General Order No. 11 establishing Memorial Day

General Order
No. 11

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:


April 15-the death of Father Abraham

Today, while countless Americans engaged in Tax Day tea party protests dominated the news coverage, we can not forget that on this day in 1865, the nation faced the death of Abraham Lincoln. It is fitting that the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW) will be honoring Lincoln by continuing its annual Lincoln Tomb Ceremony on April 18 in Springfield, Illinois. The event includes a parade, lunch, and a ceremony to commemorate the founding of the Grand Army of the Republic in nearby Petersburg. I hope that you will take a moment to reflect upon Lincoln’s contribution to our nation and will read up on him to familiarize yourself with his life and legacy.

The Medal of Honor in the Civil War

Army Medal of Honor, 1862. From US Army Institute of Heraldry.

File:Army Medal of Honor.jpg

Current Army Medal of Honor

Last week, President Bush awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously to Woodrow W. “Woody” Keeble 26 years after his death. Keeble becomes the first full-blooded Sioux Indian to earn the award. Keeble’s case is interesting and illustrates how several veterans have been denied awards for year or forever because of paperwork, or other issues. It is even more interesting when one considers the number of Civil War recipients of the Medal of Honor, who probably did not deserve them.

The Medal of Honor was created in 1862 for the Army to recognize soldiers who distinguished themselves in action. One of the more famous Civil War recipients of the MOH was Joshua L. Chamberlain, who earned it because of his famous bayonet charge down Little Round Top (“BAYONETS!”). Another was William H. Carney, who rescued the American flag when the color sergeant was struck down, while a soldier with the 54th Massachusetts Infantry. Carney was the first African American to earn the medal.

Unfortunately, there were some cases where the medal was awarded to persons who did not necessarily deserve the medal. For instance, Medals of Honor were awarded to the entire 27th Maine Infantry Regiment just for re-enlisting (all 864 men). In addition, medals were awarded to the men who served as Lincoln’s funeral guard, as well as civilians. Eventually, this wrong was corrected when an Army review board, led by Nelson Miles, met in 1916 to review all Army Medal of Honor cases. The board ultimately rescinded the medals awarded to the 27th Maine and the Lincoln funeral guards, as well as Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, the only woman to receive it (her award was reinstated by Jimmy Carter). One important thing regarding the Civil War Medal of Honor, do not confuse it with the member badge of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) seen below.

Grand Army of the Republic Membership badge. Note the differences between this badge and the Civil War Medal of Honor.

Grand Army of the Republic Membership badge. Note the differences between this badge and the Civil War Medal of Honor.

The Medal of Honor has always been a significant award, but the importance of the award was somewhat reduced by the situation created by the Civil War. It was the only medal authorized by the Army at the time and the government seemed intent on awarding more than it should have been. There were over 1,500 Medals of Honor awarded relating to actions in the Civil War. Since then, the importance of the medal has risen, as the criteria for earning it are much more stringent, as less than 25 percent of the total medals awarded were given to servicemen since the beginning of World War II. I have met one gentleman who earned the Medal of Honor in World War II and he passed the medal around my class (I was in 8th grade) and we all had a chance to hold it, and it is something that I will never forget. Medal of Honor recipients are to be honored, as there are fewer than 120 persons alive that earned the award, and many have died as a result of the actions that earned them the medal.

Here are a couple more images on the Medal of Honor in the Civil War:

From the Burn Pit, an American Legion site:
Civil War Medal of Honor

From the National Park Service:
Civil War MOH