The First Confederate Memorial Day

From the Times-Dispatch

July 15, 1906.

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How many of our States claim the first memorial organization? What matters if there are no records to prove it? New Orleans claims it; Georgia claims it; Portsmouth, Va.; Richmond, Va., claim it. But the little village of Warrenton, Va., claims, and can prove it, the first Confederate Memorial Day.

Killed in skirmish at Fairfax Courthouse, June 1, 1861, Captain John Quincy Marr, Warrenton Rifles, 17th Virginia Regiment, buried in the little village graveyard, June 3rd, with military honors; wept over by the old and young; flowers strewn on his grave, and the first Confederate Memorial Day was observed. After the first battle of Manassas, July 21, 1861, the dead and mortally wounded, numbering many, were brought to this same little village, and again memorial day was observed by the women and children.

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Click image of women in Warrenton decorating graves to view source.

Was this, the women’s work, discontinued? No, organized; no, but the spontaneous outburst of the Rachels throughout the land weeping for her children and would not be comforted. The graves of these dead after the battle of Manassas were hastily marked on mere headboards. The living had to be cared for, and only a little band of women to do it. Women, tenderly raised and sheltered, went to the bedside of the wounded and with their own hands dressed the wounds, fed and cared for those men. There were no trained nurses, and only a very few doctors.

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Click image of street scene, Warrenton, Virginia, ca. 1862 to view source.

When the spirit left the body they were buried in the same little graveyard, and the memorial work went on. The names on the boards being almost obliterated, a band of children, none of them over sixteen, determined to replace these boards. A kind carpenter offered to give the smooth plank and make into markers. My mother’s long black porch became the paint shop. One of the boys, now an artist, Mr. Richard N. Brooke, of Washington, cut out letters, which we traced on the white headboards, and repainted as we finished them at the graves, and the memorial work went on. We felt very proud of our work, but in the winter of sixty-three, I think, the Yankees made a raid through our town and camping near the graveyard, they burned the headboards to make their camp fires; but as soon as the spring flowers came, we placed the blossoms on these graves, and each year continued our memorial work.

After the war the bones of these dead were placed in one common grave, and a beautiful monument erected, which bears this inscription: Virginia’s Daughters to Virginia’s Defenders. And so, I claim for Warrenton, Va., the first memorial day, dating it June 3, 1861, when we laid to rest the remains of Captain John Quincy Marr, killed by the invaders of our Southland, June 1st, Fairfax Courthouse, 1861.

R.

 

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