A Story of Decoration Day for the Little Children of To-Day
I want you to listen to a sad, sweet story to-day, and yet
one that ought to make you glad,—glad that such men have
lived as those of whom I am going to tell you. It all
happened a good many years ago, in fact so long ago that
your fathers and mothers were little boys and girls in kilts
and pinafores, some of them mere babies in long clothes.
One bright Sunday morning in April the telegraph wires could
be heard repeating the same things all over the land, "Tic,
tic; tictic; t-i-c; tic, tictic;—tic, t-i-c, tic; t-i-c;
tic, t-i-c; t-i-c, t-i-c, tic," they called out, and the
drowsy telegraph operators sat up in their chairs as if
startled by the words the wires were saying.
"Tic, t-i-c, tic; tictic; tic, tictic; tic; t-i-c,
tictic;—tic, tic; t-i-c, tic," continued the wires and the
faces of the telegraph operators grew pale. Any looker-on
have seen that something dreadful was being told by the
"Tic, t-i-c, tic; tictic; tic, tictic; tic; t-i-c,
tictic;—tic, tic; t-i-c, tic," again repeated the wires.
There was no mistaking the message this time. Alas, alas,
it was true!
The terrible news was true! Even the bravest among the
Then came the rapid writing out of the fearful words that
the slender wires had uttered, the hurrying to and fro; and
messenger boys were seen flying to the great newspaper
offices, and the homes of the mayors of the cities, and to
the churches where already the people were beginning to
assemble. For the deep-toned Sabbath church bells high up in
the steeples had been ringing out their welcome to all, even
the strangers in their midst—"Bim! Baum! Bim!" they
sang, which everybody knew meant, "Come to church, dear
people! Come! Come! Come!" And the people strolled
leisurely along toward the churches,—fathers and mothers and
little ones, and even grandfathers and grandmothers. It
was such a bright, pleasant day that it seemed a joy to go
to the house of God and thank Him for all His love and care.
So one family after another filed into their pews while the
such soft, sweet music that everybody felt soothed and
quieted by it.
Little did they dream of the awful words which the telegraph
wires were at that very moment calling out with their
"Tic, t-i-c, tic; t-i-c; tic, t-i-c; t-i-c, t-i-c, tic;—Tic, t-i-c, tic,
tictic, tic, tictic; tic; t-i-c; tictic."
The clergymen came in and took their places in the pulpits.
In each church the organ ceased its wordless song of praise.
The congregation bowed and silently joined with all their
hearts in the petitions which the clergyman was offering to
the dear Lord, Father of all mankind, Ruler of heaven and
earth. Some of them softly whispered "Amen" as he asked
protection for their homes and their beloved country. Did
they know anything about the danger which even then hung
over them? Perhaps they did.
In many of the churches the prayer was over, the morning
hymn had been sung, when a stir and bustle at the door might
have been noticed, as the messenger boys, excited and out of
breath, handed their yellow envelopes to the ushers who
stood near the door ready to show the late comers to
unoccupied seats. First one and then the other ushers read
message, and from some one of them escaped in a hushed
whisper, the words, "Oh God! Has it come to this!"
And all looked white and awe-struck. The head usher
hurried tremblingly down the aisle, and without waiting for
the clergyman to finish reading the announcements of the
week, laid the telegram upon the pulpit desk.
The clergyman, somewhat surprised at such an interruption,
glanced at the paper, stopped, gasped, picked it up, and
re-read the words written upon it, as though he could not
believe his own eyes. Then he advanced a step forward,
holding on to the desk, as if he had been struck a blow by
some unseen hand. The congregation knew that something
terrible had happened, and their hearts seemed to stop
beating as they leaned forward to catch his words.
"My people," said he in a slow, deliberate tone, as if it
were an effort to steady his voice, "I hold in my hand a
message from the President of the United States." Then his
eyes dropped to the paper which he still held, and now his
voice rang out clear and loud as he read,
"Our Flag has been fired upon!
Seventy-five thousand troops wanted at once. Abraham Lincoln."
* * * * * * * * *
I could not make you understand all that took place the next
week or two any more than the little children who heard what
the telegram said, understood it. Men came home, hurried
and excited, to hunt up law papers, or to straighten out
deeds, saying in constrained tones to the pale-faced women,
"I will try to leave all business matters straight before I
go." There were
solemn consultations between husbands and
wives, which usually ended in the father's going out,
stern-faced and silent, and the mother, dry-eyed but with
quivering lips, seeking her own room, locking herself in for
an hour, then coming out to the wondering children with a
quiet face, but with eyes that showed she had been weeping.
There were gatherings in the town halls and in the churches
and school houses all over the land. The newspapers were
read hurriedly and anxiously.
And when little Robert looked up earnestly into his
Grandmamma's face and asked, "Why does Mamma not eat her
breakfast?" Grandmamma replied, "Your Papa is going
away, my dear;" and when little Robert persisted, by
saying, "But Papa goes to New York every year, and Mamma
does not sit and stare out of the window, and forget to eat
her breakfast." Then Mamma would turn solemnly around and
say, "Robert, my boy, Papa is going to the war, and may
never come back to us. But you and I must be brave about it,
and help him get ready." And if Robert answered, "Why is he
going to the war? Why does he not stay at home with us?
Doesn't he love us any more?" then Mamma would draw her boy
to her and putting her arms around him, and looking into his
eyes, she would say, "Yes, my darling, he loves us, but he
must go. Our country needs him, and you and I must be
proud that he is ready to do his duty." Then Robert would go
away to his play, wondering what it all meant, just as you
would have wondered if you had been there.
Soon the Papas and Uncles, and even some of the Grandfathers,
put on soldiers' uniforms, and drilled in the streets with
guns over their shoulders, and bands of music played
military music, and the drums beat, and crowds of people
collected on the street corners, and there were more
speeches, and more flags, and banners, and stir, and
excitement. And nothing
else was talked of but the war, the war, the terrible war.
Then came the marching away of the soldiers to the railway
stations, and then the farewells and cheers and waving of
handkerchiefs and the playing of patriotic airs by the
bands of music, and much more confusion and excitement and
good-bye kisses and tears than I could tell you of.
* * * * * * * * *
Then came the long, long days of waiting and praying in the
homes to which fathers and brothers no longer came, and
silent watching for letters, and anxious opening of the
newspapers, and oftentimes the little children felt their
Mamma's tears drop on their faces as she kissed them
good-night,—their dear Mamma who so often had sung them to
sleep with her gay, happy songs,—what did it all mean? They
could not tell.
And all this time the fathers, brave men as they were, had
been marching down to the war. Oftentimes they slept on the
hard ground with only their army blankets wrapped around
them, and the stars to keep watch over them, and many a day
they had nothing to eat but dry bread and black coffee,
because they had not time to cook more, and sometimes
they had no breakfast at all because they must be up by
day-break and march on, even if the rain poured down, as it
sometimes did, wetting them through and through. What were
such hardships when their country was in danger?
Then came the terrible, terrible battles, more awful than
anything you ever dreamed of. Men were shot down by the
thousands, and many who did not lose their lives had a leg
shot off, or an arm so crushed that it had to be cut off.
Still they bravely struggled on. It was for their beloved
country they were fighting, and for it they must be willing
to suffer, or to die.
Then a hundred thousand more soldiers were called for, and
then another hundred thousand, and still the bloody war
continued. For four long years it lasted, and the whole
world looked on, amazed at such courage and endurance.
* * * * * * * * *
Then the men who had not been killed, or who had not died of
their sufferings came marching home again, many, alas, on
crutches, and many who knew that they were disabled for
life. But they had saved their country! And that was
reward enough for their heroic hearts. Though many a widow
turned her sad face
away when the crowd welcomed the returning soldiers, for she
knew that her loved one was not with them, and many little
children learned in time that their dear fathers would never
return to them.
War is such a terrible thing that it makes one's heart ache
to think of it.
Then by and by the people said, "our children must grow up
loving and honoring the heroic men who gave their lives for
their country." So in villages and towns, and cities,
monuments were built in honor of the men who died fighting
for their country. And one day each year was set apart
to keep fresh and green the memory of the brave soldiers,
and it has been named "Decoration Day,"
because on this day
all the children, all over the land, are permitted to go to
the graves of the dead soldiers and place flowers upon them.