Sunday, March 03, 2024

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Special Report: Westport’s First Memorial Day

Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from a David Press’s book in progress, “Between the Minuteman and the Doughboy.”  A 20-year Westport resident and history buff, Press is a member of Westport’s Planning and Zoning Commission.

By David Press

The first Memorial Day observance in Westport was not after World War II when the GIs came home to a thunderous applause and welcome. And it wasn’t started to commemorate Doughboys lost in the great war, “the war to end all wars,” World War I. peterfoote260.jpg
Civil War era: Peter Foote: member oif Grand Army of the Republic post. Contriibuted photo

It began much earlier with a nation weary from war, in a country that had been torn apart and was still trying to heal its wounds, a homeland still reeling from brother killing brother. Called Decoration Day, it began to commemorate local Union troops who had died in the Civil War.

Westport’s Civil War veterans were an odd mix of merchants and lawyers, farmers and carpenters, painters and oystermen. And more than 200 of the town’s men served the Union Army in Chancellorsville, Cold Harbor and Cedar Mountain, Va.; Port Hudson, La., and in Gettysburg, Pa. By the time the war ended in 1865, 24 of them were dead.

In the late 1870s, Westport veterans banded together to honor their fallen comrades in arms.They started by participating in what was slowly becoming a national trend—decorating the graves of the war dead on May 30. These ceremonies often included a parade to the cemetery, as well.