Decoration Day – “With the tears a Land hath shed…”

Civil War vets from Buckingham Post 12 at their c. 1900 Memorial Day observance at St. Paul's Churchyard, Norwalk, Connecticut. In the background is the grave of Lt.Col. Albert H. Wilcoxson, killed in 1865.

Thomas Bailey Aldrich (born Nov. 11, 1836, Portsmouth, N.H., died March 19, 1907) was a 19th century writer and editor who is known to some, at least, as the father of the American novel.  His 1869 The Story of a Bad Boy is considered to be the inspiration for Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer. Aldrich did not fight in the Civil War (most of the biographical sketches of Aldrich’s life say he wanted to enlist but did not) but instead became a war correspondent for the New York Tribune for a short while. Late in his life Aldrich penned an essay on Decoration Day, as Memorial Day was then known, that appears in snippets and quotes repeatedly but rarely in it’s entirety.

In honor of the dead of the 17th Connecticut, and for all soldiers of the U.S. Armed Forces who have given their lives for this country, here is the full text of Thomas Bailey Aldrich’s Decoration Day:

 

HOW quickly Nature takes possession of a deserted battlefield, and goes to work repairing the ravages of man! With invisible magic hand she smooths the rough earthworks, fills the rifle-pits with delicate flowers, and wraps the splintered tree-trunks with her fluent drapery of tendrils. Soon the whole sharp outline of the spot is lost in unremembering grass. Where the deadly rifle-ball whistled through the foliage, the robin or the thrush pipes its tremulous note; and where the menacing shell described its curve through the air, a harmless crow flies in circles. Season after season the gentle work goes on, healing the wounds and rents made by the merciless enginery of war, until at last the once hotly contested battleground differs from none of its quiet surroundings, except, perhaps, that here the flowers take a richer tint and the grasses a deeper emerald.

It is thus the battle lines may be obliterated by Time, but there are left other and more lasting relics of the struggle. That dinted army sabre, with a bit of faded crepe knotted at its hilt, which hangs over the mantel-piece of the “best room” of many a town and country house in these States, is one; and the graven headstone of the fallen hero is another. The old swords will be treasured and handed down from generation to generation as priceless heirlooms, and with them, let us trust, will be cherished the custom of dressing with annual flowers the resting-places of those who fell during the Civil War.
With the tears a Land hath shed
Their graves should ever be green.

Ever their fair, true glory
Fondly should fame rehearse–
Light of legend and story,
Flower of marble and verse.
The impulse which led us to set apart a day for decorating the graves of our soldiers sprung from the grieved heart of the nation, and in our own time there is little chance of the rite being neglected. But the generations that come after us should not allow the observance to fall into disuse. What with us is an expression of fresh love and sorrow, should be with them an acknowledgment of an incalculable debt.

Decoration Day is the most beautiful of our national holidays. How different from those sullen batteries which used to go rumbling through our streets are the crowds of light carriages, laden with flowers and greenery, wending their way to the neighboring cemeteries! The grim cannon have turned into palm branches, and the shell and shrapnel into peach blooms. There is no hint of war in these gay baggage trains, except the presence of men in undress uniform, and perhaps here and there an empty sleeve to remind one of what has been. Year by year that empty sleeve is less in evidence.

The observance of Decoration Day is unmarked by that disorder and confusion common enough with our people in their holiday moods. The earlier sorrow has faded out of the hour, leaving a softened solemnity. It quickly ceased to be simply a local commemoration. While the sequestered country churchyards and burial-places near our great northern cities were being hung with May garlands, the thought could not but come to us that there were graves lying southward above which bent a grief as tender and sacred as our own. Invisibly we dropped unseen flowers upon those mounds. There is a beautiful significance in the fact that, two years after the close of the war, the women ofColumbus,Mississippi, laid their offerings alike on Northern and Southern graves. When all is said, the great Nation has but one heart.

 

 

 

David Blocher and the 17th CVI flagpole

Serious students of the Battle of Gettysburg know that what we now know as Barlow’s Knoll was once Blocher’s Knoll, named after the family that owned that land around it. Serious students of the 17th CVI know that the veterans of the regiment erected a flagpole on the knoll to commemorate the spot that Lieutenant Colonel Doug Fowler was killed on July 1st.

For years the national colors were raised and lowered on that flagpole by one David Blocher, and for that particular service he was honored by the veterans of the regiment during their visit to the battlefield in October 1889 to dedicate the regiment’s monument on East Cemetery Hill. Although the full story of that visit is elsewhere on this site, I’ve posted the part pertinent to this post here:

“During the evening the members of the regiments and their friends assembled at the Opera House, adjoining the McClellan House, when the meeting was called to order by Colonel Henry Huss, of Mt. Vernon, N.Y., who announced General Noble as the president of the meeting. On the platform were Rev. Mr. Warner, Rev. Dr. Thompson, General F. D. Sloat, Past Department Commander I. B. Hyatt, Major Doty, Sergeant Wade, Colonel George M. White, George C. Waldo and others.

Colonel Huss acted as Master of Ceremonies, and General Noble presented Mr. Blocher, of Gettysburg, (whose residence is near the first Seventeenth Regiment Monument, and who had for the past five years attended to the raising of the National Colors on the flag staff at Barlow’s Knoll) with a handsomely framed set of engrossed resolutions. Owing to the feebleness of Mr. Blocher, the response was made in his behalf by Rev. Mr.Warner.”

I spend a little time on most days (and a lot of time on many days) searching for stories that relate to the 17th CVI and recently came across a post on the Pastor’s Blog on the site of the Zion Arendtsville United Church of Christ. The post was written by the Reverend Kim Blocher. It turns out that Pastor Kim is the great, great granddaughter of David Blocher and currently has this “handsomely framed set of engrossed resolutions” hanging on her wall! The full resolution reads:

“TRIBUTE OF THE Seventeenth Regiment Connecticut Volunteers TO D.BLOCHER ESQ., GETTYSBURG.  At their twenty-fourth Annual Re-union on the 28th day of August 1889, the following resolutions were adopted unanimously, with cheers.  RECOGNIZES:  D. Blocher who has, since this regiment’s monument was erected at Barlow’s Knoll, on the battle field of Gettysburg, voluntarily raised above it the flag of our county, therefore RESOLVED: 

  That we tender to him our thanks and affectionate regard for his good kindness.

RESOLVED:  That we hope for him and his, many years of happiness and joyful memory of that great victory, made for freedom and the flag in part by this regiment in the desperate struggle so near his doors. 

RESOLVED:  That those resolutions be properly engrossed and framed and presented to the said D. Blocher.”

Of course, this was interesting, but the story told by Pastor Kim about her great, great grandfather was even more interesting. I’ll summarize it since you can read it on Pastor Kim’s blog (and she tells it better in the context of a deeper meaning), but David Blocher was REVEREND David Blocher, a  minister in the German Brethren church that was located on Black Horse Tavern Road.   We know them better as Dunkard’s. He was a conscientious objector during the war (although I think he was old enough to avoid the draft if called, but the Brethren – a pacifist church – would raise funds for substitutes as needed). As it turns out, the simple act of raising the flag each day was enough to get the Reverend Blocher in trouble with his church. Writes Pastor Kim:

This certificate landed Rev. Blocher in hot water at his church.  The Brethren pastor who has been researching the Blocher farm found in the minutes of the church mention of discipline taken against David Blocher for participating in this civic action.  Such activities as flag-raising were contrary to church teachings.  That little Dunkard church was faithful in its commission of the gospel, holding each other accountable to their teachings.  David Blocher knew those teachings, and yet every day for years, he walked from his farm to Barlow’s Knoll to raise the flag over the monument.  What a fascinating conundrum for my great, great grandfather.  A man of faith, a pacifist, and still he felt compelled to honor the men who valiantly struggled on his land.  Right or wrong, I’m sure this was a time of personal testing for him and his family.”

I always say that you never know where you’ll find something interesting about the 17th CVI – or in this case someone who took time from his day, at odds with the tenets of the church he served, to honor the men that fought and died on the knoll bearing his families name.

Thanks, Pastor Kim, for sharing this.