Here above is a photo of Decoration Day 1879 in Antietam Battlefield in Maryland. It shows a photo of one of the earliest celebrations of what today is named Memorial Day, a day of remembrance for the war-dead of our countrymen. This one was held on the 27th anniversary of the Sept. 17, 1862 battle– the war date of much blood and misery when the nation had lost its most soldiers ever in a day’s battle– when North and South forces fought each other in our America’s Civil War. In the old photo it doesn’t show the great numbers that came out that day. They came in the thousands to Antietam on this Decoration Day, to adorn (decorate) gravestones with flowers and flags, to collect together as people to remember those who perished and to say prayers for those fallen soldiers’ souls, and to hear a speech or poem or song for stirring up respect for our war dead– who gave the ultimate sacrifice for their nation. They came to Antietam to pray for peace and accord in the nation (which had been torn asunder by the Civil War).
This is our pre-cursor to Memorial Day. At Decoration Day (and now Memorial Day) it is a time set aside to honor the war-dead, to remember the toll on human lives that war brings, and to pray for peace.
I went to Antietam National Park and Battlefield and Cemetery for my 2014 Memorial Day observance. It was meaningful. This year the numbers of holiday visitors in Antietam were fairly numerous–it was nice to see. In some recent years I have honored the day by attending parades or memorial wreath placings or a special concert or gone to watch the Rolling Thunder in the morning in DC and then walked along the national memorials. It feels right to do something meaningful for this holiday.
Antietam National Battlefield Park is just about 1 1/2- 2 hours from Bowie. National Park Rangers were there to assist visitors and lead tours, other volunteers were on hand to share information, paid tour guides were available, and a self-directed car drive hand-out is given out for people to follow and travel the whole area of the 1862 battle. The area is preserved and kept up like it was as a century-and-a-half ago. Markers and monuments are placed where Civil War action was held. The State of Maryland, in cooperation with the U.S. National Parks, has done a good job here in keeping this as a place of remembrance. The picket fences and fields seem like they were back in Civil War times. I took a photo, and while it was a peaceful and balanced one, I realized how different the scene was in 1862, as it was in the deadliest trench of the battle.
At the Marylander’s memorial, just near the Dunker’s Church (a battle center), I saw some artistic reliefs put on for display. Two of them I include in the photos.
You will also see in one of the photos a plaque from the National Cemetery that contains lines from “Bivouac of the Dead” by T. O’Hara, a famous poem of the 19th century on war and loss. The tall statue with the Maryland flowers is from the center of that cemetery, which held lines and lines of small white markers with a flag placed next to each one.