Vintage Views: Remember to remember this Memorial Day

James W. Spain photo. The grave of Lieutenant Charles A. Walker is pictured at the Old North Cemetery. One of the first to perish in the Civil War he was honored on May 30th, 1868 with his grave being the very first decorated on the very first Decoration Day in Concord, New Hampshire.

James W. Spain photo. The grave of Lieutenant Charles A. Walker is pictured at the Old North Cemetery. One of the first to perish in the Civil War he was honored on May 30th, 1868 with his grave being the very first decorated on the very first Decoration Day in Concord, New Hampshire. Courtesy—

Published: 05-26-2024 7:00 AM

As we solemnly gather this Memorial Day to bestow our most honored respect to the many veterans and loved ones that find eternal rest in our local cemeteries, it is most heartfelt. Though there are many people visiting the greater Concord area cemeteries, the tone remains very respectful and most revered.

It is the people that arrive to pay respect, say a prayer, plant colorful flowers, place the American flag and salute the veteran they did love. We smile, we cry, most importantly we remember. We remember those that have fallen and we honor them on this most sacred day across our great country.

It is only the 156th time the people of Concord gather in observance of Memorial Day. This day that invokes thoughts of heroes and war, bravery and togetherness. The origins of this day we honor started over a century and a half ago and is the result of the Civil War deceased buried in cemeteries across the country.

The movement to honor the war dead started in many towns across the country shortly after the Civil War concluded, a period of healing evolved amongst the many saddened families that lost loved family members in battle. The very first national ceremony to honor the war dead was held in Arlington National Cemetery where former Union General and Ohio Congressman James Garfield spoke to over 5,000 people in attendance followed by the decoration of more than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried there.

The following years found many additional programs in small towns across America where the citizens gathered and decorated the graves of men and woman that perished during the Civil War. In the year 1868 the local post of the Grand Army of the Republic here in Concord was established and honored the war hero Edward E. Sturtevant. The Commander-in Chief appointed to the National Grand Army of the Republic was General John A. Logan, the man that ultimately designated the very first Concord Decoration Day in honor of the Civil War deceased.

The members of the Grand Army of the Republic gathered with local GAR Post Commander Colonel James E. Larkin along with the good citizens of Concord and they visited the many graves where the Civil War veterans slept in eternal peace.

The Concord Grand Army of the Republic Post established May 30th, 1868 as the first observation of the Concord Decoration Day, now called Memorial Day. The members of the Edward E. Sturtevant Grand Army of the Republic Post in Concord, New Hampshire proceeded to comply along with the many citizens of our little town. The GAR Post offered an open invitation to the people residing locally to participate while offering floral tributes in memory of the Union soldiers and sailors that perished in defense of the United States of America.

General Logan advised the merchants to close their businesses on this first Decoration Day from two to four o’clock in the afternoon and join the GAR members at the Eagle Hall on Main Street and then at the local cemeteries.

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The custom was to be inaugurated while the lives of those that perished during the Civil War were humbly honored.

The businesses did comply with the request from Commander-in-Chief General Logan and closed their shops, Eagle Hall down on Main Street was highly decorated with floral bouquets and wreaths. The local students from Concord schools joined their teachers and sang patriotic songs for the people gathered. Post Commander Colonel James E. Larkin and the members of the Concord GAR were the last to enter the Eagle Hall this day, they were welcomed with loud applause for their service during the Civil War. Their left arms adorned with a knot of red, white and blue crepe they each held a bouquet or wreath in honor.

The first celebration starting at the Eagle Hall opened with a prayer by Concord GAR Post Chaplain James F. Lovering and was followed by the many local students singing our beloved hymn “America.” Commander Larkin proceeded to read General Logan’s orders while Concord Mayor Stevens addressed the good citizens of Concord. Mayor Stevens concluded by reciting Abraham Lincoln’s classic speech, the Gettysburg Address.

As the ceremony concluded the people walked to the Old North Cemetery to continue their observation. Upon arriving at the Old North Cemetery, the GAR members and citizens gathered at a very special grave, the grave of Lieutenant Charles A. Walker. Lieutenant Walker was one of the first victims of the Civil War and chosen to be the very first Civil War soldier to be bestowed and decorated with flowers and flags.

Additional Civil War deceased were decorated at the Old North Cemetery with the second destination the Blossom Hill Cemetery where the same program was completed.

Only the graves of those who had served in the Civil War received the honor of decoration this very first year. As the years passed all veterans were honored as Decoration Day became Memorial Day, all of those who served were honored. As May 30th, 1868 concluded, the last songs were sung by the children, the last prayers bestowed upon the deceased war dead. The sun set this beautiful day at the end of May.

The people of Concord retired for the evening fulfilled, for the people they loved were recognized. Those that left the Concord Train Depot years earlier destined for war were remembered. The train never brought the Civil War soldiers and sailors back when the war ended, for they had perished. The good people prayed and decorated each grave with honor and respect. Yes, the soldiers and sailors had finally come home.