There have been a number of stories as to how Memorial Day began. While there can be no argument that it was begun by individuals and groups throughout the north and south who took time to “decorate” or clean up the graves of those who died in America’s Civil War from 1861-1865, it was in 1868 that a politician turned Union General made it an official holiday.
In 1868, former Union General John A. (Black Jack) Logan, then commander of the fraternal organization for northern veterans of the War, called the Grand Army of the Republic official proclaimed, “The 30th day 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. In this observance no form or ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit”.
Logan’s connection to Gone with the Wind is that as a Commander in General Sherman’s Army in 1864, he participated in the Atlanta Campaign and the March to the Sea. On July 22, 1864, it was Logan who grabbed a guidon (flag) and rode out onto the battlefield to reestablish the Union Line as the first shots were fired in the Battle of Atlanta. In fact the Cyclorama Painting of the Battle of Atlanta, that is now being readied for its new home at the Atlanta History Center was originally called “Logan’s ride” and was painted at the behest of General Logan who planned to use the painting to help him become Vice President of the United States (however, Logan died prior to the election).
There is no doubt that Margaret Mitchell was very familiar with General John A. Logan who was commanding a portion of Sherman’s Army on the battlefield of Jonesboro, (south of Atlanta) on August 31-September 1, 1864. And I believe an incident in Jonesboro (that Logan included in his memoir) probably found its way into Gone with the Wind since Margaret herself (the author) stated that, “practically all of the incidences in GWTW were true”.
It seems that as the two great armies faced one another just west of Jonesboro, the artillery of Logan’s Fifteenth Corps began firing cannon balls toward the Confederate lines and one solid shot landed in the fireplace of a young lady who was giving birth in a house located between the two battle lines. Although the cannon ball was solid and therefore did not explode, it did frighten all those who waited for the new arrival. And so the “future grandfather” grabbed a sheet and ran into the yard frantically waving toward the Yankee artillery. Well the northerners sent down a rider and the gentleman explained, “I’m not trying to get involved in the battle, or make a political statement, I just want you to know we are having a baby upstairs and need you to move the artillery to the right or to the left a little bit so you are not shooting through the house”. Well these were northern soldiers, …but they were also Americans and so what do you think these fellow Americans did?…that’s right, they moved the artillery down the road. At this point General Logan showed up and as he sat on the porch, his cavalry escort made coffee in the yard and teased that he was, “the godfather of the child”. Logan sent a French Catholic Priest and a Medical Officer inside to deliver the baby and they named the child,…in French…Shell Anna Marvellie (sic) which is supposed to have meant, “a marvelous escape from a shell”…and she was called “Shell Annie”.
Now, I told that story for Georgia Public Broadcasting over 20 years ago and they did not believe me,…until I showed them the copy of the 1939 Atlanta Journal Newspaper that was all about the Premier, and included a side bar article, “Baby born during the Battle of Jonesboro”,…there she was,….a white haired woman named, Shell Annie.
There was another baby born in Jonesboro during the fight and the little boy and his mother were loaded into a wagon by the neighbor as shells rained down into the yard. The mother died in the wagon and the little boy lived. I believe the two stories are not far removed from the tale of Melanie Hamilton being saved from the cannon fire around her bed in Atlanta and then making the perilous trip through the fighting in Jonesboro to home,…..to Tara…with her newborn in her arms.
Black Jack Logan was part of that and many other stories that fill the pages of the most famous Civil War story ever written. And this Memorial Day let us not forget that we are all Americans and as such we share in the stories of passion that led our ancestors through four years of great courage and sadness,…to come out the other side to be the strongest of nations and to lead the world. Remember, northern and southern citizens charged up San Juan Hill, sailed to Europe to fight the “war to end all wars” and came together to defeat Hitler and his Nazi regime,…and they have continued to come together in every conflict since. And the people that have given of their time to save the remaining windows and doors of Tara have hailed from north and south as they share a love for the “story of gumption” that Margaret Mitchell learned on grandpa’s front porch,….and shared with the world.
There is a tour of the Tara façade scheduled this Monday, May 30 at 10:00 AM. If you would like to reserve a spot please contact me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I look forward to meeting you up at the gate.