Decoration Day Honored U.S. Civil War Veterans; Later Became Memorial Day

On May 5, 1868, Major General John A. Logan, the head of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union veterans, declared Decoration Day as a time for the nation to honor the U.S. Civil War dead. Logan declared that the day should be observed on May 30 and that the soldiers’ graves be decorated with flowers.

Oney F. Sweet, Civil War Veteran

Oney F. Sweet, Civil War Veteran

The veterans’ organization held the first observance that year at Arlington National Cemetery. Various Washington officials presided over the event, including General and Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant. By the end of the 19th century, communities throughout the country staged Decoration Day festivities.

Civil War veteran Oney F. Sweet — featured in What the Private Saw: The Civil War Letters & Diaries of Oney Foster Sweet — marched in many Decoration Day parades.

His son, Oney Fred Sweet, wrote a poem about the parades; the poem appeared in The National Tribune on May 24, 1906.


Decoration Day.

There’s the chirp of birds in the pinetree tops
And there’s morning dew in the grass.
The streets lined with those who’ve come
To watch the procession pass.
There’s the grand old Flag that floats ahead,
There’s children with flowers of May
There’s daddy hobbling with the “boys”—
’Tis Decoration Day.
No wonder that garden and field and wood
Have given their fairest blooms;
No wonder the petals and leaves leap high
Beside the soldiers’ tombs.
No wonder the village band plays sweet
As they wind along their way;
No wonder the skies are blue above—
’Tis Decoration Day.
But there’s sort of a look in daddy’s face
And the “boys” that go halting by,
As though their thoughts were drifting on
To another earth and sky.
For their minds are back to the youthful time
When they marched as boys away
And they’re pondering ’bout where they’ll all be
Next Decoration Day.

Following World War I, the day became known as Memorial Day in honor of those who had died in all U.S. wars. In 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day as a national holiday, which is now celebrated on the last Monday in May.

What the Private Saw: The Civil War Letters & Diaries of Oney Foster SweetThis information and poem are excerpted from the recently released book, What the Private Saw: The Civil War Letters & Diaries of Oney Foster Sweet.


Memorial Day Event

On this coming Memorial Day, May 25, 2015, a ceremony will be held at Mount Hope Cemetery in San Diego by the local chapter of the Sons of Union Veterans of the U.S. Civil War. It begins at 1:00 p.m. More than 1,200 Civil War veterans are buried at the cemetery.

The featured speaker will be Bill Ketchum, great-grandson of Oney Foster Sweet and a veteran himself. He will honor veterans of all U.S. wars, Union and Confederate, men and women.

The cemetery is located at 3751 Market Street, San Diego, CA 92102, between the I-15 and I-805 freeways.

Other events

  • Book presentation and signing, date and time to be announced. Featured speakers: Larry Edwards, editor of What the Private Saw; Gene Armistead, author of Horses and Mules in the Civil War; Pedro Garcia, author of Port Hudson: Last Bastion on the Mississippi and Raising the Northern Blockade: Submarine Warfare in the Civil War; Bill Ketchum, publisher of Trumpets of the Morning. Te Mana Café, 4956 Voltaire St., San Diego, CA 92107 (Ocean Beach), (619) 255-9233.
  • Old-Fashioned Independence Day Festival, Saturday, June 27, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Featured speakers: Bill Ketchum, great-grandson of Oney Foster Sweet, and Larry Edwards, editor of What the Private Saw. Location: Rancho San Diego Library, 11555 Via Rancho San Diego, El Cajon, CA 92019, (619) 660-5370.
  • San Diego Civil War Round Table, October 21, 2015, 8 p.m.: Guest speakers: Larry Edwards, editor of What the Private Saw: The Civil War Letters & Diaries of Oney Foster Sweet, and Bill Ketchum, great-grandson of Oney Foster Sweet. Location: Palisades Presbyterian Church, 6301 Birchwood St, San Diego, CA 92120, in the Allied Gardens area.


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Mother’s Day and the U.S. Civil War

With Mother’s Day just a few days away, I began to wonder about the history of the day purported to honor mothers. Did it exist during the U.S. Civil War? If it did, Oney F. Sweet never mentioned it.

It turns out that the underpinnings of Mother’s Day predate the Civil War. This according to Katharine Lane Antolini, assistant professor of history and gender studies at West Virginia Wesleyan College. She is the author of Memorializing Motherhood: Anna Jarvis and the Struggle for Control of Mother’s Day (West Virginia University Press, 2014), and she gives presentations about the history of Mother’s Day and the roles women played during the Civil War.

In the 1850s, Ann Reeves Jarvis, a women’s organizer in Virginia, held Mother’s Day work clubs to improve sanitary conditions and try to lower infant mortality. During the Civil War the groups also tended to wounded soldiers, Union and Confederate.

Jarvis’s daughter Anna carried on the tradition and organized the first official Mother’s Day in 1908—then spent decades defending it from commercialization. (And we can see today how well that worked out.)

What the Private Saw: The Civil War Letters & Diaries of Oney Foster SweetWhile I cogitated on this, it struck me that almost all of the letters in What the Private Saw are letters that Oney F. Sweet wrote to his mother, Caroline Foster Sweet. Only one letter is addressed to his father, and that is somewhat business-like.

Following the war, Oney wrote a retrospective piece, and in it he said:

At Antietam when the minnie balls were coming pretty thick out of a corn field I was putting a shell into the gun. [John Given] was ready to ram it. He said, “Sweet, do you hear them calling you cousin?” I don’t believe I even smiled then as the bullets were pretty thick. If I remember thinking at all it was of mother at home.

This is not to say that he didn’t write to his father on other occasions, just as he wrote to his sister Sarah and brother Willie. Perhaps those letters, if they existed, were lost.

Nevertheless, as a 19-year-old gone off to war, Oney appears to have written primarily to his mother. He wanted her to know that he was safe, how he was getting along, and the details of the battles in which he fought. He also informed her of the fate and condition of the packages she had sent to him, and he requested items from her, in one instance asking her to make a shirt for him, and to send him a “housewife” (sewing kit) so he could mend his torn and worn clothing.

I have no doubt that this symbolizes such relationships over the centuries, when a son — and today a daughter — goes off to a war from which he or she may not return alive.

That, in part, is why Oney F. Sweet’s words transcend the Civil War to become a timeless human story and give us an opportunity to reflect on such horrific events and the toll they take, not only on the battlefield, but back home.

trumpets of the morning - marian julia sweetOney’s daughter Marian also seems to have given some thought to this. She wrote a novel about a man who went off to fight in the Civil War, leaving his family behind. She drew from her father’s letters and diaries, and perhaps Julia’s grandmother Caroline told her about her own fears and worries while her son Oney fought in the war for nearly four years.

That book, Trumpets of the Morning, serves as a companion to What the Private Saw, and is available at

To mothers everywhere, I wish you a happy Mother’s Day, and let’s not forget its traditional, noncommercial roots.



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Murder Survivor’s Handbook: Real-Life Stories, Tips & Resources by Connie Saindon, MFTCongratulations Connie Saindon and Wigeon Publishing on your IBPA Gold Award . . .

Murder Survivor’s Handbook: Real-Life Stories, Tips & Resources has received a prestigious Gold Award in the 2015 Benjamin Franklin book awards competition sponsored by the Independent Book Publishers Association.

The nonfiction book, authored by Connie Saindon, MFT, and published by Wigeon Publishing (2014), took top honors in the Self-Help category. IBPA officials announced the winners on April 10 during a ceremony held in conjunction with the organization’s Publishing University in Austin, Texas.

Read the full announcement: Murder Survivor’s Handbook Win’s IBPA’s Benjamin Franklin Gold Award


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St. Patrick’s Day in the U.S. Civil War

Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

The celebration of St. Patrick’s Day dates back more than 1,000 years, and Irish soldiers and emigrants brought that tradition with them to the British colonies in North America, and later to the USA.

During the Civil War in the United States, the soldiers joined in honoring Ireland’s patron saint, regardless of their religion. The northern sector still being in winter quarters, and little or no fighting going on, the day could become one of amusement and celebratory events, including horse racing  (and no doubt “a plenty of Whiskey in camp”).

St Patricks Day horse race in Virginia

St. Patrick’s Day horse race in Virginia during the Civil War. Illustration from The Soldier in Our Civil War. (Leslie, 1893)

But the events didn’t always end in merriment, as evidenced by Oney F. Sweet’s diary entry for March 17, 1865, while stationed near Petersburg, Virginia:

 St. Patrick’s Day. Celebrated a grand time. Horse racing. Two men killed and one Colonel by horses running over them.

What the Private Saw: The Civil War Letters & Diaries of Oney Foster SweetRead more about the daily life of a Union soldier during the War of the Rebellion in the forthcoming book, What the Private Saw: The Civil War Letters and Diaries of Oney Foster Sweet. The book will be released on April 9, 2015, the 150th anniversary of Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House.

The previously unpublished letters and diaries offer a unique glimpse of the American Civil War from the bottom looking up; that is, from the view of a private simply trying to survive a deadly war in which one in five combatants perished.

This first-hand account of what the private saw will be a delightful and informative addition to the many existing volumes on the American Civil War.

For more information about and excerpts from the book, visit the website . . .

Like the book on Facebook.

See related blogs.




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Barnes & Noble’s Dirty Little Secret: Author Solutions and Nook Press

Originally posted on David Gaughran:

NookPressAuthorSolutionsNook Press – Barnes & Noble’s self-publishing platform – launched a selection of author services last October including editing, cover design, and (limited) print-on-demand.

Immediate speculation surrounded who exactly was providing these services, with many – including Nate Hoffelder, Passive Guy, and myself – speculating it could be Author Solutions. However, there was no proof.

Until now.

A source at Penguin Random House has provided me with a document which shows that Author Solutions is secretly operating Nook Press Author Services. The following screenshot is taken from the agreement between Barnes & Noble and writers using the service.


You will see that the postal address highlighted above for physical submission of manuscripts is “Nook Press Author Services, 1663 Liberty Drive, Bloomington, Indiana.”

Author Solutions, Bloomington, Indiana. Image courtesy of Wikimedia, uploaded by Vmenkov, CC BY-SA 3.0 Author Solutions, Bloomington, IN. Image from Wikimedia, by Vmenkov, CC BY-SA 3.0

There’s something else located at that address: Author Solutions US headquarters in Bloomington…

View original 904 more words

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8th of January: Battle of New Orleans Memorialized in Music

Question: In what year did the Battle of New Orleans, the last major battle of the War of 1812, take place?

Hint: The song of the same name begins with: In 1814 we took a little trip . . .

Answer: In 1815, on the 8th of January.

Today marks the 200th anniversary of the famous battle, in which Colonel Andrew Jackson—with the help of the pirate Jean Lafitte—defeated the British invaders only to learn afterward that a peace treaty had been signed on Dec. 24.

The renowned battle gained notoriety due to the lopsided nature of the conflict—first, that the British far outnumbered the ragtag band of volunteers from Tennessee and Kentucky, and, second, that the Americans suffered just 13 casualties compared to nearly 2,300 for the British.

Mountain man James Clyman lamented in his journal some years later that no one bothered to commemorate the historic event any longer—at one time public events and parades had been held:

This day the anaversary of battle of N. Orleans appears to be allmsot forgotten no firing salutes the rising day no gay parties of pleasure

8th of JanuaryClyman would no doubt be pleased that the battle has been immortalized in music, first with the fiddle tune Jackson’s Victory—which became known as the 8th of January after Jackson fell out of favor following his scandal-ridden presidency—and in the 1950s, when Jimmy Driftwood wrote the song The Battle of New Orleans to the fiddle-tune melody. Johnny Horton turned the song into a chart-topper with his 1959 recording.

A year earlier the battle had appeared on the silver screen for the second time in Cecil B. DeMille’s remake of The Buccaneer, starring Charlton Heston as Andrew Jackson and Yul Brenner as Jean Lafitte.

In the movie, at a party on the night before the battle, Jackson says to the band leader, “If you’ll play Possum Up a Gum Stump, Rachel and I will dance.” (As best I can recollect.) Rachel was Jackson’s “scandalous” mistress.

Clyman—noted for sewing Jedediah’s Smith scalp back on after a grizzly bear had swiped it off—also would doubtless be pleased that the event is being commemorated this year with the Battle of New Orleans Bicentennial.

So tune up those fiddles, loosen up the vocal chords, and join in the celebration . . .

Song lyrics

Jimmie Driftwood wrote many verses to the song, but most recordings leave several of them out. Here are the lyrics as sung by Driftwood and others:

Jimmie Driftwood version

Johnny Horton and others


8th of January (tune history)

8th of January (transcription)

Jimmie Driftwood bio

Jimmie Driftwood singing The Battle Of New Orleans

Johnny Horton singing The Battle Of New Orleans

Battle of New Orleans

Andrew Jackson

Jean Lafitte

Journal of a Mountain Man: James Clyman

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U.S. Civil War Christmas, New Year Holidays Described in Book Excerpt

Descriptions of the holiday season for soldiers during the U.S. Civil War give us pause for thought as we reside in safe, warm places, spending time with family and friends, and cheering in a new year this holiday season . . .

oney foster sweet_1864_300_px

Oney Foster Sweet (far left) with companions from the 1st Pennsylvania Light Artillery, Battery F, 1864.

Private Oney F. Sweet, a Union soldier in the 1st Pennsylvannia Light Artillery, Battery F (aka: Ricketts’ Battery), describes, in letters and diary entries, how he and his fellow soldiers spent their Christmas and New Year’s days.

On January 3, 1863, while camped near White Oak Church, Virginia, he wrote to his mother:

Christmas and New Years passed off without anything unusual taking place. I would not know it from any other day. We have had most beautiful weather for two weeks passed and I hope it may continue so. I git the stamps all right. We was mustered for pay last Wednesday and we will get it in a few days or else we will have to wait two months longer. Some of the boys begin to think we are not agoing to get paid any more.

He also mentioned a recent battle with the Confederate forces in Virginia. He doesn’t name the encounter, but we now know it as the Battle of Fredericksburg.

           We have a good camp and comfortable quarters here, but I think Burnside will make another move soon and I hope he will be more successful than he was before. The soldiers do not like him much, they want Mc Clellan to command them. Burnside made a very foolish move but it was not as bad as it was first thought to be. . . . We don’t hear anything only what we see in the papers. You know as much about our loss as we do. I think we lost about . . . 900 killed, 11,000 wounded and 1,000 prisoners. I believe our loss was a great deal heavier than theirs. Our men talked with some of the rebels and the rebels said they were tired of fighting and I know our men are tired of fighting and after a pay day there will be a great many desert.

           If the rebel soldiers and our soldiers understood each other they would all go home and leave Jeff Davis and Lincoln [to] fight it out. Perhaps you may think by what I say that I am homesick but I am not. I am only tired to see the thing go on as it has been going.

Oney’s statistics were a bit off, but the Battle of Fredericksburg—fought on December 11-15, 1862, and one of the largest and deadliest battles of the War Between the States—officially left 9,000 killed, wounded or missing. Shortly afterward, President Abraham Lincoln relieved General Ambrose E. Burnside of his command of the Army of the Potomac.

Oney wrote about conditions in camp, including a reference to lice. In this case the word “lousy” refers to the parasite and should be pronouced with the “s” sound, not the “z” sound commonly heard today when the term is used in a generic sense of feeling unwell.

 I have been lousy once or twice when I had to wear my clothes 3 weeks without changing them. That was at Bull Run, but I got rid of them very quick by throwing all of my clothes away and putting on new ones. Nearly every one in the Battery was lousy, but if you have a chance to wash you can easily keep clean. This company is a very clean company to what some are. I have seen officers and men sit down and pick them off. I have seen good shirts by the hundred thrown away, and they were alive with them.

 On Friday, December 25, 1863, he wrote in his diary:

Christmas. A very pleasant day, but cold. Had a very good dinner. Some of the boys feel very gay.

Four days later, he wrote to his mother:

                     I spent my Christmas the same as every other day in camp. It was a fine pleasant day. Nearly all of our battery have reenlisted for three years more but I have not yet. There is only about 15 that have not reenlisted. I think this war cannot last much longer.

                     I worked very hard at putting up winter quarters and the day I finished my house I got a very sore hand. I had a gathering in it. I did not sleep for several nights. It is not well yet. But much better. I can write but I have not done any duty for two weeks. I got the shirts the day before my birthday.

 Sweet had cut his hand while constructing winter quarters, and the wound had become infected. A “gathering” refers to an abscess.

A year later, notwithstanding his belief that the war could not last much longer—a belief he had held from the beginning—Oney Sweet wrote in his diary:

 Saturday, December 24, 1864
Christmas Eve. Aplenty of whiskey in camp. A report that Savannah is captured and an attack been made on Wilmington.

 Sunday, December 25, 1864
A warm, pleasant day. A Merry Christmas. . . . A report from Rebell sources that Savannah is captured with 25,000 bales of cotton, 150 pieces of artillery, locomotives, etc. A plenty of whiskey in camp. Got no papers or letters.

 Sunday, January 1, 1865
New Years. A most beautiful day. A Happy New Year to all. Col. Hayard had a big time. Licour in abundance. Everybody gay and festive. . . . a N.Y. times.

What the Private Saw: The Civil War Letters & Diaries of Oney Foster Sweet These letters and diary entries will be published in the book What the Private Saw: The Civil War Letters and Diaries of Oney Foster Sweet.

The book—edited by Larry M. Edwards—will be released by Wigeon Publishing on April 9, 2015, the 150th anniversary of General Robert E. Lees  surrender at Appomattox, effectively ending the U.S. Civil War.

Read another excerpt: Civil War Thanksgiving:  Nov. 26, 1863.

For more information about What the Private Saw and excerpts from the book, visit the website . . .

Like the book on Facebook.

Other books from Wigeon Publishing:

Happy New Year!

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