Photography by John Michael

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The Eve of Decoration Day

First Decoration Day at

Arlington National Cemetery

Established in 1864 at the height of the US Civil War,  Arlington National Cemetery was

Major General John Alexander Logan - Decoration Day

Major General John Alexander Logan

carved out of the 1,100 acres of what was the Custis-Lee estate – the land owned by Mary Parke Custis, even after her marriage to Robert E. Lee.  The land was seized when she didn’t show up in-person to pay the taxes.   General Montgomery Meigs then ordered that fallen soldiers be buried on the grounds.

It was after the war that Major General John A. Logan, who was commander-in-chief of the Army, on 05 MAY 1868 issued General Order #11 which created Decoration Day on  May 30, 1868 (it later became Memorial Day) and the first Decoration Day was then observed at Arlington National Cemetery.

Following Decoration Days inspired patriotic expressions in many ways.  Samuel Francis Smith, who was known for the poem set to music “America” (more well known by its first few words: “My country ’tis of thee.“) wrote the following poem in honor of Decoration Day.


The Eve of Decoration Day

Samuel Francis SmithSweet in the innocence of youth,
Born of the brave and free,
They wove fair garlands while they sang,
” My country, ‘t is of thee; ”
How every bosom swelled with joy,
And thrilled with grateful pride,
As, fond, the whispering cadence breathed,
” Land where my fathers died. “

Fair flowers in sweet bouquets they tied, —
Breaths from the vales and hills, —
While childish voices poured the strain,
” I love thy rocks and rills; ”
Each face grew radiant with the thought,
” Land of the noble free; ”
Each voice seemed reverent, as it trilled
” Sweet land of liberty. “

And bud, and bloom, and leaf they bound,
And bade the living keep,
Unharmed and pure, the cherished graves
Where brave men calmly sleep
And thus while infant lips begin
To lisp ” sweet Freedom’s song, ”
Manhood’s deep tones, from age to age,
Shall still ” the sound prolong. “

I hailed the promise of the scene;
Gladness was in the strain;
The glorious land is safe, while love
Still swells the fond refrain.
And what shall be our sure defence,
Who guards our liberty?
Not men, not arms alone, — we look,
” Our fathers’ God, to Thee. “

by Samuel Francis SmithTomb of the Unknowns


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Posted in events and History 8 months, 4 weeks ago at 3:27 pm.

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