patient suffering — the noble death — of these, our comrades — were all for you, grateful citizens, mourning friends, weeping kindred!
“How eminently proper, therefore, that this annual holocaust — to embalm with tears and flowers the turfy sarcophagus in which the soldier boy sleeps his last sleep!
“Death, thou art terrible! All we know, or dream, or fear of agony, are thine!
‘But to the hero, when his sword,
Has won the battle for the free,
Thy voice sounds like a prophet’s word;
And in its hollow tones are heard
The thanks of millions yet to be.’
“To be sure they were your sons, and brothers, and fathers, but they are
Freedom’s now, and Fame’s;
Some of the few, the immortal names
That were not born to die.’”
This concluded the ceremony of decorating the graves of the soldiers who were buried in the cemeteries of this town. The day was excessively warm, and but few of the citizens took an active part in the ceremonies. This may be attributed to the well-known constitutional repugnance of some to every species of physical exercise, the dislike on the part of others to do honor to the memory of those brave men who squelched the rebellion, and in doing which quenched slavery also, and set the nation free. Those not included in these two classes, can plead a press of business. These are the very best apologies we can make for our townsmen.
The colored soldiers were not invited to take part in the ceremonies on decoration day, as they took their part in the bloody fray. We presume some of their graves are in this vicinity, which claim that honor accorded to the patriot heroes, who died that a nation might live. This omission occurred, we believe, on account of negligence on the part of the Post, and also of the surviving comrades of the colored soldiers, and was regretted by members of the Post, when the omission was brought to their notice.
Several soldiers’ remains are deposited at Cherry Hill, which place was visited, in the afternoon, and the customary florid tribute laid upon their graves. At the latter place, the citizens of the village and neighborhood turned out generally to do honor to the occasion. In this they evinced a commendable patriotic respect for their fallen heroes, which was creditable to their loyalty. On coming to the grave of Rev. Joseph T. Brown, who died from the effects of starvation in Libby Prison, an affective and eloquent prayer was offered up by Rev. Mr. Bodine, and when the floral wreath was placed on the monument, there was not a dry eye among all those present, as they thought of the old patriot who gave his life for his country. The grave of Major Ben Ricketts was next adorned, in the usual way, after which the other graves were visited and similarly decorated, when the assembly adjourned to a grove nearby, and after prayer by Rev. Mr. Bodine some appropriate remarks, and the rules and orders of the G.A.R. were read, by J.E. Wilson, Esq., which were followed by Rev. Mr. Poulson, in one of his usually eloquent strains, concluded by the reading of a beautiful piece of poetry, written for the occasion, during which all present were visibly moved.
Thus ended the first ceremony of decorating the soldiers’ graves in this neighborhood, We hope that a year hence a more general interest will be felt and taken in this ceremony, which is a tribute to the glorious cause for which the heroes laid down their lives, for the dull ear of the sleepers hear not the beat of the muffled drum, or the tread of comrades who bear the offerings of flowers to strew upon their graves.