Saturday, June 29, 2013

John Cassin-- Part 2: Washington's Friend

John Cassin fought in the American Army during the Revolutionary War before becoming first mate on the Pennsylvania privateer Mayflower on June 27, 1782.  He must have liked the sea because after the war he became a merchant seaman and was reportedly shipwrecked twice.

During the war, he became a close personal friend of George Washington who gave him an oil portrait of himself that unfortunately was lost in a fire at Cassin's home.

By 1800, the U.S. Navy began increasing in size in response to the war with the Barbary pirates in the Mediterranean and needed officers and men.  Cassin became a lieutenant on November 13, 1799.  In April 1806 he was promoted to master commandant and assumed duty as second in command at Washington Navy Yard.  By July 1812, he became a captain, the Navy's highest rank.

More to Come.  --Brock-Perry

Thursday, June 27, 2013

John Cassin, Commanding Officer Norfolk Navy Yard-- Part 1

From the Find-A-Grave site.  A prime reason it takes me so long to do these blogs, AND, I have seven of them!!  Earlier today I mentioned that the Commandant of the Norfolk Navy Yard, John Cassin, had helped organize the defense of Norfolk, Virginia, for what became a British attack on June 22, 1813, the Battle of Craney Island, just over 200 years ago.

I'd never heard of the man, but the name Cassin rang a bell as being the name of a destroyer that was complete wrecked in drydock with the destroyer Downs during the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor.  The battleship USS Pennsylvania, also in the drydock, was seriously damaged at the same time.  Could the Cassin be named for this John Cassin?  I had to find out.

A quick search found the Find-A-Grave site and this information.

JOHN CASSIN

Born in Philadelphia July 7, 1760 and died March 24, 1822, in Charleston, SC.  He is buried at St. Mary of the Annunciation Cemetery in Charleston, SC.

More to Come.  --Brock-Perry

The British Get Surprised At the Battle of Craney Island-- Part 2

The Royal Navy had arrived in the Chesapeake Bay in February to set up a blockade and conduct raids on the shore.

The USS Constellation had been chased into Norfolk back in 1812 and had been bottled up there ever since.  Back in the first year of the war, 1812, the British Navy had been greatly embarrassed by the domination of the bigger and stronger U.S. frigates in single ship actions with their frigates. 

They really wanted to capture the Constellation as payback.  It was even rumored that at one time the British commander, Admiral Cockburn, had disguised himself and snuck into Norfolk to see the ship himself and gather information for an attack (but I kind of doubt that an admiral would do such a thing).

The Constellation's commander, Captain Charles Stewart, besides wanting to get out of port, lamented how poorly Norfolk was defended with its two small forts.  So he, militia Brigadier General Robert Barrand Taylor and Army Engineer Walter K. Armistead planned the construction of a new fort on Craney Island.  Also, Gosport Navy Yard Commandant John Cassin agreed to let the new Craney Island defenses use his twenty gunboats.

The Constellation sent three of its large caliber naval guns to the new fort which also had a battery of four 6-pound field guns manned by militiamen of the Portsmouth Light Artillery.

More to Come.  --Brock-Perry

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The British Get Surprised At the Battle of Craney Island-- Part 1

From the June 22, 2013, Daily Press "War of 1812: An American Surprise At Craney Island" by Mark St. John Erickson.  Obviously, this is the guy to go to for War of 1812 history in the Norfolk and Hampton Roads, Virginia, areas.

On the morning of June 22, 1813, twenty-two British vessels, as far as could be seen from from Craney Island, were anchored by the mouth of the Elizabeth River leading to Norfolk.  Fifty attack barges manned by soldiers and sailors were making their way toward American defenses on the island.

Lt. Colonel Henry Beatty, the American commander of the earthworks had about 800 militia, Army regulars and sailors on the island defending the channel to Norfolk and the USS Constellation.  He knew he was outnumbered 2-3 times.

Just two miles away, another British column at least the same size as the one approaching from the sea, had already landed and were making their way through woods to a narrow tidal creek that separated the island from the mainland.

Things Sure Were Looking Bad for the Americans.  --Brock-Perry

A Newly Discovered Map Details the Battle of Craney Island

From the June 13, 2013, Daily Press "A newly discovered map of the War of 1812 Battle of Craney island" by Mark St. John Erickson.

The War of 1812 has a striking lack of artifacts and records about Hampton Roads' role in the war.  But recently, a map has been found detailing the city of Norfolk, Craney Island and the Elizabeth River and American defenses.

The map was found by Williamsburg historian Stuart L. Butler in the papers of Royal Navy Captain Robert Barnes, on the HMS Dragon, a 74-gun ship-of-the-line that saw service in the Chesapeake Bay.  It was found in the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Duke University.

It shows details of earthworks on Craney Island, the location of Forts Norfolk and Nelson and even the anchorage of the frigate USS  Constellation which had been bottled up in the harbor.  It even included the locations of American gunboats which defended the east side of the channel.

There were also soundings of the tidal creek which the British tried unsuccessfully to cross in their June 22, 1813 attack on Craney Island.

Butler said it was a mystery as to just how a British officer would come to have a map such as this.  Were their Britsh spies or some traiterous act?

A Real Piece of History.  --Brock-Perry

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Connecticut's USS Constitution Connection-- Part 1

From the September 6, 2012, Manchester (Ct) Patch by Philip R. Devlin.

At 215 years, the USS Constitution is the oldest active-duty naval vessel in the world.  It achieved its greatest fame from its battle with the British frigate HMS Guerriere in 1812.

Five Connecticut natives have commanded the vessel during its long career.  Another Connecticut-native saved her during the Civil War and a piece of the original ship can be found in New London.

The present-day crew still wear the uniform of the day from 1812, a tradition started by the ship's 58th commander, Connecticut native Tyrone G. Martin who took command August 6, 1974 until June 30, 1978.  He now lives in North Carolina and is considered the world's leading authority on the ship, having authored several books on it, including itshighly regarded history "A Most Fortunate Ship: A Definitive History of the 'Old Ironsides."

During the nation's bicentennial in 1976, he gave a private tour of the Constitution to Britain's Queen Elizabeth and Prince Henry.

More to Come.  --Brock-Perry

Mr. Jefferson's Gunboat Navy-- Part 4

These little gunboats could cover more ports and provide defense to a larger area and for much less money than one of the USS Constitution frigates.

It would be expected that the gunboats could be used in conjunction with land-based batteries to help offset the odds.  Even so, still no matvh for a British frigate and definitely not one of their ships-of-the-line.

In 1809, President Madison began moving away from the gunboat navy.  Some 100 that had been authorized to be built never were.  He put most of the existing ones into "ordinary," essentially mothballed for possible future use.

When war was declared in June 1812, the US Navy consisted of 7 frigates, 4 schooners, 4 ketches and 170 gunboats.

According to Wikipedia, Jefferson's gunboats were sometimes called "Jeffs" or referred to as being part of a "Mosquito Fleet," one that could do no real damage to an enemy fleet.

So There You Have the U.S. Gunboats.  --Brock-Perry

Monday, June 24, 2013

Mr. Jefferson's Gunboat Navy-- Part 3

Continued from June 17th.

Republicans liked the savings of the gunboats.  Instead of spending $302,000 for a ship like the USS Constitution, the first estimates for the gunboats were put at $5,000, but actually ended up costing around $10,000 apiece.  And, of course, finding names for them was not necessary as they went by numbers.

In 1805, Congress authorized the construction of 25 gunboats, followed by 50 in 1806 and 188 in 1807.  They were built at different ports to spread the money and labor around.

Everyone knew the gunboats were no threat to the Royal Navy and could not ever launch a pre-emptive strike.

More to Come.  --Brock-Perry

Saturday, June 22, 2013

U.S. Revenue Cutter Surveyor-- Part 2

From another U.S. Coast Guard site.

The Surveyor was 68-feet long, weighed 75 tons with a crew of 25 and mounting six 6-pounders.

One source lists the Surveyor, while still in U.S. service, capturing a British brig on July 4, 1812.

On June 12, 1813, the Surveyor was captured by four British barges from the frigate HMS Narcissus (32 guns).

On August 7, 1813, Captain Samuel Travis of the Surveyor returned to Norfolk, Virginia after being paroled by the British at Washington, North Carolina.

A little too late, but, on June 21, 1813, William Jones, Acting Secretary of the Treasury and Sec. of the Navy wrote that revenue cutters no longer of use in the Chesapeake Bay (because of the British blockade) should be no longer in service and added that someone was to "inform the officers and crew of the Surveyor that they are to consider themselvesno longer in the service of the United States."  Since they were prisoners of the British, I guess they weren't.

On June 25, 1813, the British fleet landed troops at Hampton, Virginia and sacked the city.  The Surveyor, now in British service, helped cover the expedition.

And, I had Never Heard of the Ship.  --Brock-Perry

Friday, June 21, 2013

U.S. Revenue Cutter Surveyor-- Part 1

From the U.S. Coast Guard site.

A follow-up to the Bits of War entry earlier today.

June 12, 1813, just over 200 years ago now, was a rainy and foggy night and the USRC Surveyor was anchored in the York River near today's TC (Coast Guard Training Center) Yorktown in Virginia.  It was manned by fifteen men and attacked by 50 British sailors and Marines under the command of  Lt. John Crerie.

They approached in launches using muffled oars.  Unbeknownst to them, Captain Samuel Travis of the Surveyor had been alerted to their approach and determined to resist them.  Unable to bring his guns to bear, he issued his men two muskets apiece and held his fire until the enemy was close enough and opened up on them.  The English climbed aboard and a serious hand-to-hand fight took place until the American crew was overwhelmed.

The Surveyor was captured.  Five Americans had been wounded.  British casualties were 7 wounded and 3 killed.

The following day, Lt. Crerie returned Travis' sword for his stubborn and courageous defense of his ship.

The Surveyor then served the British the rest of the war, but its fate after that is not known.

Now, You Know.  --Brock-Perry

Bits of War: Surveyor-- Craney Island

Bits of War--  New News About an Old War.


1.  SURVEYOR--  Waterman's Museum in Yorktown will be commemorating the bicentennial of of the June 12, 1813, battle between the U.S. Revenue Cutter Surveyor and the Royal Navy in the York River, Virginia.


2.  CRANEY ISLAND--  Also, Portsmouth and Norfolk, Virginia, will be commemorating the bicentennial of the War of 1812's Battle of Craney island (by Norfolk).  It took place on June 22, 1813, when a British assault on the island that was driven off by American artillery fire. 

It will be held at Fort Norfolk tomorrow, June 22nd.

Just Some News.  --Brock-Perry

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Famous War of 1812 U.S. Naval Officers

From the Naval History and Heritage Site.

William Bainbridge
Joshua Barney
James Biddle
Stephen Decatur
Isaac Hull
James Lawrence
Thomas Macdonough
Oliver Hazard Perry
David Porter (father of Civil War Admiral David D. Porter who was at Fort Fisher.)
Edward Preble
Silas Talbot
Thomas Truxton

I've heard of all but the last two.

Brock-Perry




Replica Longboat Ready for Battle of Lake Erie Bicentennial-- Part 2

Research for its construction began in the fall of 2011 and naval architect Melbourne Smith, who led the USS Niagara reconstruction, consulted on the project.

Bob Reynolds of Catawba Island, a boat builder, did the lofting of it (laying out the full-size lines on a floor).  Riddle Boatworks of Vermilion, Ohio, built it.

Different woods: mahogany, white oak and sassafras, were used to build the 19-foot long boat.

Cost is estimated to be $30,000.

Now, if we could just get some folks to row it.

All Ready to Go.  --Brock-Perry

Replica Longboat Ready for Battle of Lake Erie Bicentennial

From the June 15, 2013, Toledo (Ohio) Blade "Replica longboat ready for battle, 200 years later" by Vanessa McCray.

Sanduskey, Ohio:  A replica of a pulling boat/longboat which had a vital role in the Battle of Lake Erie was christened today.  Commodore Oloiver Hazard Perry boarded one like this one to transfer his command from his battered flagship to the releatively unscathed USS Niagara during the battle.

It will be on display and participate in the bicentennial re-enactment of the battle when a fleet of tall ships visits over this Labor Day weekend.

The Perry Group commissioned its construction because of the bicentennial of the War of 1812.  This summer it can be seen at the National Park service center at Put-in-Bay, Ohio, (South Bass Island in Lake Erie, where Perry's fleet sorties out to meet the British fleet)  During the winter months it can be seen at the Maritime Museum in Sanduskey.

More to Come.  --Brock-Perry

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Lois McClure Brings War of 1812 to the Public

From the June 15, 2013, Nebraska NPR "The Lois McClure embarks On a Floating History Tour" by Sarah Harris.

The McClure is a replica 1862 canal schooner and also a floating museum.  This summer, it will be visiting Vermont (home base), New York, Ontario and Quebec commemorating the War of 1812.

It  is regularly berthed at Perkins Pier in Burlington, Vermont, by Lake Champlain.

Ships like the McClure could sail under their own power ot be towed along canals and carried lumber, coal, stone and agricultural products.

Brock-Perry

Monday, June 17, 2013

Mr. Jefferson's Gunboat Navy-- Part 2

President Thomas Jefferson had two alternatives at this point.  Either it was to be war or an economic embargo.  There was no way the United States was ready for a war with the most powerful country in the world (nor were we in 1812).  So, cessation of trade with any countries interfering with American trade was the order of the day.  In December 1807, the Embargo Act was passed.

Jefferson believed that a suitable naval force for the young country should consist of small gunboats to defend coastal waters so he ordered a cutback in construction of major vessels like frigates (the USS Constitution).  Small gunboats were built.  After all, they had been effective at Tripoli in the Barbary Wars.

These gunboats mostly just carried a number and were 50 feet long, 18 feet wide and shallow draft for use in coastal waters.  These were not offensive weapons.  The ships had different riggings and could be either powered by sail or oars.  A crew of twenty manned the boat which carried 2-3 guns: 18-to 24- pound swivel mounted or 32-pounders mounted on travering carriages weighing 7,000 pounds.

These ships would not fare well in rough seas or against a heavy enemy warship.

More to Come.  --Brock-Perry

Mr. Jefferson's Gunboat Navy-- Part 1

Source: Mariner's Museum, Virginia.

Since I have been writing about United States War of 1812 gunboats, I though this article I found from last year was appropriate.  It also provides some background information on events leading up to the war.

By 1805, tension between the U.S. and Britain continued to mount.  America was angered by the blockade of France, impressment of American sailors and confiscation of our ships.  And, after the defeat of te French fleet at the October 1805 Battle of Trafalgar Britain held complete domination of the sea.

From 1800 to 1805 fifty-nine American merchant ships were taken by the British Navy.

From 1805 to 1807 about half of U.S. merchant ships, 469, were taken.

In the year 1807, there was the Chesapeake-Leopold Affair and the further impressment of 6,000 sailors from American ships.

Clearly, the countries were approaching the brink of war.

War Clouds On the Horizon.  --Brock-Perry

North Carolina in the War of 1812-- Part 2

Northeastern North Carolina organized militia units in each county to defend the state.

British ships raided Ocracoke and Portsmouth Island and also made an attempt to attack New Bern, but found the shallow state waters weren't good for their heavier ships.

Chief Tacumsch (not Tecumseh) a NC Indian leader traveled around the state to rally the Indians for an uprising and was supported by the British.

Johnston Blakely, of Wilmington, commanded the USS Enterprise and the USS Wasp.  I have written about him in earlier posts.

First Lady Dolley Madison was a North Carolina native.

That's About It.  --Brock-Perry

North Carolina in the War of 1812-- Part 1

From the August 28, 2012, Elizabeth City (NC) Daily Advance" by Robert Kelly-Goss.

The Museum of the Albemarle has a new War of 1812 exhibit.  The state did have some history in the war, but not much.  According to historian George Converse, "For North Carolina the War of 1812 was a non-event."

The state did help to build the U.S. Navy and establish what eventually became the U.S. Coast Guard as a protective force for waterways.

Most of the war's action was farther north, but the British had a blockade of the whole U.S. coast.  The Revenue Cutter Service helped battle the British. 

Also, privateers left North Carolina ports, usually armed with one or two guns. They'd go out and legally plunder Britsih and Canadian shipping armed with their Letters of Marque.

More to Come.  --Brock-Perry

Friday, June 14, 2013

Bicentennial of Second Battle of Sackets Harbor

From the May 30, 2013 Watertown (NY) Daily News "Events mark Second Battle of Sackets Harbor bicentennial" by Gordon Black.

The main event is to be the rededication of the centennial of the battle on the May 29, 1813 battle

Back in 1913, there were 3,000 there for the centennial.  Sadly, only several hundred in attendance for the bicentennial.

Brock-Perry

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Is This Gunboat No. 140?-- Part 2

A 75-page illustrated report has been made on the wreck.  A storm along the coast excavated the remains.  Specimens of wood, metal, china and ballast have been collected and sent to a lab for analysis.

What was known by 1939 was that the ship's hull bore a striking similarity to the architectural design of the 176 U.S. gunboats ordered by the government to similar design from 1805-1807, the so-called Jeffersonian Gunboats.

Scientists used drafts of Gunboat No. 5, shown in the right column.  The outline of the bow and stern along with the gudgeon, which held the rudder, are identical.

It is known that Gunboat No. 140 exploded near Ocracoke Inlet on September 23, 1814 and is believed to have burned down to the waterline.

Sounds Like They Found 140.  --Brock-Perry

Is This Gunboat No. 140?-- Part 1



From the National Park Service August 1939 Regional Review "Bodie Island Ship Remains Described in Report."

On June 4th, I wrote about North Carolina's gunboats during the War of 1812, and mentioned one whose remains were found back in the 30s on Bodie Island, along the state's Outer Banks that was uncovered on land (the barrier islands shift positions constantly) by a storm back in the late 1930s and much research done on it since.

I was unfamiliar with it, so had to do some more research.  I didn't find much but this excellent report.  I don't know if it still remains, but hope it does as we don't have that many remnants from the war.

The hull of the ship was found May 3, 1938 on Bodie Island in an area authorized for inclusion in a proposed Cape Hatteras National Seashore park.  At first, it was thought that the ship was from the 17th or even the 16th century, which would have really made it a find (as very few Age of Exploration ships remain).  But now, it has tentatively been identified as an American vessel built sometime after 1750.

What Ship is That?  --Brock-Perry

Monday, June 10, 2013

Last Battle of the War of 1812 Fought at Alabama's Fort Bowyer-- Part 2

American commander William Lawrence was outnumbered by the British troops and cut off by them as well as by a fleet of 38 enemy ships which prevented a water withdrawal.  These British troops had seen prior action at New Orleans.  Their casualties were 13 dead and 19 wounded.  American caualties were 1 dead and 10 wounded.

The British intnded to take Fort bowyer, then Mobile before returning to New Orleans for another round.  A few days after the surrender, British commander Alexander Cochrane got word of the Treaty of Ghent and abandoned the fort which fell into disrepair.  Several years later, the United States began construction on the much stronger Fort Morgan which still stands.

The story of Fort Bowyer has essentially been forgotten in this "Forgotten War."  The Battle of New Orleans was much better-known and had many more soldiers involved.  British casualties at that earlier battle were 2,000 killed, wounded and captured while the Americans only suffered 70.

Now I Know About It.  --Brock-Perry

Last Battle of War of 1812 Fought at Alabama's Fort Bowyer-- Part 1

From the July 23, 2012, Birmingham (Alabama) News "War of 1812's last battle fought at Fort Bowyer in what became Alabama" by David White.

Most people think the last battle of the war took place at New Orleans on January 8, 1815, after the Treaty of Ghent had been reached, ending the war once the United States ratified it.  Not so, however.  There was a later one in February 1815 when 3,000 British soldiers attacked fewer than 400 Americans at the log and sand Fort Bowyer at the mouth of Mobile Bay near where Fort Morgan was later built.

The fort's commander, William Lawrence, surrendered it February 11, 1815, a few days after the British landed at what is now called the Fort Morgan Peninsula.  During the attack, cannonfire was exchanged and the British fired off Congreve Rockets like at Fort McHenry (the rockets' red glare).  The British, however must have learned their lesson at New Orleans and didn't make a frontal assault..

More to Come.  --Brock-Perry

Friday, June 7, 2013

Some North Carolina Facts About the War

From the Encyclopedia of North Carolina.

**  Some 14,000 troops from the state served in the war, nearly half of them conscripted.

**  Forsyth County, formed in 1849, got its name from Col. Benjamin Forsyth, a state legislator who fought and died in the War of 1812.

**  The War of 1812 was the main impetus for the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in New England, but lack of large sums of capital  needed to start it in North Carolina and other Southern states meant they continued with agrarian efforts.

During the war, cannonballs cast in John Fulenwider's Lincoln County High Shoals Iron Works were shipped by flatboats to Charleston.

Brock-Perry

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Fortuna Case: When Is a Prize Really a Prize?

From the Encyclopedia of North Carolina.

A judicial decision given by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall for the District of North Carolina on an appeal.  It involved the validity of a maritime prize that was brought into the port of Wilmington, North Carolina, by a commissioned privateer during the War of 1812.

This was a fairly common case for similar prize cases originating in the District of North Carolina, but this was the only one to receive publication in both circuit and Supreme Court opinions.

The question in the Fortuna case was whether it was Russian and thus a neutral vessel, or British and a belligerant and thusly fair game for capture.  This would determine the validity of the capture and the ability of a federal court to condemn it as a "good prize."

Justice Marshall painstakenly went through the confusing facts before finally determining the Fortuna was most-likely British owned and therefore a valid American prize.  The Supreme Court confirmed Marshall's decision.

Prizes Meant Big Money for the Privateers.  --Brock-Perry

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

North Carolina Privateer Snap Dragon

From the Encyclopedia of North Carolina.

One of the most successful North Carolina privateers during the War of 1812.  It was built on the West River in Maryland in 1808 and originally named the Zephyr.  The Snap Dragon was a 85.5 feet long, 12.5 foot beam, 8.67 foot draft and weighed 147.42 tons, crew of 80 and six guns.

Captain Otway Burns commanded it on three highly profitable cruises between 1812 and 1814: two to West Indies waters and one in Canadian waters.  During these, it harried  British shipping while capturing 42 prizes and their cargoes valued at more than $4 million.  More than 300 English officers and sailors were taken prisoner.

Unfortunately, on the fourth cruise under another captain, it was captured by a Bristish sloop off Nova Scotia.

American Privateers.  --Brock-Perry

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

North Carolina's Wooden Gunboats

From the Encyclopedia of North Carolina.

Wooden gunboats were built in North Carolina in three separate eras: the Revolutionary War, the period of the Thomas Jefferson and James Madison administrations (1803-1811) and the Confederacy.  All of these boats were designed for use in the state's shallow waters and propelled by oars and sails.

This being a War of 1812 blog, I'll concentrate on the second era.

The Jeffersonian gunboats were designed for coastal defense with an eye toward economy.  However some even served in the Mediterranean.  First authorized in 1803, eventually 177 were built all over the country, and some in North Carolina.  They ranged from 50 to over 75 feet in length and generally carried from one to three cannons.

At least six of these gunboats were stationed in Wilmington before and during the War of 1812.  Others served at Ocracoke.  Most led undistinguished careers, with officers and men usually trying for transfer to seagoing US vessels like the frigates.  After the war, the gunboats were either laid up or sold.

A wreck discovered by Bodie Island in 1939 may be the remains of Gunboat 140, which exploded, burned and sank on Sept.23, 1814, at Ocracoke Inlet.

Making a Real Small Boat.  --Brock-Perry

Saturday, June 1, 2013

War of 1812 Timeline: June 1812

JUNE 1ST--  HMS Shannon (52 guns) defeats USS Chesapeake (50 guns).

JUNE 3RD--  Capture of U.S. sloops Eagle and Growler.

JUNE 6TH--  Battle of Stoney Creek.

JUNE 9TH--  Americans abandon Fort Erie.

JUNE 22ND--  British attack Craney island, Virginia.

JUNE 24TH--  Battle of Beaver Dam.

JUNE 25TH--  British plunder Hampton, Virginia.

JUNE 27TH--  Privateer Young Teazer explodes in Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia.

Some Happenings.  --Brock-Perry

Fort McHenry Provides Glimpse of the Original Memorial Day

From the May 27, 2013, ABC News WMAR.

On May 27th, there was a historic 1880 observance at the original Memorial Day at Baltimore's famous War of 1812 Fort McHenry, featuring a speech by  Oliver Wendell Holmes which was given that day.

Decoration Day was officially proclaimed May 5, 1868 by General John Logan, national commandant of the Grand Army of the Republic, a Civil War Union veteran organization.  It was to be observed May 30th of that year.

Late May was chosen because the Civil War ended that month (it hadn't ended with Lee's surrender April 9th) and flowers were plentiful at the time to decorate the graves.  In 1868, some 200 northern towns celebrated the day with parades to local cemeteries and putting flowers on the graves.  That number rose to 350 towns the next year and by the 1880s was celebrated in most northern cities.

In 1882, the name was changed to Memorial Day as communities went beyond laying flowers on the graves.

A Well-Deserved Observance.  --Brock-Perry