Memorial (Decoration) Day Remembrance
By: Dave McDonald, BCHS – President
May is already upon us and thanks to the moderate April whether the flowers are well into bloom, trees are filling out with foliage and you have probably already had to mow the lawn more than once.
Our topic is the recognition of the May national holiday, Memorial Day. Many Americans make the mistake of believing that Veterans Day is the day set aside to honor American military personnel who have died in battles. That would not be true. Memorial Day is the national day established to honor America’s war dead. Veteran’s Day was created to honor ALL American soldiers, both dead and living, with emphasis on the living for their dedication and loyal service to the country.
Memorial (Decoration) Day was officially proclaimed in May 1868 by General John Logan, the National Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic. It started on May 30th of that year at Arlington National Cemetery with flowers placed on both the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers. It had only been 3 years since the ending of the Civil War and the great loss of thousands of America’s men and women.
New York was the first state to officially recognize Decoration Day in 1873. By 1890 it had been recognized by all northern states. Southern states refused to give acknowledgment to the day while continuing to honor their Civil War dead on separate days.
At the conclusion of World War, I the holiday was changed from honoring those who died in the Civil War to include Americans who died fighting in any war. Several southern states still maintain a separate Civil War Remembrance Day for Confederate soldiers. It is now celebrated in almost every state on the last Monday in May.
Unfortunately, the transition from a specific date of remembrance to a national 3-day weekend holiday has diminished people’s focus on the intent of the day over the years. Sadly, many Americans now-days have forgotten the meaning and traditions associated with Memorial Day. Many towns have ceased having Memorial Day parades and remembrance ceremonies.
You should take great pride in Branch County for all the efforts by so many of its citizens to organize and carry out the parades, city park presentations, reenactment festivities, decorating of soldier’s graves with flags and flowers and traditional cemetery dedications. Many local people spend weeks organizing and preparing the resources for our Memorial Day weekend events.
There are 59 identified cemeteries in the country of Branch. A very few hold the markers of Revolutionary War veterans. Many include veterans from the Civil War. In remembrance of all the men and women who have fallen in the service of our country, I would like to end on the words of Theodore O’Hara (1838 – 1915):
The muffled drum’s sad roll has beat
The soldier’s last tattoo;
No more on Life’s parade shall meet
That brave and fallen few.
On fame’s eternal camping ground
Their silent tents to spread,
And glory guards, with solemn round
The bivouac of the dead.
May 24, 2020 @ 4:40 pm
I would like to hear about the Civil War horse that is buried in the Coldwater Cemetery. I would also like to know how to find his grave. I was told that each Memorial Day a group of people honor his memory along with the fallen soldiers from Branch County.
May 6, 2021 @ 11:16 am
Hello Shelley, I am very sorry to say that your message was lost during a program change and I just found it.
Yes, there is a memorial stone in the Oak Grove Cemetery (old side, north of Chicago Road) dedicated to “Old Sam”. No, it is not his grave site. It was illegal to bury animals in the cemetery and the horse had to be brought there in the night. His grave was along the edge of the cemetery near the site of several C.W. veterans. He was buried and the grave camouflaged so it could not be found. There is a plaque in the 4-Corners Park in downtown Coldwater presently, but it is being removed from its present location. Unfortunately, the plaque has many errors in its content. If you have access to the new Branch County History Book,BRANCH COUNTY, THEN and NOW, 1800-2016, go to page 358 and you will find the story “Legend of Old Sam”. It will give you the factual story of the horse rather than the fable. If you are interested in the book, click on the ‘SHOP’ tab and you can purchase one through PayPal. There is a military memorial each year in Coldwater that starts downtown, then goes to the Coldwater River for the flower toss in memory of Naval veterans (a tradition that my grandmother started), then to the pavilion in the old Oak Grove for dedication, and finally to the new Oak Grove Cemetery across the highway for military remembrance. There is nothing specific done about Old Sam. Last item you requested, the Sam memorial stone. When you go through the iron gate entrance to the old Oak Grove, go to the second drive going left. The memorial will be on your left along the edge of the lane. Many C.W. veterans can be seen buried further behind that stone. Regards, DLMCD