State Rep Meskers Shares Thoughts on Memorial Day, May 27, 2024

Remarks from State Rep Steve Meskers (D-150) on Memorial Day

On the last Monday of May each year, communities gather at parks, churches, cemeteries and monuments to memorialize those soldiers who have died in service to our country.

Prayers are said. Hymns are played. Flags are placed at headstones of the fallen and wreaths are laid at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery outside Washington, D.C.

Memorial Day officially dates back to an 1868 ceremony in Decatur, Illinois, when Maj. Gen. John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic, a fraternal organization composed of veterans of the Union Army, called for a national “Decoration Day” to adorn the graves of the Union dead with flowers.

One of the earliest commemorations occurred in 1865 in  Charleston as Decoration Day.

The site was a prisoner of war camp where Union soldiers were imprisoned and died of starvation and disease.

Charleston’s Black community paid homage to the nearly 260 Union troops who died at the site.

For two weeks prior to the ceremony, former slaves and Black workmen exhumed the soldiers’ remains from a hastily dug mass grave behind the race track’s grand stand and gave each soldier a proper burial.

They also constructed a fence to protect the site with an arch way at the entrance that read “Martyrs of the Race Course.”

The ceremony is believed to have included a parade of as many as 10,000 people, including 3,000 Black schoolchildren singing the Union marching song “John Brown’s Body” while carrying armfuls of flowers.

The Civil War and Gettysburg   

In total, the Civil War left between 620,000 and 750,000 soldiers dead, along with an undetermined number of civilian casualties, making the Civil War the deadliest military conflict in American history. The technology and brutality of the Civil War foreshadowed the coming World Wars.

The Battle of Gettysburg was fought July 1-3, 1863, in and around the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, by Union and Confederate forces during the American Civil War. The Battle of Gettysburg marked the turning point of the Civil War. With more than 50,000 estimated casualties, the three-day engagement was the bloodiest single battle of the conflict.

How it ended

Gettysburg ended Confederate general Robert E. Lee’s ambitious second quest to invade the North and bring the Civil War to a swift end. The loss there dashed the hopes of the Confederate States of America to become an independent nation.

The battle involved the largest number of casualties of the entire war and is often described as the war’s turning point. Union Maj. Gen. George Meade’s Army of the Potomac defeated attacks by Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, ending Lee’s attempt to invade the North and securing the eventual victory in our Bloody Civil War.

Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address: 

On November 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln delivered remarks, which later became known as the Gettysburg Address

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

“Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

“But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Abraham Lincoln
November 19, 1863