Enjoy this remembrance of the beginning of Decoration Day and a great poem from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow of a soldier’s sacrifice.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was the most renowned American poet of his day having penned such classics as I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, The Tide Rises the Tide Falls, The Children’s Hour and countless others. He founded the Atlantic magazine in 1857. He is also attributed as the author of Paul Revere’s Ride (January 1861). But surely, one of America’s favorites is his Decoration Day poem aptly titled with the same name.
The younger among us may not remember that Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day…for that is what we did, we decorated the graves of the fallen so they would not be forgotten. It originated in the years following the Civil War and became an official federal holiday in 1971. There were more lives lost during the Civil War than in any other conflict in U.S. History, including World War II. The country’s first national cemeteries began as a result of this war where one in four soldiers failed to return home.
According to The Civil War Trust: The Civil War was America’s bloodiest conflict. The unprecedented violence of battles such as Shiloh, Antietam, Stones River, and Gettysburg shocked citizens and international observers alike. Nearly as many men died in captivity during the Civil War as were killed in the whole of the Vietnam War. Hundreds of thousands died of disease. Roughly 2% of the population, an estimated 620,000 men, lost their lives in the line of duty. Taken as a percentage of today’s population, the toll would have risen as high as 6 million souls.
By the late 1860’s, many Americans around the country had started holding tributes in the spring to their loved ones who had perished in the war, decorating their graves with flowers and flags and saying prayers. Longfellow’s poem came at a time when the country needed comfort and consoling. By the time the poem was published in the Atlantic in June, 1882, most of America would have learned that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow had passed away at his home just a few weeks earlier in Cambridge at the age of 75. Yet, his remembrance of this important day lives on for us to never forget to hold dear those that sacrificed the most.
Sleep, comrades, sleep and rest
On this Field of the Grounded Arms,
Where foes no more molest,
Nor sentry’s shot alarms!
Ye have slept on the ground before,
And started to your feet
At the cannon’s sudden roar,
Or the drum’s redoubling beat.
But in this camp of Death
No sound your slumber breaks;
Here is no fevered breath,
No wound that bleeds and aches.
All is repose and peace,
Untrampled lies the sod;
The shouts of battle cease,
It is the Truce of God!
Rest, comrades, rest and sleep!
The thoughts of men shall be
As sentinels to keep
Your rest from danger free.
Your silent tents of green
We deck with fragrant flowers
Yours has the suffering been,
The memory shall be ours.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Free…the Memory Shall be Ours
This weekend, as we gather with friends and family, let us take time to remember those who have given everything. From the Civil War to Iraq and Afghanistan, let us not forget the price they paid that we might live in Freedom. To those that are serving, thank you, thank you and thank you for giving of yourselves, sacrificing time with your family and risking your lives so that we all might live FREE.