John A. Logan was born in 1826, to a modest family in Murphysboro, Illinois. His father sent him for an education to Shiloh Hill, Illinois, where he excelled in oratory. He volunteered for service in the Mexican War, but only got as far as Santa Fe. Upon his return, he married Mary Cunningham of Shawneetown, Illinois, and attended Louisville University, later moving to Benton, Illinois, which is still the home of a Federal District Court. He rapidly advanced from a clerk of the county court to Congressional Representative for southern Illinois. Because some 19th century wit thought the map of southern Illinois looked like the Nile delta, it was dubbed "Little Egypt," and often referred to simply as Egypt. Because of his great oratorical skills, he was known as "the voice of Egypt."
Southern Illinois is a unique area. It is the northern range of southern species, and the southern range of northern species. There are even a few species which are unique to the area. Culturally, the same is true. Largely settled from the South, it was the first portion of Illinois to be "tamed," and later attracted settlers from the North who came to escape the wildernesses north of Vandalia. To this day, it remains a stronghold of conservative Democrats. In 1861, people right across the North who were politically perceptive worried about which way Little Egypt would go in the war. Logan was courted assiduously by Governor Yates, and by President Lincoln. The men of Little Egypt had complete faith in him, and would follow where he lead. Logan came down on the side of Union, and the Thirty-First Illinois Regiment of United States Volunteers was formed from among the downhome boys, with some left-over volunteers from Peoria and Chicago sent from Springfield to fill out the ranks. From Belmont to Durham, the 31st Illinois distinguished itself for its discipline and its bravery. When the original enlistments came to their term, Logan (by then a Major General of U.S. Volunteers commanding a division) appealed to his comrades in arms, and the regiment re-enlisted in a body.
But many of the downhome boys had thought better of Logan's call, and had gone south. There was much heartache and strife in southern Illinois, and there it oftimes was a war of brother against brother. After the war, Logan sought to heal the wounds. For the veterans of the war, the war ended not with Lee's surrender, but with the surrender of Joseph Johnston at Durham on April 29, 1865. Therefore, on April 29, 1866, Logan held a memorial service for all Americans who had fallen in the war in Woodlawn Cemetery in Carbondale, Illinois. There are perhaps a dozen Confederates of Little Egypt buried there, and their graves are maked with a simple small stone. When last i saw them, they were neglected in an overgrown corner of the cemetery, and may well have disappeared by now. I spent the forenoon of one Memorial Day sitting in a soft rain in that cemetery, reflecting upon my service, and the service of so many other millions of Americans--it is a quiet and lovely place.
After the war, a fraternal organization of Federal veterans was formed, like the modern American Legion, known as the Grand Army of the Republic. Logan was its commandant, and later commandant emeritus throughout his lifetime. From this was formed, in 1868, the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, and Logan as commandant of the GAR, issued the following order to the GAR and SUVCW:
Headquarters, Grand Army of the Republic
Washington, D.C., May 5, 1868
I. The 30th day 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. In this observance no form or ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.
We are organized, comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the purpose, among other things, "of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers, sailors, and marines who united to suppress the late rebellion." What can aid more to assure this result than by cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foe? Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains, and their death a tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms. We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the Nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and found mourners. Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten, as a people, the cost of free and undivided republic.
If other eyes grow dull and other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain in us.
Let us, then, at the time appointed, gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with choicest flowers of springtime; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us as sacred charges upon the Nation's gratitude,--the soldier's and sailor's widow and orphan.
II. It is the purpose of the Commander-in-Chief to inaugurate this observance with the hope it will be kept up from year to year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades. He earnestly desires the public press to call attention to this Order, and lend its friendly aid in bringing it to the notice of comrades in all parts of the country in time for simultaneous compliance therewith.
III. Department commanders will use every effort to make this order effective.
By command of:
JOHN A. LOGAN,
Logan attended the services held at the newly established Arlington National Cemetary. Despite the rhetoric of the order above, Logan had compassion for his fellow "Egyptians" who had gone south, and pointedly honored the fallen of both sides. It was his aim to heal the country. Let us be no less honorable, and ignore partisan strife as we honor our fallen fellow countrymen tomorrow.
John McCrae was a Canadian, a graduate of the University of Toronto, who served in the Boer War, and later in Flanders in the Great War as a medical officer. His poem, In Flanders' Fields
has become a patriotic standard in England, Canada and the United States. His evocation of the poppies struck a cord with so many, and is the origin of passing out paper poppies to those who donate to the Disabled American Veterans on Memorial day. Ironically, McCrae died in the trenches, of a septic disease he contracted while ministering to his fellow Canadians.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.