On May 31, 2010, America is observing Memorial Day. Formerly known as Decoration Day, it was first enacted to honor Union soldiers of the American Civil War. After World War I it was expanded to include the men and women of all wars who died while in the military service.
Memorial Day was officially proclaimed to be celebrated nationwide on May 5, 1868 by General John A. Logan, commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic [G.A.R.], a Union veterans organization chartered by Congress, in his 11th General Order, and was first observed on May 30, 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.
General Order No. 11:
"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. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit."
Observing General Logan's order, G.A.R posts were instrumental in the implementation of Memorial Day across the nation.
A number of G.A.R. posts were located in Eastern Kentucky.
Croxton Post # 9, McKenzie, Lewis County
McPherson Post # 14, Ashland, Boyd County
Hamrick Post # 22, Burtonville, Lewis County
H. Eifert Post # 26, Greenup, Greenup County
E. V. Mavity Post # 28, Petersville, Lewis County
R. Armstead Post # 29, Catlettsburg, Boyd County
Nelson T. Boggs Post # 50, Webbville, Lawrence County
Scoville Post # 52, London, Laurel County
George W. Gallup Post # 57, Rush/Geigersville, Boyd County
U. S. Grant Post # 58, Olive Hill, Carter County
Chilton Osborn Post # 67, Blaine, Lawrence County
Francis M. Burgess Post # 69, Peach Orchard, Lawrence County
David V. Auxier Post # 73, Paintsville, Johnson County
J. W. Finnell Post # 110, Grayson, Carter County
Wiley C. Patrick Post # 120, Salyersville, Magoffin County
Hutcheson Post # 150, Bolts' Fork/Buchanan, Boyd County
Capt. J. Gooden Post # 199, Messers, Knott County
L. D. Yost Post # 14, Pikeville, Pike County
Even though Memorial Day observances were held by the various G.A.R posts,they received only limited publicity by the newspapers in Eastern Kentucky. In 1889, the Big Sandy News reported that the Odd Fellow and the Francis M. Burgess G.A.R. Post No. 69 celebrated Memorial Day at Peach Orchard, in Lawrence County, Kentucky. The Eden band was present for the occasion and furnished music for the occasion.
On May 31, 1890, a great many people and different orders congregated at the Kavanaugh graveyard in Boyd County, to decorate the graves of union soldiers and relatives. Various speakers addressed the crowd, including Rev. R. T. Johnson of Round Bottom, West Virginia who, according to the papers, made "a decidedly interesting and impressive speech."
Major Drew J. Burchett, 14th KY Infantry, accompanied by his 18 year old daughter Emma, "made a very interesting and appropriate speech in his usual fervent and earnest way, which made all feel it was well that they were there and that they were Americans."
Major Drew J. Burchett also attended Memorial Day activities at the Lexington Cemetery in Fayette County in 1905. The Mt. Sterling Advocate wrote:
"Decoration Day was fittingly observed by the members of E. L. Dudley Post No. 54, G. A. R., and in accordance with the custom the graves of fifteen hundred Union soldiers in the cemetery were decorated with flags and flowers. Following the decorating of the graves several hundred men and women, many of them relatives and friends of the dead soldiers, gathered in that part of the cemetery nearby the graves of the Union soldiers to listen to an address by Major D. J. Burchett of Mt. Sterling.
MAJOR BURCHETT'S ADDRESS
"Commander, Comrades, Ladies and Gentlemen: - I want to thank you for the splendid pleasure which you have afforded me of being present today and witnessing this beautiful ceremony of decorating the graves of our distinguished dead in this delightful spot.
"Lexington has enjoyed the distinction for nearly one hundred years of producing our most distinguished fellow Kentuckians. In peace or in war their great ability and distinguished services were the delight of the heart of the people of Lexington. With your splendid system of education, your university, colleges, male and female and other institutions of learning, from which comes out each year young men and women equipped for all the avenues of life and other glorious records in history have evinced the truth of their qualifications and it has resulted in the universal admiration of all Kentuckians.
"We meet today after forty years for the purpose of paying tribute to our distinguished dead and to lay upon their resting places the choicest flowers of spring time, indicating our faithful love and fidelity to them for their patriotism and loyalty to the flag of their country and the perpetuation of the very principle for which they fought. I believe we would be derelict in the performances of all of our duties if we were to fail to be advocates of a just distribution of all the rights, privileges and immunities under the laws of the country in which we live. The rich and the poor alike under the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence itself are justly entitled to the equal protection of the law and the just distribution of all the benefits under our Republican form government and as long as the eternal law of love and gratitude lasts it is our bounded duty to see that each and every one is the just recipient of this protection.
WAR BETWEEN STATES
"The war between the States with the unfaltering courage evinced by each of these splendid armies has done more possibly to settle questions of difference than anything that has occurred before. The very fact that the South found in the North a brave courageous and patriotic people who would fight to the death for principles, at the same time the North found the same unquestionable evidence of courage in their adversaries of the South and that knowledge caused greater regard from one section to the other than all of the events that had over occurred and with these settlements of all the issues that had existed previously to the prosperity of our country, the greatest Republic from the 'rising to the setting of the sun' challenges greater allegiance upon the part of every citizen and subject for the reason that I believe from the landing of the Mayflower at Plymouth when these devoted Pilgrims kneeled around Plymouth Rock and thanked God Almighty for their deliverance, I believe that God Almighty in heaven promised as a reward of their appeal that this country should be the land from which the gospel of Christ should be disseminated and from which the missionary should visit the lands that were in darkness.
"I want to thank you for your attention and that I shall remember the occasion with great pleasure and in the autumn of our existence as our numbers diminish may it be the duty of the very last one to see that these flowers are distributed each year that we may keep alive for future generations the heroic deeds and splendid service of our distinguished comrades in arms."
In neighboring Ohio, Memorial Day was observed on a much larger scale than in Eastern Kentucky. Ironton, Ohio is home to the nation's oldest continuously running Memorial Day parade which has 12 separate divisions. The parade has been a tradition since 1868 when Memorial Day was officially recognized as a national holiday in the United States. Members of the local GAR Dick Lambert Post No. 165, including 14th KY's William H. H. Adkins and Louis Dixon, were instrumental in organizing the parade and decorating the graves of their fallen comrades. The event draws tens of thousands visitors every year.
Built in 1892 by the Grand Army of The Republic (G.A.R.)
Dick Lambert Post No. 165, G.A.R.
Traditional observance of Memorial day has diminished over the years. Many Americans today have forgotten the meaning and traditions of Memorial Day. At many cemeteries, the graves of the fallen are increasingly ignored and neglected.
The National Holiday Act, passed by Congress in 1971, changed the date of Memorial Day in order to create a three-day weekend. In 2002, the VFW stated in its 2002 Memorial Day address: "Changing the date merely to create three-day weekends has undermined the very meaning of the day. No doubt, this has contributed greatly to the general public's nonchalant observance of Memorial Day."
I'd like to appeal to everyone to remember the true meaning of Memorial Day this year and take the time to decorate the graves of our veterans so that none will be forgotten.
14th KY Infantry [US] Graves Database
Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War National Graves Registration Database
Help save the Ironton Veterans Memorial Hall, home of the Dick Lambert Post No. 165, G.A.R. until 1919.
Preservation effort by the Ironton Legion Post # 433.