Since I knew I would be working today for Memorial Day, I took advantage of some amazing late spring weather on Saturday and visiedt a couple of cemeteries that contain thousands of Civil War veterans.
My first stop was to Blandford Cemetery. Remembering that I had seen a historic photo (below) of the church building there, I tried to position my shot (above) to mimic as much as possible the period image as I had recalled it. I think it came out pretty close. The below photograph was taken in April 1865, after the Union army had captured Petersburg. At that time the church was in a poor state of repair, but it has been lovingly restored since.
Like a few other places, Blandford Cemetery claims to be the birthplace of Memorial Day. David Blight in his book, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory, contends that recently freed slaves first decorated the graves of Union soldiers that had died at a prison at a Charleston, South Carolina horse race track on May 1, 1865.
If that was in fact the first "Decorations Day," then Blandford Cemetery was not far behind. On June 9, 1866, a young school teacher, Miss Nora Davidson, brought her students to Blandford to decorate the graves of those Petersburg citizens who had perished in a battle that occurred near the cemetery just two years before to the day.
The event became an annual tradition, and in 1868, Union Gen. John Logan's wife, Mary, witnessed the decoration of the graves. Mrs. Logan recalled years later that she had visited Blandford Church in the spring of 1868 and noticed the graves covered with flowers and small flags. When she returned to Washington D.C. she told Gen. Logan about the Petersburg grave decorations. Logan, who was head of the Grand Army of the Republic at the time liked the idea and issued General Order 11 on May 5, 1868, which designated May 30 as an annual day of decoration of graves of veterans who had died in the war.
People still come to Blandford Cemetery to decorate the graves. There are over 30,000 Confederate graves in Blandford and many on Saturday had flowers, wreaths, and flags on them. Most of those 30,000 graves are unmarked and belong to men who died in the numerous engagements around Petersburg from June 1864 to April 1865. Often originally buried where they fell, most were reinterred in Blandford in the years following the end of the war.
To give equal time to the Union men, I bought six little flags for those Kentucky USCT soldiers at Poplar Grove National Cemetery that I had researched and posted about earlier. When I arrived, I found that every grave there had a flag on it. It was quite a sight to see. I went ahead and placed my little flags at the Kentucky soldiers' graves and spent a few minuted thanking my lucky stars that our country has had, and continues to have, such committed men and women, who have willingly given their lives for our cherished liberties.
Blandford Church historic image courtesy of the Library of Congress.