The genesis of our modern Memorial Day observance dates to the years immediately following the American Civil War (1861- 1865). Over 620,000 Americans perished during that bloody conflict that freed the slaves and reunited the nation. After the war, loved ones both north and south, decorated the graves of family members who had been killed in battle or died of disease. On May 5, 1868, former Union General John A. Logan, the commander of the Union army veteran organization known as the Grand Army of the Republic, declared that May 30 should be set aside to remember the soldiers and sailors who lost their lives in the war. Logan called upon Americans to lay flowers and decorate the graves of the fallen “whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.” In 1971, Congress added the last Monday in May as a new national holiday; a day in which to honor and remember our nation’s war dead.
In the years after the Civil War, Schoolcraft County became home to many veterans who came west in search of jobs in the lumber industry or farmland to homestead. Their graves are now scattered in cemeteries throughout the county.
Decoration Day was first observed in Manistique on Sunday, May 30, 1885 by Civil War Veterans enrolled in the newly formed George F. Fuller Grand Army of the Republic Post 257 in Manistique. The former soldiers appeared together in their new G.A.R. hats and uniforms to honor Schoolcraft County’s only deceased veteran, George F. Fuller — and symbolically to honor all their fellow Union soldiers who had fallen in the late war.
George Fuller (who was called Frank by his family and friends) served with the 45th Pennsylvania Infantry and was enlisted in Co. E as a Private on Nov. 13, 1864. He was discharged on July 17, 1865 at Alexandria, Va. Fuller moved to Michigan with his family soon after the war and settled in Manistique during the late 1860s. He died in 1875, just ten years after the end of the war.
Lakeview Cemetery is now the final resting place for many Civil War soldiers who settled here after the war. David Blair was born in Waterloo, Canada, on April 10, 1842 and came to Michigan with his family when he was a small boy. Blair enlisted in the 6th Michigan Cavalry under George Armstrong Custer at Burtchville, Mich., on Sept. 8, 1862. He was officially mustered into service on Oct. 11, 1862. Before the cavalry regiment left Grand Rapids the companies were mounted and each troop had horses of one color: The A’s had bays; B’s brown; C’s Grays and D’s blacks, etc. The 6th Michigan Cavalry under Custer took part in some of the most consequential battles of the war including at Gettysburg on July 3, 1863, where it opposed Pennington’s battery. It followed Custer in all the cavalry engagements which followed in Virginia and later served under General Philip Sheridan. Its record of engagements included Brandy Station, Kilpatrick’s Raid, the Wilderness, Hawes’ Shop, Cold Harbor, Winchester and Cedar Creek. With Sheridan, it did excellent service in the closing campaign of the war, from Winchester to Appomattox. At the end of the war it marched to Washington, and participated in the grand review, and was then ordered to Ft. Leavenworth. David Blair was a corporal when discharged. Despite having fought in numerous battles during the war, Blair had survived through unscathed. He came to upper Michigan in 1879 and settled in Thompson working at the Delta Lumber Company sawmill. In 1893 he was severely injured in a sawmill accident resulting in the loss of an arm. During his later years he spent his winters at the Soldier’s Home in Milwaukee. In May of 1913, Blair was looking forward to participating in the annual Decoration Day observance at Lakeview, Cemetery. However, his final illness intervened, and he died on Decoration Day morning at the age of 71. His body now lies in the veteran’s plot at Lakeview Cemetery. The Civil War veterans interred in Lakeview Cemetery and in other grave yards throughout the county served in almost all the great battles of that conflict. Perhaps no veteran’s service is more unusual than that of James Arrowood who served in both the Confederate and Union armies during the Civil War. To learn more about his story, you can attend the historical society’s living history event at Lakeview Cemetery on Aug. 5. This will be the last Historical Society article for a while as the busy summer season lies ahead. History articles will resume beginning the first week in September.