Sunday, January 25, 2009

Decoration Days

In the years following the Civil War, a Decoration Day was held in Oxford each year to honor those individuals buried in the Confederate cemetery on the campus of the University of Mississippi. By the time 1892 had rolled around, however, interest in such celebrations appeared to be on the wane. To the rescue came a student at the university, W. F. Nelson, of Copiah County, who raised funds, organized the effort to have the graves cleaned off, and planned the ceremonies.

Beginning at the town square of Oxford, probably in front of the Confederate soldier's monument, the day usually began with a lively band that proceeded to head up a processional parade from the square onto campus. Following the band were school children, bearing flowers, and then any former Confederate soldiers. Upon arriving at the cemetery, the flowers were scattered upon the graves and rousing speeches were given. Southern war songs also were usually part of the occasion. This was a scene that was carried out in many small towns throughout the South during those days, and often you will find photographs of old Confederate veterans posing together on the county's courthouse square.

Prior to one such Decoration Day held on the University's campus, perhaps the one in 1892, the graveyard was cleaned up and the boards which were originally placed at the graves of the deceased soldiers were removed, thus making it impossible to later identify them. At one time a list of the names of the soldiers was reported to have been made, but a search for such a register in 1905 turned up empty. Several of the University's building were used as hospitals where soldiers from the armies of Generals Johnston, Bragg, Price, Van Dorn and Forrest received medical treatment. One of the doctors at such a hospital was Dr. Isom, and his assistant, Dr. A. M. King, prepared a list of those soldiers who died in his ward, complete with their names, company, regiment, state and the disease or wound from which they died. These names are included on the monument that now stands in the middle of the cemetery, a mere fraction of the names of the estimated 700-800 soldiers that were buried here.

Source: "Confederate Cemeteries and Monuments in Mississippi" by R. W. Jones as published in the Mississippi Historical Society's 1905 issue of Publications. Richard Watson Jones was a native of Virginia, born there in 1837, and a Vice-Chancellor and Professor of Chemistry at the University of Mississippi.

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