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Remembering Our Civil War Veterans

Veterans at Gettysburg reunion

Veterans at the 75th reunion of the Battle of Gettysburg reminisce on the Civil War
in this photo from the video "Gettysburg 75th Anniversary, 1863-1938,
The Last Reunion of the Blue and Gray" by Belle Grove Publishing Company.

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Memorial Day
The significance of Memorial Day

Addresses by:
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., 1884
Charles Hopkins, 1920

Quotations by:
Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. - part I
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. - part II
Brian Pohanka

Duryée's Zouaves
at the Battle of Second Manassas (Bull Run)

Hiram Duryea reflects on the Battle of Second Manassas
on Memorial Day, 1907


Veterans Day
The significance of Veterans Day


Remembrance Day
Observed in Gettysburg each year on the weekend day closest to the date when The Gettysburg Address was first delivered (November 19, 1863), Remembrance Day commemorates the speech by President Lincoln and the meaning of those reverent words about the soldiers who sacrificed their lives in the Battle of Gettysburg. On this designated day, members of Civil War re-enactment groups and committees honor the dead with memorial marches and wreath-laying ceremonies at monuments to their respective regiments, brigades, divisions or corps.

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The Significance of Memorial Day

Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, honors United States' armed services personnel killed during wartime.

The first Memorial Day was formally observed on May 30, 1868 in commemoration of the soldiers killed during the Civil War. General John Alexander Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic (an organization of Union Army veterans), issued an order to the populace that the day be observed "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"—hence the name Decoration Day.

Today this legal holiday is observed on the last Monday of May in most states. National observance of Memorial Day is marked by the placement of a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery, outside of Washington, D.C. Additionally, in southern states such as Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia, Confederate Memorial Day is observed on a designated date in April.

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Quotations for Memorial Day

Those who will may raise monuments of marble to perpetuate the fame of heroes. Those who will may build memorial halls to remind those who shall gather there in after times what manhood could do and dare for right, and what high examples of virtue and valor have gone before them. But let us make our offering to the ever-living soul. Let us build our benefactions in the ever-growing heart, that they shall live and rise and spread in blessing beyond our sight, beyond the ken of man and beyond the touch of time.

- Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain,
Memorial Day 1884

Heroism is latent in every human soul.... However humble or unknown, they (the veterans) have renounced what are accounted pleasures and cheerfully undertaken all self-denials; privations, toils, dangers, sufferings, sicknesses, mutilations, life-long hurts and losses, death itself—For some great good, dimly seen but dearly held.

- Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain,
Memorial Day 1897

See Inspirational Words by Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain for more quotations by Chamberlain.

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photo of Holmes as Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme CourtMemorial Day celebrates and solemnly reaffirms from year to year a national act of enthusiasm and faith. It embodies in the most impressive form our belief that to act with enthusiasm and faith is the condition of acting greatly. To fight out a war, you must believe something and want something with all your might. So must you do to carry anything else to an end worth reaching. More than that, you must be willing to commit yourself to a course, perhaps a long and hard one, without being able to foresee exactly where you will come out. All that is required of you is that you should go somewhither as hard as ever you can. The rest belongs to fate. One may fall—at the beginning of the charge or at the top of the earthworks; but in no other way can he reach the rewards of victory.

- Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.,
Memorial Day 1884

Image of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. as Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court.

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Charles Hopkins' buttonThis is an image of the "Memorial Day, 1916" button worn by Charles Hopkins who served in the 1st New Jersey Volunteer Infantry under General Philip Kearny. For distinguishing himself in battle, Hopkins received the Congressional Medal of Honor "for conspicuous gallantry under fire" at Gaines Mills, Virginia, June 27, 1862. Subsequent to the war, Hopkins was a leader in activities for the Kearny Post of the Grand Army of the Republic in Newark, New Jersey.

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Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. as a young soldier...The generation that carried on the war has been set apart by its experience. Through our great good fortune, in our youth our hearts were touched with fire. It was given to us to learn at the outset that life is a profound and passionate thing. While we are permitted to scorn nothing but indifference, and do not pretend to undervalue the worldly rewards of ambition, we have seen with our own eyes, beyond and above the gold fields, the snowy heights of honor, and it is for us to bear the report to those who come after us. But, above all, we have learned that whether a man accepts from Fortune her spade, and will look downward and dig, or from Aspiration her axe and cord, and will scale the ice, the one and only success which it is his to command is to bring to his work a mighty heart.

- Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.,
Memorial Day 1884

[Both quotations by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. are excerpted from "Memorial Day," an address delivered May 30, 1884 at Keene, NH before John Sedgwick Post No. 4, Grand Army of the Republic.]

See Thoughts on Life, Dreams, and Pursuits for more quotations by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

Image of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. taken during wartime years.

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Theirs was a sublime amalgam of patriotism, duty, devotion, acceptance of self-sacrifice, and idealism—above all, idealism. They were the least apathetic people in our Nation's history. And while doubtless many rallied to the colors because they, like their neighbors and friends, were electrified by the summons of the fife and drum, those who found themselves locked in that terrible four-year ordeal persisted to the finish, or to their deaths, out of a sense of idealism—devotion to ideals they cherished more than life itself. Their devotion was a "Transcendence of Self." I bless and revere them—North and South alike—heroes to me forever. As the poet wrote, 'Love and tears for the Blue; Tears and love for the Gray.' May their gallant souls rest in peace, and be honored and glorified, to the last pulse of this country's existence!

- Brian Pohanka

Read the poem "The Blue and the Gray" by Francis Miles Finch (referenced in this quotation) in the Portraits of Valor section.

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Special thanks to Brian Pohanka for these quotations and images of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., and to Bill Styple for the image of veterans at the 75th reunion at Gettysburg, information about veteran Charles Hopkins, and image of Hopkins's Memorial Day button. Please contact for permission to use any of this material. Thank you. And thanks to all our veterans for their service and sacrifices. We honor and salute you.

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