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Saturday, May 27, 2006

Memorial Day in Vallejo 1900

James E. Kern

Memorial Day marks the beginning of summer. More importantly, the holiday also commemorates the sacrifices made by men and women who have given their lives in defense of our country.

Memorial Day was first observed on May 30, 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. In 1873 New York became the first state to recognize Memorial Day as a legal holiday. By 1890 it was recognized in all of the northern states. At first, southern states refused to acknowledge the day, honoring their dead on separate days until after World War I, when the holiday changed from honoring only those who died fighting in the Civil War to honoring Americans who died fighting in any war.

Vallejoans, with their long-standing military heritage, have always been aware of the considerable sacrifices made by those serving in the armed forces. In 1900, when the holiday was still referred to as Decoration Day, citizens of Vallejo turned out in large numbers for a parade and heartfelt memorial services. On May 31, 1900 the Vallejo Evening Chronicle described the events of that day:

Early morning found Old Glory waving half-mast on all the flagstaffs in town. The observances of the day were begun at 7 o’clock when detachments of Naval Veterans and Grand Army [Civil War] Veterans went to the Naval Cemetery and decorated with flags and flowers the graves of the brave sailors and marine heroes buried there.

Meanwhile the parade was forming for the march to the cemetery and at 10:30 moved on Georgia to Marin and thence to the Union Cemetery [now Sunrise Cemetery]. The parade was an imposing one and drew from the hundreds of spectators that crowded the streets many exclamations of admiration. As the parade reached the cemetery the Spanish War veterans fired a national salute from a brass field piece, which formed a pretty feature of their division on the march out.

The main speaker for the day was Senator H. V. Morehouse, who spoke about an ironic twist of fate in his comments:

“When I came here today I was shown men who had fought in the Battle of Mobile Bay, Morehouse said, “Now, strange as it may seem to you, I was there - not in the Union Army, but as a Rebel. I carry four wounds in my body that you Federal soldiers gave me. One in my jaw, one in my hand, and two under my clothes.

“I was born in the South and loved her beautiful streams and hillsides. I believed in the principles of the southern cause and was forced into the conflict, and then forced to surrender by the north. I rejoice that there is no longer any south, or north, or east, or west, but that we are all Americans, united by patriotism and love… The American people need no cyclops pyramids as memorials. A greater monument exists in the hearts of the people in their reverence for those who have laid down their lives for the honor and protection of their country.