The First Memorial Day
(Newsclipping found in my great grandmother's (Maude Idyal Ingram Moore
of Franklin County, IL) scrap book...Sheila Cadwalader
By Mabel Thompson Rauch
On a sunny spring day seventy-one years ago remnants of some of the
strife-torn families dwelling in the heart of "Little Egypt" joined in
ceremony to heal the ill feeling between the Blue and the Gray and to
"bind up the wounds of the living." Carbondale a small town nestling
amid the rolling hills of the Southern Illinois Ozarks, cherishes the
honor of having held the first Decoration Day celebration ever observed
in our country.
On the afternoon of April 5, 1867, a gathering of the leading citizens
of the town headed by a brass band playing patriotic airs marched from
the public square out East Main street to Woodlawn cemetery. There a
formal program was presented.
The principal speaker of the day was Gen. John A Logan, "Black Hawk
Logan," the famous Civil War commander, who was then a resident of
Carbondale. This occasion was fully a year before his General Order No.
11 which, as Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, he
issued on May 5, 1868, asking that May 30 be used for the decoration of
the graves of soldiers. Gen. Logan later succeeded in having this date
set aside as Memorial Day. But at this first local celebration there was
no thought that it would later become a national institution observed by
all for departed relatives and friends.
The town was peculiarly situated. While Illinois was northern and had
declared for the Union, Little Egypt was torn asunder by its loyalties.
This southern section of the state had been settled in the early days by
the overflow from Kentucky and Tennessee. Though no slaves were held,
the majority of the population's sympathies were with the South to which
they were so closely linked by blood and custom. The war had caused more
than the usual suffering and heartaches in this border-line part of the
country. Many families were rent by opposing convictions -- one son
going south to fight with the southern troops, another joining up with
At the beginning of the war a company of southern sympathizers had been
raised in an adjoining town and serious trouble was narrowly avoided
when the loyal townspeople learned of the secret movement. On May 24,
1861, this band through strategy was able to reach southern territory
without bloodshed. At Mayfield, Ky., they united with Company G of the
One Hundred and Fifteenth Regiment, Tennessee Volunteers, and fought
under Gen. Cheatham. At the close of the rebellion the survivors, about
half the company, returned home and were living among their former
enemies in Little Egypt.
The war was now past and while no more blood was being shed by violence,
the hearts of the living were still bleeding. Many who went had never
returned; many had been sent back for burial in the town cemetery; old
friends and neighbors were unable to forget their bitterness. Logan,
himself, had suffered from the sectional differences within his own family.
And then came this thought, "To meet together, to carry flowers and lay
them on the graves of the lost loved ones, this would help to bind up
the wounds of the living."
The townspeople had first planned the ceremony for April 4, but the
weather not permitting, the celebration was held on the following day,
Sunday. Several of the younger people who took part in the events of
that time are still alive, and it is due to the remarkable memory of my
aunt, Mrs. M. M. Thompson of Carbondale, that the happenings of that
first Memorial Day have become alive and vivid.
At this time she was Miss Jeanette Ward, a young girl of 15. In the
company with five other girls from some of the prominent families, she
was invited to help prepare the flowers and be a part of the official
procession. It is remarkable that after a lapse of seventy years, four
of the lovely young girls who played leading roles in the ceremonies of
that day are still alive. They are Mrs. Jeanette Ward Thompson, Mary
Hindman Brush, Julia Hill Amon, Laura Cole Pope. Mrs. Julia Brush
Bridges and Sophronia Roberts Parsons are the two members of the group
who have passed away.
These girls were invited on this day to the mansion of Col. H. D. Brush,
a leading citizen of the town, and entertained at a dinner held at
noontime. One of the six was his own daughter. My aunt remembers it was
a very grand dinner served in elaborate style by several servants, and a
thrilling affair for young girls reared in the seclusion of early-day
homes in a small country town.
Col. Brush maintained extensive gardens and grounds kept in high style
by his English gardener. Rings fifteen inches in diameter had been cut
from sheet copper. The colonel gathered his choicest flowers with which
the girls converted the rings into beautiful wreaths, one to be placed
on the grave of each soldier at Woodlawn.
"I recollect the day as if it were yesterday," said Aunt Jennie, "the
attractive grounds, we girls arranging the fragrant spring flowers, and
the warm sunshine beaming like a benediction over all. The girls were
all pretty - oh, not like the girls of today, of course, but lovely with
a sweet wholesome naturalness. We all wore full-skirted dresses of sheer
white, and our slender waists were girded with wide ribbon sashes of
delicate shades. I remember we were all much impressed with the honor of
being entertained at this dinner and the solemnity of the occasion.
When the procession, under the direction of Capt. E. J. Ingersoll,
reached Woodlawn the exercises were held at the head on the grave of
Capt. H. L. Bowyer. Gen. Logan stood facing the north as he spoke to his
assembled friends and neighbors. There was not a dry eye in the entire
crowd; the war had touched their lives too poignantly; each had lost
some close relative or friends -- some fighting for the northern cause,
some for the South.
The ceremonies opened with a prayer by Jacob Cole. He was chaplain of
the Illinois Thirty-first, Logan's own famous volunteer regiment. Gen.
Logan's speech was inspired and full of glowing patriotism. It was at
this time, in speaking of the supreme sacrifice made by these soldiers
sleeping so peacefully in this little country graveyard, that Logan
coined the phrase,
"Every man's life belongs to his country."
After the speaking and singing the crowd scattered among the graves and
a wreath was laid upon each soldier's resting place. All were decorated,
no matter under which flag the men had fought. The six young girls who
had prepared the garlands were assisted by thirty children between the
ages of 8 and 10.
Mrs. George Bowyer, who still lives in Carbondale, was one of these more
youthful flower bearers. She remembers that they carried baskets of
flowers, marching among the graves and strewing them upon the grassy
mounds as they passed. Her husband is also one of the few among those
yet living who heard Logan speak that memorable day.
The success of the occasion did so much toward softening the bitterness
remaining from the war days that immediately following it plans were
discussed for a permanent Memorial Day to be held each year. The 30^th
of May was tentatively agreed upon. It was more suitable because in the
late spring a greater quantity of flowers would be in bloom than upon
the earlier date, especially in case of unseasonable weather.
The following year, on May 5, 1868, Gen. Logan formally issued his
famous General Order No. 11, officially designating May 30 "for the
purpose of strewing 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 every city, village and hamlet churchyard in
Today, seventy-one years have passed since that time. There are the
graves of the honored dead from two later wars to be decorated. It has
grown into a nationwide custom of our entire country to remember the
resting places of all upon May 30, not only those who fell in wartime
battles, but those others who fall in the peacetime battle of life.
And as Logan said in that order, " Let...no ravages of time testify...to
the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a
free and undivided Republic."
As for the rest of us, that first Memorial Day was held not only to
honor the dead, but to "bind up the wounds of the living."