Decoration Day

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I served under General Logan during the Civil War and found him a decent enough General and a personable enough man. He was a politician before during and after the war, despite this he seemed a decent man. After the War, in 68, as the commander of the Grand Army of the Republic he declared the May the 30th to be set aside for the remembrance of the fallen.

“The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.” He chose the date because it failed to fall on the day of any particular battle. It was intended as a day to remember those who fell in the late War of Rebellion. It is a day I have set aside to do just that. Names that mean much to me and nothing to the dear reader of this journal are toasted. I encourage any in my bar to raise a glass in memory of the fallen, any who fail to do so can leave.

The roster of the fallen in my company is too long and far longer in the Regiment and army as a whole. Too many of those men are forgotten or ignored. Most of those who fell are buried in the southland; some who bore their wounds home only to die later are lucky enough to be buried in the friendly soil of their home. But even those men begin to be forgotten a family moves away or passes themselves. I would like to think that by making “Decoration Day” an annual event General Logan set the stage so that those men will never be forgotten. The reality though, I think, is that those men will be forgotten by all except those who served with them or loved them. I am a cynical man and have come to see most men as little more than bastards who care for little more than themselves.

As cynical as I am I am quite happy to see Decoration Day honored each year. Even though the names and memories of all those men who fell grows dim in history there are those who still honor their sacrifice. This is important to me as the common man is rarely honored in the histories, it is the generals and useless politicians who are honored instead of the men who put them in position for history to notice them.

I am glad for Generals like Grant and Sherman; men who understand that it was the privates, NCOs and company grade officers who made them successful. Far too few officers appreciate or understand that. It is a trend as old as time itself.

For myself I spend a large part of the morning each Decoration Day in quiet contemplation remembering those men who fell while I was their sergeant. I knew some of those men very well. My comrades who fell beside me while I served with the Legion are remembered as well. There is a pond not far from my home where I tend to sit and contemplate. I will usually take a bottle of my finest and raise a toast to the men of the Legion and to the 4th. Then a I will smoke a bowl or two of my pipe and spend a bit of time thinking of each. I will not forget those men, at the very least they will have one man who will remember them so long that he lives. I can hope others will take up that proud burden in future generations. Though I fear the meaning and understanding of the importance of their memories will be forgotten in the future.

A few more useful tools

Saw set gouge turnscrew & oil stone

A saw set is needed when it comes time to sharpen a saw. Unfortunately, they are not so easy to use as you might expect. But with a little practice and some luck a saw set is a useful tool. A dull saw cuts poorly if at all and can make a man get creative enough with his language that his guardian angel might gasp in horror at the language being used. A good saw set will add years to the life of a saw. I merely need to hope for the invention of a better one.

There are ample needs for a whet or oil stone in sharpening blades of various sorts in use around the homestead. A dull blade causes more trouble than it is worth. A good keen blade is useful and in some cases priceless. Whether cutting fodder with a scythe or watching the wife slice bread that sharp blade is appreciated.

The turn screw seen here started life as a file and an enterprising smith turned a hard used file into an excellent new tool. I like tools that started life as something else; I have several that started out as a file and have migrated into my tool chest.

The gouge fell out of a passing wagon and I gladly added it to my tool chest. A gouge is useful for making certain cuts in wood; of both the decorative sort and the more practical.

Carte de visite 2

Union_troops_at_restCDV courtesy of Dave Rambow

In the summer of 1864, while on patrol, my company stopped for a few minutes beside the road, an enterprising image thief took our likeness. Some of the men noted him preparing his camera along with his preparations and posed for him. The rest of us didn’t much care, we had been marching since daybreak and were too footsore and tired to care if the second coming was upon us.

When we returned to garrison the next day the man was there selling his carte de visite to any man foolish enough to pay for the plate. I chose to ignore the man and went about my duties. My Mina thought she liked the carte de visite and purchased one without my knowledge as I would have told her not to do such a wasteful thing. Almost our entire company and part of another were on that patrol along with some cavalry. Not even half the men were included in that picture and only one officer, but the men scrambled all about finding coin to buy a copy so that they might send a likeness home. Even men who were not part of the patrol purchased copies! Many of those same men then went and spent more coin on having a studio likeness made in his tent. Even a couple of the laundresses and a visiting nun joined in the fray having their likenesses struck. I do not pretend to understand the craze, this need to send a likeness of oneself home to loved ones. But as my only loved one resided near to me perhaps I did not need to send such a reminder of myself to the old homestead.

In all honesty I must admit it is good for morale for the men to be able to send a remembrance of themselves home. In the case of their death the chances of them being buried at home is all but a dream. In such a case all the family may have is that carte de visite to remember him by. That is why a mans letters and diary are his as well as any carte de visite. Whether friend or foe I will never take a mans personal papers or carte de visite they are his in life and in death.

1272670_10200873102563046_1426348699_oCDV Courtesy of Dave Rambow

Carte de visite

Mina-Freedom

During the Crimea many men had their images struck and would send them off to a loved one to remember them by. Not nearly as many men of my regiment had their images struck as my regiment was made of a different sort of soldier. Many of my comrades had no family or no wish to let their family know where they were. Those who did viewed their carte de visite with pride; it was not inexpensive to have your image struck as it was a new process. The novelty of it caused many a man to waste their coin on having an image struck instead of purchasing good cognac.

During the Civil War the process of having your image struck was a new and novel thing, though less new than in the Crimea. So many young soldiers had their image struck and sent home to their loved ones. Many a loved one had their image struck and sent off to their soldier. The carte de visite above is special to me as it was one my Mina had made for me, something I could carry to remember her no matter where I went. I will readily admit there has been many a time I have pulled this carte de visite from my pack to look at the image of my lady. It has always calmed me and made me a little happier in the moment. I know such an action is not unknown to other men with their own images of those close to them.

During the war I was often tasked with walking the field after a battle. My men and I would retrieve serviceable arms, ammunition, shoes and other gear that would then be passed on to those who might need it. Watches, wallets, tobacco and other items would find a way into my pockets to trade for cognac. But I would always return letters and carte de visite as such was precious to the fallen and might lead to their identification by the family of a fallen soldier. Images captured in a carte de visite hold a kind of power; a reminder of family or friends. They do not belong as the spoils of war.

I have never had my image struck a purpose. Though, I do know my company was in the background of one carte de visite when we had halted for a short rest while on the march. I was told I am visible on it puffing away on my pipe. I think as time passes every man and woman alive will have their image struck and men will take up carte de visite making as a profession. There will be a living in it for those with an eye for it. Men will take carte de visites to immortalize a moment in time.