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Lincoln’s Second Inaugural and Logan’s Establishment of Memorial Day

By Rodney Ross

Washington, D.C.

Saturday, May 25, 2024


The final sentence of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural refers to the nation’s charge of caring for widows and orphans of servicemen who died for their country during “the war.”


That sentiment is reiterated in the General Order issued by John A. Logan in his capacity as Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic in establishing what today is known as Memorial Day. Logan, like Lincoln, called Illinois his home state. The statue of Logan, shown above, in DC’s Logan Circle has on the side of its pediment two bas-reliefs. One celebrates Logan as a Major General in the Civil War. The other refers to his career as a United States Senator.


Although not the founder of the Grand Army of the Republic, the nation’s chief organization for Union veterans who had fought in the war, he is its best known “Commander.” In this capacity, he issued General Order No. 11 designating the 30th day of May for a time, beginning in 1868, “of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating, the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion . . .”


Today, what once was called Decoration Day has morphed into a holiday celebrating deceased American veterans, just as Veterans Day in November celebrates living American servicemen and women. On Monday, I’ll once again have the honor of reading Logan’s General Order 11 in connection with the 10 a.m. program at President Lincoln's Cottage and the Armed Forces Retirement Home. For my remarks, I’ll point to Logan’s Saul to Paul transformation during the Civil War from an avowed racist who, as a legislator in the 1850s in the Illinois General Assembly, championed the establishment of Black Codes to someone who, upon his death in 1886, was lauded by Frederick Douglass as one of those most dedicated to political equality for Black Americans.


As a preface to my reading of the General Order, I’ll call attention to the two bugle calls referred to in the text: reveille and tattoo (with tattoo a pre-Taps bugle call): to quote the General Order regarding “the memory of our heroic dead who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foes . . . Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains, and their deaths the tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms.”


For those interested in attending the ceremony, enter the Armed Forces Retirement Home property by means of the Eagle Gate at Rock Creek Church Road, NW, and Upshur Street, NW and park in the area for visitors to President Lincoln’s Cottage.  Then walk through the Eagle Gate and turn right to Harewood. Go almost to North Capitol.  Just before North Capitol you’ll see Logan’s mausoleum, in front of which the ceremony will take place. {See the Lincoln Cottage website for additional information.}


(Photo credit: Loco Steve)

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