The sounds of family cookouts, ballgames, and band concerts will fill the air on this last weekend of May, as towns across America celebrate the start of the summer season. But the real root of this tradition is the solemn occasion of Decoration Day, now known as Memorial Day, when communities honor America's fallen soldiers. Shortly after the Civil War of 1861-65, veterans and their families began the practice of placing flowers on graves in remembrance of military service. But in 1868 the Grand Army of the Republic, or the G.A.R. as the fraternal group of Union veterans was known, helped establish May 30 as Decoration Day. The ceremonies expanded to include parades, speeches, religious services, songs, and band music. In 1882 the name was changed to Memorial Day.
The distinguished man with the Teddy Roosevelt style pince-nez glasses is Valentine Martone, a recently resigned Principal Musician of the 23th Infantry Regimental Band, who became the bandleader, and solo cornet for the Lowville Band in September 1907. Martone, born in Italy 1876, had also married a local New York girl, Anna Hitchcock, that December, so this Memorial Day was an important event for him to commemorate with a photograph. Certainly Miss Edna Day knew all about the Lowville Band which could trace a heritage back to 1857.
Another newspaper article listed 171 deceased veterans in 9 Lowville cemeteries; and 117 were men who served in "the War of Rebellion" as it was known in the North. All over New England and the Mid-West, townspeople were listening to prayers, speeches, stories, songs, and patriotic music as a nation commemorated its valiant soldiers. This great war had claimed over 620,000 casualties from both North and South, and left countless other men wounded or maimed. Civil War Casualties
Capt. and Rev. W. R. Helms spoke in Lowville that day:
his address was largely reminiscent, as to his experiences at the time of his enlistment and during his army life. He extolled the character of Abraham Lincoln and his profound judgment and firmness in maintaining the cause of the union; and also spoke of his humanity and kindness to the soldiers who defended the cause of the republic. ... He paid splendid tributes of respect to both the union and confederate armies for their surpassing courage and fidelity to their colors, and that their heroism on many bloody fields was never surpassed and seldom equaled in any great world conflict.
The next photograph comes from a Decoration Day 20 years earlier and 1000 miles to the south. A Cornet Band from Savannah, Georgia on Memrorial Day, 1889. But this was not taken on May 30 but on April 26, Confederate Memorial Day . This is a typical 19th century brass band with a several sax horns and rotary valve cornets and one E-flat clarinet sticking his tongue out to the camera. The children seem happy to be part of the display on the bandstand.
The writing on the back is faded and is difficult to read. The first words, if they are words and not scribble, are illegible. But the handwriting seems genuinely old and contemporary with the photo.
Unfortunately there is no photographer's stamp, but the card stock resembles the orange/ yellow cardstock used on Savannah Stereoscopic Photos , perhaps most closely that of Jerome N. Wilson, who worked in Savannah from 1865 to 1897.
Memorial Day was very important for the Southern secessionist states and was celebrated in much the same way as the North but with a twist of a different date. The Union states chose a day on which there was no associated battle. But the Southern states chose April 26, when Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston surrendered to Union General William Sherman in 1865. The speeches for the losing side were understandably different than those up north. In Georgia, the sting of war brought on by General Sherman's March to the Sea lasted a long time. Only Savannah was spared destruction by accepting an offer to surrender.
But there is another puzzle about this photograph that is subtle and yet a key question. There's a hill in the background. And Savannah does not have hills. I know this from living there for 13 years. This is The Low Country, a tidal river delta with flat marshes and alligators. There are no hills that would obscure a view of nearby buildings like this. The main city parks in Savannah at this time are formal and flat, and the slope in this photo seems at odds with the geography. And yet the back reads Savannah, GA, and not the other Savannahs in Tennessee, Missouri, California or New York. It is possible that this hill is a remnant of fortifications. Or it might be sand dunes at Tybee Island, a sea island village about 15 miles east on the mouth of the Savannah river.
|Charles Colcock Jones Jr.|
Jones lived this history, having been born in Savannah in 1831, he was a lawyer and mayor of Savannah in 1860. He also served in the Chatham Artillery of the Confederate Forces and wrote a fine history on the 1862 Battle of Ft. Pulaski , when the Union's rifled artillery demolished the great brick fortress which blocks the entrance to the Savannah river. Charles Colcock Jones Jr. was a skilled orator and after moving up the river to Augusta, GA, he helped organize the Confederate Survivors Association , the counterpart to the G.A.R.
On Confederate Memorial Day, April 26, 1889, Jones gave an address on Georgians During the War Between the States at the 11th reunion of the CSA in Augusta, GA, which is about 100 miles upriver from Savannah. Given that this event was a large commemoration and that Jones was from Savannah, I think it possible that an entrepreneur of souvenir stereoscopic photos like J. N. Wilson would join the Savannah Cornet Band for a trip to Augusta. And while it is hardly mountainous, there's a bit more tilt to the landscape here, which could explain the hill. But it is only speculation.
Both of these photos demonstrate the most important duty of a town brass band - providing music for a solemn occasion. People who had endured the horror and privation of their nation divided, heard something special in a cornet playing "Nearer, My God, To Thee." Every man who had walked to the battlefields of 1861 knew the special meaning of a good march tune. And the sound of a bugler playing Taps was fast in the memory of all soldiers, Blue and Gray.
Right next to the June 4, 1908 newspaper report on the Lowville Memorial Day events was a short report on six men who had applied for US citizenship on Monday, June 1. There was a test before a judge, and only one man passed - Valentine Martone, the leader of the Lowville Band, who gave his oath of citizenship on June 1, 1908.
My contribution to Sepia Saturday. Follow the link for more vintage photo enthusiasts.