Category: Civil War names
By Linda Rosenkrantz
Before you fire up the barbie or pack up the picnic basket, why not take a minute to think about what Memorial Day memorializes.
The holiday—originally called Decoration Day—was first commemorated on May 30, 1868, not long after the Civil War had ended, and was given that name because it was when flowers were placed on the graves of the Union and Confederate soldiers buried at Arlington National Cemetery. In the course of this brutal war that tore the country apart, over a thousand soldiers reached the rank of general, several of whom went on to reach high offices in government, including six presidents– Ulysses S. Grant, Andrew Johnson, Benjamin Harris, Rutherford B. Hayes, James Garfield and Chester A. Arthur.
Though its current associations might run more to barbecues, picnics and parades, Memorial Day conjures up a load of historic references dating back to its post-Civil War origins, as well as some more contemporary traditions.
There are several blogs-worth of noteworthy Civil War generals’ names alone—Alpheus, Americus, Cassius, Gustavus, Lafayette, Napoleon, Pleasant, Romeyn, for starters– but for now we’ve included just a few of the most intriguing, as well as some less obvious Memorial Day names associated with the holiday.
BLUE and GREY—The colors of the uniforms of the Union and Confederate soldiers fighting the Civil War (the Confederate soldiers sometimes referred to the Yankees disparagingly as ‘bluebellies’), Blue and Gray are the current coolest of the unisex color names. Blue Ivy is the much-discussed name picked by Beyoncé and Jay-Z for their daughter; actress Jenna von Oy recently named her daughter Gray.
CATHAY—Cathay Williams—aka William Cathay—was one of many women who passed as men to serve as Civil War soldiers. A former slave, she was the first African-American woman to enlist. Cathay is an evocative old term for China used by Marco Polo that could make an interesting choice—if it weren’t in danger of being constantly confused with Cathy.
When Memorial Day—then called Decoration Day—was first observed on May 30, 1868 to honor and decorate the graves of the Civil War dead, much of the impetus for it came from women—particularly in the South. It was a woman poet who conceived the idea of wearing poppies on Memorial Day to honor those who died serving the nation during war.
Over the years, though, the emphasis has been on the brave G.I. Joes who sacrificed their lives. But we’re here to say that there were many equally courageous women who played their parts in and out of the military—as soldiers (sometimes disguised as men—we have to assume they didn’t have to pass a physical), battlefield nurses, scouts and guides, spies (many), messengers and couriers.
Here are the heroine names (including a few unusual ones) of some of the outstanding women who served from the Revolutionary War to World War II—worthy namesakes all.
In the course of leading a basically bicoastal life, I’ve had the opportunity to spend a lot of time walking and driving the streets of both New York and L.A. And I have to say, as rhythmic and melodious as so many of the California names are– e.g. Alameda, Amanita, Mariposa, Morella– for native New Yorker me there’s nothing like the solid, straight-forward, usable street names of downtown Manhattan, from Greenwich Village to the Wall Street area, names resonant with references to early American history.
The names of these meandering streets, lanes and alleys were subject to shifting trends. Many British names were changed after the Revolutionary War, for example, and for a time fashion dictated that streets named for local property owners would carry the first names only. Leaders in the War of 1812 provided a goodly share of names, as did figures connected to Trinity Church.
Here are Lower Manhattan street names with their historical roots–any of which would make a possible namesake.
BLEECKER—the street ran through the farm of Anthony L. Bleecker
CLARKSON – Revolutionary War hero Matthew Clarkson
ELDRIDGE –named for a Lieutenant killed in the War of 1812
ELIZABETH — unknown
Memorial Day–formerly known as Decoration Day–was first observed on May 30, 1868, shortly after the Civil War, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery, so that the roots of the holiday were very much entwined with the War Between the States. It’s always celebrated on the last Monday of May–a date close to the day of reunification of the country after the Civil War.
In the course of this deadly and divisive war, there were over a thousand soldiers who reached the rank of general, many of them becoming national heroes, and namesakes for babies born during and after the war. There were countless little Grants and Lees, just as there were Lincolns and Jeffersons and Davises. Looking at the rolls of officers on both sides, we find some interesting names–both first and last, as well as names attached to battlegrounds– that could still be inspiring today.
UNION GENERALS’ FIRST NAMES
CONFEDERATE GENERALS’ FIRST NAMES
SOME SURNAMES FROM BOTH SIDES
CIVIL WAR BATTLE-RELATED NAMES