I set out this morning to get a few photos for my Memorial Day post about all the festivities that will be in New Milford, CT. I realized that I had gotten away from the real meaning of Memorial Day and wanted to go in search of it. I had done some research into what Memorial Day was all about and wanted a photo of a tombstone of someone from New Milford, CT who died while serving in the Civil War. That probably sounds gruesome, however the reason behind was simple after I started writing.
A bit of Memorial Day History. First called "Decoration Day", it was a day to honor all those who gave their lives in the Civil War, both Union and Confederate soldiers alike. Many have come to believe that the first real Decoration Day observance was held in Charleston, South Carolina on May 1, 1865. The observance was put together by recently freed slaves, and by all accounts it was attended by over 10,000 freedmen. They were commemorating the killing of at least 257 Union Soldiers who had been held at a race course in Charleston and were buried there in a shallow grave. The story was covered by the New York Times. It is debated if this was indeed our first Decoration Day observance, as the custom of decorating the graves of fallen soldiers has been practiced for centuries all over the world, however many feel this was our first.
Decoration Day moved from May 1 to May 30th over time. In 1967 Federal law changed the name from Decoration Day to Memorial Day, although many were already calling it that. On June 28, 1968 the Uniform Holiday Monday Act was passed for 4 holidays, including Memorial Day, which ensures us the long weekend. There are those who have suggested it be moved back to May 30th and fought hard for that, including the late and much honored and respected Hawaiian Senator Daniel Inouye. Perhaps someday we will move it back and reflect more on the true meaning of the day and less on the food and picnics.
My search of tombstones was not as successful as one might think. There were more Revolutionary War tombstone's than Civil War tombstones, or marked as such anyway. Then it dawned on me, Connecticut men and boys may have particiapted in the Civil War, however I am sure many bodies did not return home for a proper burial. I did find two in my wanderings through Center Cemetery on Poplar Street.
I took the names of the two young men and compared them to the list of names on the plaque standing in the Village Green. Only one was listed on the plaque, a Private Chester Phillips, son of Jane and Jarvis Phillips. Private Phillips died a long way from home, January 15, 1864 in Petersburg, VA, he was 19 years old. Soon the flag at his grave and all the others will be replaced with new ones by volunteers in preparation for this Memorial Day, as it has been for all the years since he died, 149 years ago. I am quite sure no one will remember him, however as the parade marches by me this Memorial Day I will remember Chester and wonder what he was like.
The second headstone was a 20 year old named Private Granville Coyes, it is said on his tombstone he died at the Battle of the Wilderness (fought in Spotsylvania and Orange County, VA) on July 30, 1864. Something is not right as the Battle of the Wilderness was fought May 5-7th, 1864. And his name is not appearing on the plaque at the Village Green. Despite that, Granville Coyes served his country as a Union soldier and died during service. Again I wondered what Granville was like as a youth, and felt a bit sorry that he died in the prime of his life with so much ahead of him.
I did a bit of research online and read about the Wilderness Battle, which is considered the 5th bloodiest battle of the Civil War. Horrible, simply horrible. I cannot imagine what it must have been like for those fighting and those at home waiting to hear, if they ever did get the news, of their loved ones whereabouts. A war like this, on your own soil, often brother against brother, father against son, is just as mind boggling to me as the wars we fight today. I can understand the reasons why and am proud that we stood up and fought for what is right, but it still leaves me cold. So many lives lost as in any war.
Civil War Statistics
There were approximately 1,100,000 casualties and more than 620,000 lives lost in the American Civil War. More than any other war we have fought. I found them broken down, the Federal Army (Union) statistics were considered complete but the Southern Army statistics are listed as incomplete and are no where near as detailed as the Federal list. You may be surprised at the breakdown.
- Killed in action: 67,000
- Mortally wounded: 43,012
- Died of disease: 224,580
- Died as prisoners of war: 30,192
- Other types of non battle deaths: 24,881
- Accidents: 4,114
- Drowned: 4,944
- Murdered: 520
- Killed after capture: 104
- Suicide: 391
- Executed by Federal Officers: 267
- Executed by the enemy: 64
- Sunstroke: 313
- Other causes: 2,042
- Causes not stated: 12,121
- Total deaths: 389,753
- Wounded in action: 275,175
- Total casualties 1861-1865: 664,928
Confederate Army Statistics
- Killed in action or mortally wounded: 94,000
- Died of disease: 164,000
- Died as prisoners of war: 31,000
- Total deaths: 289,000
- Wounded in action: 194,026
- Total casualties 1861-1865: 483,026
We have turned Memorial Day into the kick off to summer, to BBQ's, and parties, to promises of long lazy days and vacations, hot dogs and hamburgers and red white and blue desserts a day of sales and shopping, of parks and picnics. We also often confuse the meaning of Memorial Day with that of Veterans Day, a day to remember all who served in the armed forces. But this day, Memorial Day, is a day to honor those who died in military service to this country. You certainly may not want to go in search as I did, through graveyards and headstones, but do stop and remember why we celebrate Memorial Day.