To commemorate Memorial Day, the National Archives has released a short video about the importance of the holiday.
Timed for the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s death and the upcoming sesquicentennial of the 1866 founding of the Grand Army of the Republic (the fraternal organization of Union Civil War veterans), the National Archives created the video “Memorial Day 2015: Why it Matters.”
The video features Rodney Ross, an archivist in the Center for Legislative Archives in Washington, DC, with an introduction by Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero.
Ross demonstrates the importance of National Archives records to everyday Americans through the prism of a single National Archives document—a page from the muster roll of a Civil War soldier from his hometown of Batavia, Illinois.
The soldier, Union Pvt. Oscar F. Cooley, was killed in action during the siege at Vicksburg on June 8, 1863.
In the video Ross recounts his Memorial Day memories as a child growing up in Batavia, and shares an image of a statue from Batavia’s West Side Cemetery inscribed with the names of Batavians, primarily those with the 124th Illinois Volunteer Regiment, who fought for the Union in the Civil War.
Ross speaks at the Grand Army of the Republic Monument on Pennsylvania Avenue—just across the street from the National Archives Building in Washington, DC.
This monument honors the sacrifice of Union soldiers who fought and died to keep the United States of America “a free and undivided republic.”
Ross explains the origin of Memorial Day, the holiday originally called “Decoration Day.”
The holiday was officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868, by Gen. John Logan, a Civil War Union veteran and national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order No. 11.
Logan proclaimed: “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.”
No longer an “unknown” soldier, in this video Ross honors fellow Batavian Private Cooley and his supreme sacrifice.
Visit the Batavia Historical Society for information on Batavia, Illinois, and Memorial Day.