American Elephants

Memorial Day: War and Remembrance by The Elephant's Child


The first Memorial Day, which they then called Decoration Day, was celebrated May 30, 1868. The date in May was selected because flowers were in bloom then, and the day was set aside to decorate graves and to remember the fallen. The numbers were appalling. The national population in 1860 was about 31.4 million. The Civil War dead, both Union and Confederate, are now roughly estimated at 750,000, and possibly even more. Memorial Day became an official national holiday in 1971.

Memorial Day now remembers the fallen from all our wars. Robert Samuelson “lists the war dead from the “Historical Statistics of the United States (Millennial Edition)”by conflicts as follows” the Revolutionary War, 4,435; the War of 1812, 2,260; the Mexican War, 13,283; the Spanish-American War, 2,446; World War I, 116,516; World War II, 405,399; the Korean War, 36,576; the Vietnam War, 58,200; the Persian Gulf War, 382. And the Pentagon reports 6,809 deaths in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and related combat zones as of May 22.” Mr. Samuelson has a fine column about the surrender at Appomattox to Ulysses S. Grant.

The Civil War, for all its horrors was represented by the world’s first true war photographers, with a relatively new technology recording the bloodiest conflict in U.S. history. Here’s a slide show of Matthew Brady’s photos as well as others. Here is another from the Library of Congress. They are a good accompaniment to Victor Davis Hanson’s brilliant lecture on War.

The photo is of the 6th Maine regiment.

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