Sunday, May 24, 2015

Memorial Day Post/No One Walks Away

W.W. Cooper of Co. E, Palo Cemetery Michigan

     Memorial Day is almost here and my thoughts are on my family members who did not survive their war, but also on the history of the holiday itself, though it seems odd somehow to call what should be a solemn day of remembrance a holiday.  Memorial Day started out as Decoration Day, a day when families trouped to cemeteries to decorate the graves of their Civil War dead, north and south.  The custom evolved spontaneously in response to the horrendous losses suffered in that war, observed at different times in different places.  It was Union General John Logan, in his General Orders No.11 given in May of 1868, that declared May 30th a day for, "strewing flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion." The confederate states however, eschewed the "Yankee" holiday and it was not until after World War I that they would accept May 30 as Memorial Day.  Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas and several others still observe a Confederate Memorial Day.

     Returning now to my ancestors who gave their lives during the Civil War and whose existence was unknown to me before I began my family research, which also strikes me as odd.  How quickly the pride and grief that must have enveloped their families is forgotten in just a few generations.

William Cooper- cousin, age 28, born at Wayne County, New York and enlisted in Michigan.  William was killed at the Battle of Gains Mill Virginia, leaving his parents Peter and Catherine Wiggins Cooper and a young wife Sarepta Johnson.  He died a month after his and Sarepta's second wedding anniversary.

Charles M. Garner- cousin, age 28, born at Cayuga County, New York.  He died at Salisbury Prisoner of War Camp, North Carolina  leaving parents Jeremiah and Clarinda Wood Garner, wife Mary Conley and two children; Harriet and Albert.  He probably never saw his son Albert who was born seven months before Charles died of malnutrition and diarrhea in the camp.

William H. Lead- cousin, age 18 born at Manchester, New York.  He died of "congested lungs" at Fort Magruder, Virginia.  William left his mother Cornelia Wheat, his father Samuel Lead having died five years earlier. William enlisted with his cousin George Hackett, also age 18.  Two teenagers who thought the war would be a grand adventure until the bullets started flying.  George would survive the war.

Daniel J. McGarr- cousin, age 18 born at Cayuga County, New York.  Daniel died of disease on-board a hospital ship between Yorktown and home in New York.  He left parents John and Mary Kelly McGarr.

Daniel McGarr- cousin, age 22 born at Cayuga County, New York. He died of typhoid and malaria at Fort Gains, Washington D.C. leaving parents John and Hannah Kilfoyle McGarr.

Michael McGarr- cousin, age 20, born in Kilquade Parish, County Wicklow Ireland. He died at New Bern, North Carolina of dysentery leaving parents William and Mary Doyle Mcgarr. 

     The young McGarr men were obviously not brothers, but cousins, the sons of Irish immigrants who came from the province of Leinster and settled in the Auburn, New York area.

     I know I'm forgetting somebody, probably several somebodies, and undoubtedly others I have yet to discover, but I'm thinking of you all today, and my other relatives who fell in different wars. And not just you, but the ones you left behind, and the senseless tragedy of war in general.  Rest in peace.

credit for blog title to Stevie Nicks


  1. Gosh, Ellie, you had a lot of Civil War ancestors who served in the military. Those who died were so young, too, -- just beginning their lives. I agree that it's hard to think of Memorial Day as a holiday, at least in the traditional sense.

    1. While I enjoy being with my family that day, those who couldn't be with their families are there in the back of my mind-- it's really their day.

  2. Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.