The original purpose of Memorial Day can get easily lost amid all the cookouts or, in these parts, trips to the beach for the unofficial start of the summer season. The origin of the holiday can get overlooked, too, since there have been so many wars since the one that led to the practice of commemorating those who died in service to the country.
It was in 1868 that the first Decoration Day ceremonies were held, honoring the dead of the Union Army in the Civil War. Over time, of course, the observance incorporated the dead of both sides and, renamed Memorial Day, encompassed all of this country's fallen in subsequent wars.
I was thinking today of those Civil War roots of the holiday and of a song that was popular with Northern troops: "We're Tenting Tonight On the Old Campground." I'm fascinated by Walter Kittridge's words from 1864 as much as the tune. This is a remarkably powerful, personal expression of that war's toll -- any war's toll.
It seems doubly appropriate to recall it on this Memorial Day, when there are still conflicts and casualties. I've posted some of the lyrics here, followed by a recording of "Tenting Tonight" that effectively communicates the song's sadly timeless message:We're tenting tonight on the old campground. Give us a song to cheer our weary hearts, a song of home, and friends we love so dear. Many are the hearts that are weary tonight, wishing for the war to cease. Many are the hearts looking for the right to see the dawn of peace ..."