Friday, May 27, 2016

Episode 318 (5-30-16): Memorial Day’s Origin, from a Potomac River Perspective

CLICK HERE to listen to episode audio (4:19)

Transcript of audio, notes on the audio, photos, and additional information follow below.

All Web addresses mentioned were functional as of 5-27-16.


From the Cumberland Gap to the Atlantic Ocean, this is Virginia Water Radio for the week of May 30, 2016.

MUSIC – ~ 9 sec

This week, that quiet music opens a repeat of our Memorial Day episode from 2015, featuring a water-related exploration of the holiday’s Civil War origin. Have a listen for about 35 more seconds of the music, to set the stage.

MUSIC – ~ 35 sec

You’ve been listening to part of “All Quiet Along the Potomac Tonight,” played by Chloe Benner and Stewart Scales.  The title, and the lyrics associated with the tune, are from “The Picket Guard,” a poem by Ethel Lynn Beers, published in November 1861.  The poem relates the loneliness, homesickness, and then sudden death of a rank-and-file soldier patrolling the dark, wooded, and deceptively quiet Potomac riverbank.  As a similar tragic fate befell tens of thousands of Civil War soldiers along rivers, ridges, and battle lines in Virginia and elsewhere, surviving family and friends began honoring fallen soldiers by decorating their graves with flowers, especially during spring. The practice grew across both North and South, eventually becoming a spring tradition known as “Decoration Day.”  On May 5, 1868, Gen. John Logan called for Decoration Day to be an annual, national holiday on May 30, and the first large, public ceremony was held that year in Arlington National Cemetery, near the banks of the Potomac.  After World War I, the annual observance began to include honoring those who had died in all U.S. military conflicts.   In 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day an official national holiday, to occur on the last Monday of May.

Sometimes criticized as being over-commercialized, Memorial Day still invokes very personal and local expressions of honor and remembrance, true to the holiday’s origin with individuals decorating Civil War graves with flowers.  In that spirit, we close with about 20 seconds of “Flowers of the Forest,” by No Strings Attached, from the 2003 CD, “Old Friend’s Waltz.”

MUSIC – ~ 23 sec


For more Virginia water sounds, music, and information on this episode, visit us online at, or call us at (540) 231-5463.  Virginia Water Radio is produced by the Virginia Water Resources Research Center, part of Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment.  Thanks to Stewart Scales for his banjo version of Cripple Creek to open and close the show.  In Blacksburg, I’m Alan Raflo, thanking you for listening, and wishing you health, wisdom, and good water.


This episode repeats and replaces the 2015 Memorial Day episode, Episode 267 (5-25-15).

The tune of “All Quiet Along the Potomac Tonight” was performed by Chloe Benner and Stewart Scales, used with permission.   More information about Mr. Scales and the group New Standard is available online at  Another version of “All Quiet Along the Potomac Tonight,” by Bobby Horton, was featured in Virginia Water Radio Episode 101 (3-5-12). More information about the origin of the song’s lyrics and title, from an 1861 poem called “The Picket Guard,” by Ethel Lynn Beers, is available from Britannica Encyclopedia Online at; and from, online at

“Flowers of the Forest,” from the 2003 CD “Old Friend’s Waltz,” is copyright by No Strings Attached and Enessay Music, used with permission.   More information about No Strings Attached is available from their Web site,  This music was featured previously in Virginia Water Radio Episode 212 (5-5-14).

Looking towards the confluence of the Shenandoah River with the Potomac River at Harper’s Ferry, West Va., August 14, 2008. Harper’s Ferry was a strategic location and the site of a federal arsenal during the Civil War era.
The confluence of Antietam Creek (foreground) with the Potomac River in Maryland, Aug. 13, 2008. The confluence is several miles below where the creek flows through Sharpsburg, the site of a major Civil War battle in 1862.


History of Memorial Day

Smithsonian Institution/National Museum of American History, “You asked, we Answered: Why do we celebrate Memorial Day?”, by Ryan Lintelman, May 24, 2013; available online at

Public Broadcasting System, “National Memorial Day Concert/History of Memorial Day,” online at

U.S. Office of Veterans Affairs, “Memorial Day History,” online at

U.S. Office of Veterans Affairs, “America’s Wars [as of] November 2014 Fact Sheet,” online (as PDF) at

Rivers in the Civil War

National Park Service, “Manassas National Battlefield Park,”

The History PlaceTM, “The U.S. Civil War,” online at

USA Civil War Web Site, “Civil War Rivers and Streams,” online at


All Water Radio episodes are listed by category at the Index link above ( Please see the “History” category at the Index link for a list of all previous episodes related to Virginia water as part of historic events.

Here are direct links to some episodes on Virginia waters in history related to military conflicts:
Battle of Yorktown in the Revolutionary War - Episode 103 – 3/19/12;
Various waters involved in the Revolutionary War - Episode 168 – 7/1/13;
River origins of Virginia signers of Declaration of Independence - Episode 220 – 6/30/14.
Potomac River in the Civil War - Episode 101 – 3/5/12;
Civil War Battle of the Ironclads - Episode 104 – 3/26/12;
Rivers and attempts to capture Richmond in the Civil War - Episode 164 – 6/3/13 (for Memorial Day 2013);
Lincoln's James River trip to Richmond - Episode 201 – 2/17/14;
Bull Run's present and Civil War past - Episode 223 – 7/21/14.

Here are links to episodes on water-related branches of the military:
U.S. Coast Guard - Episode 239 – 11/10/14;
U.S. Navy - Episode 289 – 11/9/15.


The episode may help with the following Virginia 2008 Social Studies Standards of Learning (SOLs):

Grades K-6 Civics Theme
3.11 – basic principles that form basis of republican government, including recognizing that Veterans Day and Memorial Day honor people who have served the country.

Virginia Studies Course
VS.2 – physical geography of Virginia past and present.

United States History to 1865 Course
USI.2 – water features important to the early history of the United States.
USI.9 (causes, major events, and effects of Civil War).

Virginia and United States History Course
VU.7 0 - knowledge of the Civil War and Reconstruction Era.

Virginia’s SOLs are available from the Virginia Department of Education, online at