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Memorial Day in Sheridan’s Early Days

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Monday, May 27, is Memorial Day. Today, many people look forward to Memorial Day as the first day of summer, a day when families put on cook-outs, people break out boats after a winter of frozen lakes, and on Lake DeSmet, it is the weekend of the annual fishing derby.

But, Memorial Day has a much more solemn meaning. To go back to beginning, Memorial Day began after the Civil War, when veterans began getting together to rehash the war, and to visit and decorate the graves of fallen comrades. Veteran’s Day, in November, is to honor the living veterans, while Memorial Day is a day to honor the memory of the dead.

Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day. It started just after the civil war as a way to honor those who died in the war. After World War I, it came to be observed as a way of honoring those who died in all U.S. Wars.

One early reference was from the Cheyenne Weekly Leader, on June 2, 1881, it tells about various ceremonies throughout the United States.

Chicago, May 30.—Decoration day is meeting with general observance here and elsewhere, banks, exchanges and many places of business being closed.

St. Louis, May 30.—Great crowds of people have gone to the national cemetery, Jefferson barracks, where the decoration takes place at 3 p. m. There are 12,000 graves of federal and confederate soldiers, and all will be strewn with flowers.

Gettysburg, May 30.—The appearance of the city has never been so lively since Lincoln dedicated the national cemetery in 1863. Fifteen thousand strangers, many of them very distinguished, are present. Governor Hoyt and staff are absent. K. C. Burrows, of Michigan, is orator of the day.

We have to remember that in 1881, the Civil War was less than 20 years before, and many of the veterans of that war were still alive. In fact, the last civil war veteran, Albert Woolson, died in 1956. He was 106 years old, and was a drummer boy during the war. It wasn’t that long from the War of 1812, which was the last war against Great Britain for American’s Independence. The last survivor of that war was Hiram Cronk, who died at age 105 in 1905. So, in 1881, there were many veterans of both wars that could take part in the celebrations.

Sheridan, at one time, had several activities for Decoration Day.

As early as 1891, there is this article about the observations of the day.

The Enterprise, May 30, 1891 – Decoration Day And How It Was Observed in Sheridan, To-day was a holiday in Sheridan, the business houses were closed, and the people of the town and county turned out in large numbers to join with the Grand Army of the Republic in a proper observance of Memorial day and to show their respect for departed soldiers and other friends who peacefully sleep In the cemetery.

Yesterday afternoon several veterans of the war pitched their tents in the northern part of town and had a campfire, around which a few pleasant hours were spent, in social conversation and telling of old times and old scenes when bloody war made havoc through out our glorious land.

At eight o’clock in the evening they proceeded to the M. E. church, where Rev Gillespie made a very fitting address and national hymns were rendered in excellent style by the choir. This morning at ten o’clock the members of the G.A.R headed by the band, marched to Coffeen’s Hall where there were recitations, music, a poem by Mrs. P. H. Tinker and address by J. W. Wilson. Mrs. Dillon and Mrs. Topping, teachers of the public schools, had taken special pains with the pupils, and they presented a most patriotic appearance in red, white and blue, with Miss Edith Newell as Goddess of Liberty. Each had a printed badge upon their forehead and they were a very pretty sight. The procession formed at 2 o’clock and marched to the old cemetery south of town in the following order: Members of G. A. RSheridan Cornet Band. Sons of Veterans. School Children with flowers. Knights of Pythias. Hook & Ladder. Co, Engine & Hose Co, Followed by citizens in carriages and horseback, making the procession half a mile long. At the cemetery, the graves were decorated with flowers, the impressive ceremony of the order was read, a salute was fired, and tho people returned to town in the same order us they went out. There was a splendid turn-out, and no community could show more respect for their dead than Sheridan did to-day.

This from the Cowley Progress, Big Horn County, Wyoming, Friday, May 30, 1919, explaining how Memorial Day began. In May of 1902, the Washington Post published an article on the origin of Memorial day, which contained this paragraph, “Should the United States desire to erect a monument to the man whose brain originated the idea of a national Memorial day, the name-place on the granite shaft would bear the simple word ‘Unknown.’ Considerable controversy in recent years has appeared in relation to the author of the suggestion, and much of it has found lodgment in the library of the war department at Washington.”

Memorial day, May 30, though widely observed as a national holiday. is such by virtue of state laws and general custom and not because of act of congress. Congress has practically passed no laws creating holidays for the whole country. It has designated the second Sunday in May as Mother’s day. President Wilson, by proclamation May 30, 1916, requested that June 14 be observed as Flag day. But national holidays like July Fourth and New Year’s day have not been enacted by congress.

There is no controversy over the fact that Memorial day was first so designated in general orders to members of the Grand Army of the Republic in 1868 by Gen. John A. Logan, then its commander in chief. This order Is as follows, as preserved in the G. A. R. headquarters in Philadelphia: “Headquarters Grand Army of the Republic, Adjutant General’s Office, 446 Fourteenth street, Washington, D. C, May 5. 1868.

“General Orders No. 11. The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died tn 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.

“We are organized, comrades, as our regulations toll us, for the purpose, among other things, of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers, sailors and marines who united to suppress the late rebellion. What can aid more to assure this result than cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foes? Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains and their deaths the tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms. We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the nation can add to the adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. “By order of ~ “JOHN A. LOGAN, “Commander in Chief. “N. P. CHIPMAN. “Adjutant General.”

General Logan‘s “general order” was followed by the observation of the first Memorial day in seventeen states, Maine In 1874 made Memorial day a legal holiday. Massachusetts did the same in 1881. Other states followed. Now Memorial day (May 30) is a legal holiday In most of the northern states. Alabama, Georgia, Florida and Mississippi observe April 26 and North and South Carolina May 10. So the origin of the observance of Memorial day on May 30 Is settled beyond question. But where did the idea that lies back of the observance of Memorial day originate? Here indeed is room for controversy.

In the first place there were decorations of Civil war graves previous to 1868 in various localities of the North and South. These were mostly informal. The earliest date back to the days of war itself and were merely local observances. October 6, 1800, Col. Andrew H. H. Dawson, who had fought on the Confederate side, in the Academy of Music. Brooklyn, addressed 4,000 people and said in part:

“Let the North and the South meet as friends. Let them share common griefs, sacred sorrows. Let the daughters of the North and the daughters of the South meet with their floral offerings annually, on some great memorial day, on the fields where our heroes sleep their last sleep, and let their tears full together upon the lowly pillows of their loved and lost. Let them kneel together there, and let their prayers for the welfare of our common country rise, as it were, on the wings of the same breath, and soar to heaven.

According to the May 25, 1906 Enterprise various events were planned to celebrate the day in Sheridan. The Headline Reads: On Fame’s Eternal Camping Ground Their Silent Tents Are Spread And Glory Guards With Solemn Round The Bivouac Of The Dead – Wednesday, May 30th, is Decoration day and the surviving Sheridan members of the historical and immortal Grand Army of the Republic will gather once more in veteran hand clasp to cheer the old flag, strew sorrowful but over-blossoming flowers upon the graves of those who have gone before and to look, with the gaze of old and yearning comradeship, into the eyes of fellow soldiers, each man realizing that with next Decoration day heal so may be numbered with the heroic and honored dead. The veterans of the blue and battle torn blouse of glorious memories will form in parade in front of the Cady opera house at 10 a. m., under command of J.W. Cubbison, officer of the day, and march to the cemetery, where the following exercises will be held: Song— America. Reading of Lincoln’s Gettysburg speech— Miss Mollie Adams. G. A.R. ritualistic services. Song— Battle Hymn of the Republic. Address— Rev. De Witt Long. Military salute.

Decorating the graves by a band of girls under the direction of the W. R.C. The Sheridan band will furnish the music. The Decoration day parade will include a generous reinforcement from the United States garrison at Fort Mackenzie, the full strength of the superb Sheridan militia company and all of the Sheridan fraternal orders. The W. R.C. and the G. A.R. will give a reception at the city hall in the evening. Everyone interested In national affairs is invited. At 8 o’clock, M. B. Camplin will deliver an address, which will be followed by a short program

In 1971, congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday. Like many other federal holidays, which give workers a three-day weekend, it was placed on the last Monday in May. Through the years, Memorial Day has changed from a ceremony to honor the fallen to a time of family cookouts and outdoor activities. However, the Veteran’s Group still decorate graves on Memorial Day, and all of the community is urged to join in.

Memorial Day is still observed in Sheridan and throughout the country as a way to honor those who have died. Flowers and flags are placed on graves, and people remember their loved ones and those who have died in service to our great country.

Happy Memorial Day everyone.

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