Memorial Day was borne out of the Civil War and a desire to honor our dead. It was officially proclaimed on 5 May 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic. “The 30th of May, 1868, is designated 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 churchyard in the land,” he proclaimed. The date of Decoration Day, as he called it, was chosen because it wasn’t the anniversary of any particular battle.In 1971, Congress established Memorial Day as the last Monday in May and as a federal holiday.
Below is a photo of the veteran’s section in the Fairmont Cemetery in Newark, New Jersey, where, on my father’s side of the family my great great grandfather, Stephen Freeman is buried. Stephen did not die in the Civil War but was wounded in the battle of Antietam in 1862. He was sent home, lived another 29 years and died on May 30, 1891, which ironically was Memorial Day.
On my mother’s side a somewhat tragic story. My great grandfather, Joseph Littlefield fought in the Civil War and died because of his wounds. He was wounded in the Battle of the Wilderness in 1864. He was sent home to Maine to die. He died of typhoidal pnemonia on Sep 30, 1864, he is buried in Rome, Maine. Unfortunately his wife and his 3 oldest children died of the same thing shortly thereafter, leaving my grandfather, Charles Littlefield at age 10 the oldest of the four remaining children.
Indeed a tragic story and once my daughter Deb and I learned about it felt compelled to find their graves and honor them. Their small plot is off the beaten track in Rome, Maine we found it and traipsed through the brush to get to it. Worth the trip indeed. This was very emotional in that Joseph (41), Martha Jane (36), Margaret (18), Adison (14) and Atwood (12) have become very real to us and we feel very close to them. We weren’t able to bring them flowers but left 5 pennies to indicate we were there and remembering them.
Two years ago in 2019 I was contacted by a gentleman from Maine who had been visiting this grave site for many years. This is what his email said:
I found your web site while looking for more information On your great grandfather Joseph P. littlefield . I have a summer place on the camp road that goes beside the family cemetery I visit the family cemetery every year before Memorial Day to pay my respects to him and his family and to honor his service . I often wondered what was his life like. I’m the featured speaker at the Belgrade Me. town Memorial Service next week and I plan to include him I’m my remarks honoring his service to his country.Best Regards ,
It meant a lot to me to know that my great grandfather Joseph P Littlefield was being honored and remembered 155 years after he died.
Take a moment to remember the original reason for Memorial Day and the men and women who fought for, and gave their lives for our country.