Let Us Remember

During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln and his family spent summers in a cottage near the U.S. Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home National Cemetery, in Washington, D.C. Although the cottage and grounds were a refuge from the heat of downtown three miles south, the nearby cemetery was a constant reminder of the daily carnage of the war. The cemetery, next to the Armed Forces Retirement Home, is one of only two national cemeteries administered by the Department of the Army, the other being Arlington National Cemetery. The national cemetery is adjacent to the historic Rock Creek Cemetery and to the Soldiers’ Home.

On this Memorial Day weekend in the United States, as we enjoy three days usually spent in some pleasant activity with family and friends, I wanted to spend a few moments thinking about the reason for the holiday.  Holiday seems too festive of a term for a day dedicated to remembering men and women who died in the service of the U.S. Armed Forces, but holiday does come from the word Holy Day. A sacred day.  A day for contemplation.

People around the world have been honoring their dead lost to conflict and war since the beginning of human time.  We can discuss the rightness, the justness or the causes of any war and come to a number of conclusions, but today I just want to think about the incredible sadness of the loss of so many lives and the gratitude I feel to those who died.

Memorial Day in the United States was established after the Civil War to honor fallen Union soldiers, but now covers all service men and women.  At least a million people died during the U.S. Civil War, including at least 600,000 soldiers.  Some have estimated the death toll of soldiers as high as 850,ooo. Memorial Day evolved from Decoration Day, which began during the Civil War among freed slaves and other black American families as a celebration of both black and white Union soldiers who fought for liberation and justice

One who particular bore a heavy load during war was Abraham Lincoln. During the Civil War, President Lincoln and his family spent part of each year (June – November 1862-64) living in a cottage at the Soldiers’ Home in Washington, DC., near the recently established National Cemetery. The Lincoln Cottage, as it is known now, was a refuge from the oppressive summer heat and clamor of the federal area and downtown three miles south, but the daily burials in the cemetery were a constant reminder of the war’s terrible carnage. President Lincoln would often roam in the cemetery at night in torment over the deaths and the burden of the war. So many died in the Civil War that the six-acre cemetery at the Soldiers’ Home was soon filled.  A much larger new military cemetery was needed, so Arlington National Cemetery was created.  Brig. Gen. Montgomery C. Meigs appropriated the land on June 15, 1864 for Arlington National Cemetery from the family of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in Arlington, Virginia. Lee’s wife Mary Anna Randolph Custis was a descendant of Martha Washington.

The Soldiers’ Home was founded in 1851 as a home for retired and disabled veterans of American wars.   Soon after the start of the Civil War, a cemetery was created on its grounds, now called the United States Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home National Cemetery.

The National Cemetery’s website states: “Just days after the Battle of Bull Run, the Commissioners of the United States Military Asylum offered six acres of land at the north end of the Home’s grounds as a burial ground for soldiers and officers.  This offer was accepted in late July 1861, and the first burials were made shortly thereafter on August 3.

From 1861 to 1864, the cemetery accepted thousands of soldiers’ remains from 17 of the 25 Union states, quickly filling the six-acre cemetery’s capacity.  An 1874 report on the condition of the cemetery noted more than 5,600 interments, including 278 unknown, 125 Confederate prisoners of war, and 117 civilian relatives of the deceased and employees of the Home.  In 1883, more than nine additional acres were added to the grounds, bringing the cemetery’s total size to nearly sixteen acres.  In 1900, all of the Confederate remains were reinterred in Section 16 of Arlington National Cemetery.”

The Washington D.C. area is home to many memorials and monuments.

At the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, the guard is changed every hour on the hour October 1 to March 31 in an elaborate ritual. From April 1 through September 30, another changing of the guard is added on the half hour and the cemetery closing time moves from 5 to 7 p.m.

Four memorials in the Washington, D.C., area: Upper left is part of the World War II Memorial; Upper right is a section of the Korean War Veterans Memorial; Lower right is part of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the lower left is the Vietnam Women’s Memorial.

About Memorial Day

About President Lincoln’s Cottage at The Soldiers’ Home

About the United States Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home National Cemetery Washington, D.C.

About Arlington National Cemetery

About the Vietnam Veterans Memorial

About Vietnam Women’s Memorial

About the World War II Memorial

About the Korean War Veterans Memorial

History of the Arlington National Cemetery property.

My Blog Post “In Search of Abraham Lincoln”

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “Let Us Remember

  1. I love your pictures so much. And your post, so full of information, is an important reminder of how important it is to remember how we have all that we hold so dear.

    Thanks. It’s sobering when you think of all of the many millions who have died or been injured everywhere in the world. Recently, there have been a number of movies and television shows featuring the horrific trench warfare in World War I — called The War to End all Wars. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_war_to_end_war The World War I Museum is in Kansas City, Missouri and I plan to write about it one of these days. Cathy

  2. At the end of the school year, I always have my third graders write The Gettysburg Address in cursive. It’s an exquisite document and even though I have to paraphrase it for the kids, I think it’s important that they hear the beauty of the language. Thanks for a wonderfully informative post. Last Friday, I was presenting an award for the Third Grader of the Year. She played Mahatma Gandhi for our History Wax Museum. Her father, who did two tours in Iraq, was in the audience. I’m glad he was able to be there, for so many are not.

  3. Tim Strickland

    During my 20 years in a relatively peaceful time of our history, I managed to lose several dear friends to many small, unremembered skirmishes around the world. There are literally thousands that have given their lives in the defense of their country on unknown missions all over the world in all time frames back to the Revolutionary War, during both war and peace. I wish there was a way to call those names out in public, drawing attention to the valor, honor and heroism with which they proudly served. Public acknowledgement of relatively secret, or un-publicized, deaths.

    One that comes to mind, that you can research if you want, regards a C-130 aircrew that was shot down in 1958 over Armenia during the Cold War. It wasn’t publicized in the mainstream media at the time, being a relatively covert mission. The remains of 6 crew members were returned to the US government, and 11 more crew members remain missing today… It was strongly believed that these 11 suffered imprisonment for years, and may possibly have been integrated into Soviet society later.

    http://www.nsa.gov/public_info/_files/c130_shootdown/cold_war_recon_shootdown_60528.pdf

    I wish we could publicly remember everyone that ever gave their life for this country and its people.

  4. This is a fitting tribute of a post, albeit I’m a few days late. We don’t have Memorial Day but a similar event here in Canada is Remembrance Day on Nov.11th That was the day WWI ends. We usually hear the poem In Flanders Fields read publicly in ceremonies. It was written by a Canadian soldier John McCrae. After watching Downton Abbey, I’ve been drawn to books and films about that war which I know so very little. The 850,000 casualties in the American Civil War you mention is a horrific number. I was equally numbed to read that in the Battle of Somme alone during WWI, just four months claimed 415,000 British and Dominion soldiers. And what do we see after this supposedly is the war that ends all wars? It is always with a sombre heart that we face such commemoration. Somehow, I feel that turning it into a holiday and say ‘Happy Memorial Day’ sounds like an oxymoron.

  5. I think its really great to have a day celebration for this.
    But we need to remember, that its not only a day to remember them but it also shows how’s life is today because of our heroes.

    Rona
    Cliquez ici to visit my website. 

  6. Reblogged this on Catherine Sherman and commented:

    I’m repeating this post from 2012 about Memorial Day.

  7. Lynn

    Your pictures are wonderful and love all the information. These places are so beautiful that sometimes I just start admiring…then it hits me. It’s about the loss of somebody’s loved one. About someone that didn’t have a chance to live, love, raise a family… Sometimes I think this holiday has become too festive and maybe should be a tad bit more somber.

    • Our society does seem to treat this solemn weekend as the beginning of summer vacation, the weekend the pools open, a time for boating and BBQs, a cheerful time of parties and picnics. How true that this weekend should be about all of the lives lost, gone forever, never again to share in these happy times, marked by the row upon row of gravestones.

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