"Peculiarly distinguished among the advance guard, where all were distinguished, must be recorded . . . Private J. W. Brown, of Company F, First Georgia Regiment, who, upon hearing the order to fall back, exclaimed, 'I will give them one more shot before I leave,' and while ramming down his twenty-ninth cartridge fell dead at his post." - General Henry R. Jackson in his report of the Battle of Greenbrier River.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The First Memorial Day

A couple of years ago, I was asked to write an article about how Memorial Day descended from Confederate remembrance observances after the war.  I present it here as my tribute to the fallen of all wars, past and present.


Memorial Day. The name brings to mind parades, speeches, cookouts—and a day off work for most people. Families flock to parks and beaches to celebrate the first weekend of the summer vacation season. It is a day of fun and frolics.

Unfortunately, many Americans seem unaware of the true reason for the holiday. In the midst of their barbeques and celebrations, they fail to realize that Memorial Day was created for the purpose of remembering those who gave their lives so that this country would continue as the strong and free nation it is today. Fewer still are aware that the observance traces its roots back to the most divisive time in this country’s history, the American Civil War. Following that terrible conflict, in which thousands of Americans died, communities North and South sought proper ways to honor the sacrifices made by their war dead.

 Many towns profess to be the site of the first Memorial Day. On May 5, 1866, ceremonies were held in Waterloo, New York, to remember those lost in the war. Efforts by that community to be recognized as the first town to observe the day led to Waterloo being declared the official birthplace of the holiday in May 1966.

While Waterloo may indeed be the first Northern town to have held remembrance services, it seems likely that the idea of setting a day aside to decorate soldiers’ gravesites occurred spontaneously throughout the country, especially in the devastated states south of the Mason-Dixon line. Though a case can be made that Columbus, Mississippi, had the first Memorial Day, (on April 25, 1866, several local women came together to place flowers on soldiers’ graves, many who died in the Battle of Shiloh), another town by the same name may have the best claim for having the first observance held with the intention of its continuing as an annual event.

Shortly after the end of the war, Columbus, Georgia resident Elizabeth Rutherford began reading The Initials, written by novelist Baroness Jemima von Tautphoeus of Great Britain. A passage in the book, a novel about life in Napoleonic Bavaria, caught Rutherford’s eye. The paragraphs described the care and decoration of heroes’ graves on All Saint’s Day.

Miss Rutherford, known as “Lizzie”, had been active in the Columbus Soldiers’ Aid Society, which had been formed during the war to collect clothing and other supplies for Georgia troops, and to nurse convalescing soldiers in the local hospitals. After the conflict’s end, the Society maintained Confederate graves in Linwood Cemetery.

During a conversation with other Columbus ladies, Lizzie mentioned what she had read in The Initials. Elizabeth’s cousin, Mrs. Mary Ann Williams, almost certainly related her own poignant story during the discussion. Mrs. Williams husband had been a colonel in the Confederate army, dying of disease in January of 1862. The colonel’s widow and their four children visited the cemetery almost every day, laying new flowers on the Colonel’s grave. One of her daughters would pull the weeds from nearby soldiers’ burial sites, then cover them with flowers. Sadly, the little girl also died shortly thereafter. Her grieving mother continued to care for the graves, which her daughter had called “her soldiers.”

Inspired with the concept, the women excitedly called a meeting of the Soldier’s Aid Society. Miss Rutherford was unable to attend due to caring for a sick relative, so she entrusted Mrs. Williams to present to the group a plan for setting aside one certain day each year to clean and decorate the graves of Confederate soldiers. From this meeting, the Ladies Memorial Association was formed. April 26, 1866, the anniversary of General Joseph E. Johnston’s surrender, was selected to be the first Columbus “Remembrance Day”.

The Ladies Memorial Association was determined to share the idea with the rest of the South. To that end, Mrs. Williams, who had been elected secretary of the Association, sent letters out to various groups, urging them to join in the commemoration. “The ladies are now, and have been for several days,” wrote Mrs. Williams, “engaged in the sad but pleasant duty of ornamenting and improving that portion of the city cemetery sacred to the memory of our gallant Confederate dead, but we feel that it is unfinished work unless a day be set apart annually for its special attention. We cannot raise monumental shafts and inscribe thereon their many deeds of heroism, but we can keep alive the memory of debt we owe them by dedicating at least one day in the year, by embellishing their humble graves with flowers, therefore we beg the assistance of the press and the ladies throughout the South to help us in the effort to set apart a certain day to be observed, from the Potomac to the Rio Grande, and to be handed down through time as a religious custom of the South, to wreathe the graves of our martyred dead with flowers, and we propose the 26th day of April as the day. Let every city, town and village join in that pleasant duty. Let all alike be remembered from the heroes of Manassas to those who expired amid the death throes of our hallowed cause.”

The women approached Colonel James N. Ramsey of Columbus to speak for them. Commander of the First Georgia Volunteer Infantry, the first regiment fielded by the state for Confederate service, Ramsey was very much an unrepentant Rebel. Though ill health had prevented him from remaining in the army after his regiment mustered out on March 11, 1862, Ramsey remained a proud advocate of the Southern cause throughout the war and beyond. In 1868, speaking at the “Bush Arbor” Convention in Atlanta, called to protest the new Republican state government, Ramsey declared “that the true men of the South are ready to rally once more under the Rebel flag and try the issue of the cartridge box.”

Union occupation soldiers, alarmed by the prospect that such a gathering might lead to a disturbance, threatened to prevent the proceedings. Worried, several ladies went to Colonel Ramsey, who assured them the ceremony would take place. “I will perform the duties assigned to me,” he told the women, “and will assume all responsibility; and by the help of God and the presence of the women and children, I will tell the world of the heroic deeds and patriotic devotion of the fallen comrades.”

Despite the opposition of the Federal authorities, the commemoration services went on as scheduled. Meeting first at St. Luke Methodist Church, the congregation moved to Linwood Cemetery. Dark clouds were building overhead as Colonel Ramsey began to speak. “Ladies and gentlemen, we meet to celebrate a sad anniversary. Heaven sympathizes with us, has draped the skies in mourning to suit the gloomy habits of our souls and bear a just remembrance to our fortunes. Amid the wreck of earthly hopes, the loss of liberty and the desolation of our homes, we are here to pay appropriate honor to the memory of our brave comrades who fell by the conqueror’s sword.”

Spatters of rain began to fall. Ramsey gazed skyward as the droplets coursed down. “Women of the South,” he continued, “be encouraged, the angels are in sympathy with you, and are now mingling their tears with yours over the graves of our noble dead.”

Following the ceremony, the Columbus Ladies Memorial Association resolved to continue commemorating this day “as long as flowers grow and the memory of brave deeds last.”

Grave of Colonel James N. Ramsey
In 1868, Elizabeth Rutherford married Captain Roswell Ellis, a veteran of the Second Georgia Infantry. After her death on March 31, 1873, “Lizzie” Rutherford Ellis was laid to rest in Linwood Cemetery, the site of that first Memorial Day. A marker placed by the Lizzie Rutherford chapter of the Daughters of the Confederacy memorializes Rutherford as “The Soldiers Friend,” and “The Suggester of Memorial Day.” When Mary Ann Williams died on April 5, 1874, she was buried with full military honors. For years afterwards, Confederate veterans would leave flowers on the two ladies’ graves. Colonel James N. Ramsey, who spoke that day, died November 10, 1870, and lies in an unassuming, brick covered grave in Linwood.

Other towns throughout Georgia followed the example of the Columbus Ladies Memorial Association, creating their own remembrance societies and ceremonies. Across the former Confederacy, the custom of decorating and caring for veteran’s graves spread, though many states chose different days for their observances. In 1867, Nella L. Sweet published “Kneel Where Our Loves Are Sleeping,” a song dedicated to “The Ladies of the South who are Decorating the Graves of the Confederate Dead."

Tradition holds that the wife of General John A. Logan, commander of the Union veterans association known as the Grand Army of the Republic, observed Confederate graves around Blandford Church in Petersburg, Virginia, covered with flowers and marked with small Confederate flags. Mrs. Logan related the incident to the General, who seized upon the idea. On May 5, 1868, General Logan issued Order # 11, proclaiming an annual “Decoration Day,” to be held each year on May 30, “for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet church-yard in the land.”

The commemoration has evolved through the years, finally being designated as the national Memorial Day we celebrate every May. Legislation was passed by the United States Congress in 1971 declaring the day as a national holiday, designating the day of observance as the last Monday in May. Many Southern states continue to celebrate Confederate Memorial Day, each setting their own date for the observance. In 1874, the Georgia legislature specified its commemoration on the original date, and the state continues to observe the holiday on April 26. Each year on this day, the University of Georgia in Athens displays an original copy of the Confederate Constitution in its main library.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Haunted Image

Ms. Loretta Andrews, a direct descendent of Colonel James N. Ramsey’s, is the owner of a strikingly impressive portrait of the Colonel. This image, which appears courtesy of Ms. Andrews on the cover of I Will Give Them One More Shot, has several interesting stories attached to it. The original portrait was painted sometime before the beginning of the Civil War and showed Ramsey in civilian clothes. At some point either during or after the end of the war, another artist was commissioned to add Ramsey’s Confederate colonel’s uniform to the portrait. Interestingly, a photograph of the Colonel taken from an old newspaper clipping in Ms. Andrews’s possession shows Ramsey in an almost identical pose. One theory is that Ramsey had the photograph taken to use as a guide for the artist to using in reconstructing the uniform on the portrait.

Unfortunately, the pigment used was not as good as the original and over time has faded, exposing a ghostly shadow of Ramsey’s antebellum garments. If one looks closely, his bowtie and white shirt can be discerned.

The painting is very large with a very ornate frame, and seems to fill the entire wall at Ms. Andrews home. As one walks across the room, it almost appears that Colonel Ramsey is following with his intense stare, his eyes almost stalking you as you pass before him.

This strange property actually contributed to the canvas being damaged. An extremely superstitious servant girl worked in the home where the painting was displayed. The young woman imagined that the Colonel was constantly staring at her, and managed to escalate her fears into a phobia that the portrait was bewitched. Her terror soon reached a degree as to be unbearable. Determined to exorcise the demon in the painting, she snatched up a fireplace poker and stabbed the picture, puncturing the canvas. The tear was repaired and painted over. A close examination of the picture reveals the patch just about the point of Ramsey’s left collarbone.

It is not known what happened to the servant girl. It’s probably safe to assume that her employment in the household ended that day!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Brothers War, Part 2

Even though he was Southern born, Cummings Marshall must have felt great pressure to enlist in the service, with so many adult males gone to the army. On September 3, 1864, Cummings enlisted in the Ninth Company, New Hampshire Heavy Artillery, which became Company I of the First New Hampshire Heavy Artillery, commanded by Captain Charles O. Bradley. Sent to Washington for garrison duty, the companies of the First were dispersed between the several forts surrounding the city, with Company I being posted to Fort Reno. Fort Reno (or Battery Reno as it was also known) was located on the northwest side of the District of Columbia, roughly two miles west of Fort Stevens. Cummings' tour of duty was largely uneventful, though he was injured in a bizarre accident in March of 1865. During a drill, the company was marching at the double-quick across the parade ground, when several soldiers in the rear ranks, including Cummings, stumbled and fell while crossing a ditch. For several days afterwards he lay in his tent complaining of great pain in his abdomen. The injury, described as a “rupture”, would plague Cummings for the rest of his life.

Near the end of the war, my great-great grandfather, Moody Marshall, made the journey south to retrieve Lucinda and daughter Melinda. Moody wrote of great devastation as he travelled southward. Retrieving Lucinda and Melinda, he brought them back to northern New Hampshire. With the war’s close, William Henry made his way north to join his mother. The First New Hampshire was mustered out of service in Washington on June 15, 1865. Cummings returned to Colebrook, where he lived with his wife Julia and growing family until 1875, when they moved to Lowell, Massachusetts. At some point, Cummings and Julia were divorced, and Cummings returned to Colebrook, where he opened a small candy store and joined the local post of the Grand Army of the Republic. William Henry returned to his miner’s roots, prospecting for silver in the nearby mountains. The unrepentant Rebel had a reputation as a bit of a trouble-maker, especially when the G.A.R. paraded on Memorial Day – Henry would gallop his horse through the “Yankee” ranks. As the years passed, the members of the Marshall family passed away, and were interred in the Colebrook Village Cemetery. There the Yankee and the Rebel brothers, once enemies in war, rest together in eternal sleep.

The Marshall Family gravesite in Colebrook, New Hampshire.  Each year, I supply a Union 34-star flag and a Confederate Stars and Bars to the local American Legion post to be placed on the graves on Memorial Day.  My thanks to Karen Ladd and the members of American Legion Post 62 in Colebrook.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

One More Shot

I am very pleased to display the cover art for my book, I Will Give Them One More Shot.  The book is currently in copyedit, and is scheduled for release in December.  I think Mercer University Press has done a fine job, and I look forward to sharing it with everyone.

(The promised post on the brothers will be online this weekend)

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Brothers War, Part 1

The American Civil War. The War Between The States. The War of the Rebellion. The War of Northern Aggression. The conflict that raged between 1861 and 1865 has come to be known by many different titles since the war’s end.

The name that has come to mean more to me since my younger days would be “The Brothers War.” There were countless examples of families torn apart by politics, or by a string of circumstances which placed siblings on opposite sides. Such circumstances led to two of my ancestors finding themselves in rival armies.

These two brothers, William Henry and Cummings Marshall, were born in Lumpkin County, Georgia, in the 1840’s. Their father, Abel Cummings Marshall, the brother of my great-great grandfather, had come from the forests and rock-strewn farms of northern New Hampshire to the gold fields near Dahlonega in search of his fortune. Shortly thereafter, he married Lucinda Hawkins of South Carolina. Over the next few years Lucinda gave birth to four children – William Henry, Cummings, Melinda, and Martha.  Abel disappeared from records sometime in the 1850’s – my suspicion is that he followed other miners to California seeking gold, though I have yet to substantiate that. In any event, Lucinda was left to raise her children by herself (the 1860 census lists her as head of household). Cummings also left the family – he journeyed to New Hampshire to live with relatives there. (More on Cummings later)

In early 1861, twenty-one year-old William Henry Marshall enlisted in the Dahlonega Volunteers, and soon was parading on the old Mustering Grounds in Dahlonega, from which North Georgia volunteers had assembled for earlier conflicts such as the Texas War for Independence and the Mexican War. Called by Governor Joseph E. Brown in late March to proceed to Macon, the Volunteers were designated Company “H” of the First Georgia Volunteer Infantry. William Henry was engaged in all the First Georgia actions, including Laurel Hill, Cheat Mountain, Greenbrier River and the Bath-Romney Campaign, and was among those Georgians lost in the Allegheny Mountains after being cut off from the Army of the Northwest at Kalers Ford. After mustering out with the regiment in Augusta on March 10, 1862, William Henry reenlisted on May 6 in the Fulton Dragoons, which became Company “B” of Cobb’s Legion of Cavalry (later Company “G”). Muster rolls for November and December, 1863, and March and April 1, 1864, list him as absent at recruiting camp. He was received at General Hospital No. 9 in Richmond on October 19, with the disposition written as “Duty”. His last military entry shows him admitted to C.S.A. Hospital No. 3 at Greensboro, North Carolina in April of 1865.

In my next post, I’ll talk about William Henry’s brother, Cummings, who was in the Union army, and what happened to the brothers and their family after the war.