Tag Archives: Abraham Lincoln

Decoration Day 2024

God did not free black American slaves from their southern bondage. Instigated by abolitionists, that task fell to the Grand Army of the Republic.

Preserving the Union was the original purpose of subduing rebellion below the Mason-Dixon Line. The cause became even more just when the true Americans of that era realized the idealism contained within our nation’s founding documents could not jibe with reality when millions were enslaved on this soil.

As I’ve posted elsewhere, America is at best an idea which strives living up to its promises. Initially, Abraham Lincoln had no thought of emancipating blacks. However, he understood the high-sounding rhetoric which is the foundation that supports ideas would not hold the endeavor together unless it contained an audacious component.

And freeing American blacks was just the sort of further motivation based on Scripture that would’ve rallied an America quite steeped in Bible chapters. Of course, the same wouldn’t work today. For a conflagration equivalent to that which pressed Lincoln, a present-day leader would have to convince our public through what would be in it for them.

Just look at our nation’s ambivalence towards Ukraine. Instead of us going whole hog on the Ukrainians’ side, an indecent percentage of us refuse seeing the obvious. The Ukrainians are doing the West’s dirty work against Russia.

Likely the same percentage of Americans during the 1930s who didn’t see how a Loyalist victory during the Spanish Civil War would further encourage the European fascists. Our refusal then convinced them Western democracies would not defend the principles they professed.

Our refusal now to arm Ukraine to the hilt only emboldens Vladimir Putin’s goal of reestablishing what he can of the Soviet Imperium. The Baltic nations and Poland know this as well as Ukraine. Yet the West is mostly content to stand on the sidelines and intentionally not comprehend.

Every American, not just blacks and truly conscientious Americans, need to be grateful Lincoln and the Union forces engaged the confederate menace to their fullest measure. May we hope these and future generations of real Americans are not summoned to a similar task. May we hope if such Americans are called, they too will show equal resolve.

Until the 1970s, May 30th served as Decoration Day’s observed date. But creeping consumerism and commercialism prompted Congress to stick Memorial Day on the month’s last Monday. This day, among other once set in cement holidays, currently serves as the conclusion to three-day weekends. All might be better known for mattress sales than periods set aside to reflect on the revered.

Decoration Day has a convoluted origin. It has at least three sires.

There’s a camp promoting Union General John Logan the creator of Decoration Day in 1868. Before Memorial Day came along to encompass all of America’s war dead, its previous incarnation only commemorated Union war dead.

That’s it. Not even the Continentals of George Washington’s armies rated such an honor.

None of us alive today may comprehend how the Civil War convulsed our nation. With westward expansion the two poles – antislavery and pro-slavery – speedily pulled apart a sovereign foundation which had been tenuous from its outset. Slavery questioned “Who was an American?”/“What did America mean?”

Bent black forms stuck in bondage belied every high-sounding notion of freedom and liberty espoused.

The Union eventually fought to live up to our ideals. Americans will never again fight for something so clear cut as that. One must believe in those ideals. We can allow ourselves to suspect fewer Americans of today are capable of such.

Union dead, what the nation asked of them, spurred Logan.

A second camp saw what then we’d today maybe acknowledge as Gold Star mothers pushing recognition. Their grief deep, they wanted their sons’, husbands’, and brothers’ valor and sacrifices honored. While local commemorations succored communities, gradually women of the Union fallen across our country wanted a nationwide solemn moment for their men.

Certainly, the Decoration Day origin most pleasing to me has freedmen memorializing Union dead interred in Southern soil. Like Logan’s legions and bereaved mothers, wives, and sisters elsewhere, freed blacks cleaned then garlanded Union graves. For them it was an even more festive time with picnics, sermonizing, and perhaps exalting in having been released.

Of the three groups cited wouldn’t the last have been most poignant.

The buried Northern “gunmen” had helped break blacks’ shackles. Again, that’s the sort of exultation none of us will never know.

Nonetheless, American history is so recent, okay, compact, that I can state with assuredness my father William, his eldest brother Frank, their uncles (my great-uncles) Chares and Aurelius, and my maternal grandmother Alice – each of whom grew up in the rural south – all must’ve known ex-slaves. Probably throw in a several ex-rebs, too. Except for father, those mentioned came along at the end of the 19th century or during the 20th’s first decade.

Plenty of living history still walked among them. And their remembrances were likely more pointed than most collected by writers for the Works Projects Administration. Who doesn’t know that among intimates and familiar faces memories recalled are sharper when released through freer tongues land upon more receptive ears?

Again, as I’ve written previously, during my Quarropas, New York, boyhood the American flags of my family members and their friends were only unfurled on three specific holidays. Decoration Day. July Fourth. Labor Day. Displaying the flag these days has pretty much become virtue signaling. There’s nothing virtuous about being ostentatious.

Sometimes when I see profusions of the Stars & Stripes, I juggle two images. The first, painter Childe Hassam’s oil portraits of red, white, and blue flags arrayed off building facades. The second, Berlin, or any German city street during Hitlers’ rise and reign, garnished with swastika-laden banners.

As history has proven, it’s a short stumble from exhibiting national pride to promoting a nationalistic passion that places one’s Volk above all others.