Decoration Day

Memorial Day was not yet observed in 1863, but if it had been, it would have fallen on Monday, May 25th.  The first Memorial Day was in 1865, and observed by freed slaves to recognize dead Union soldiers.  It was originally called Decoration Day, with the graves of the soldiers being decorated with flowers picked from nearby fields.

On May 25th, 1863, Manley Stacey, a soldier in the Union Army was seeing his father for the first time since he volunteered about nine months earlier, in August, 1862.  Arriving on Saturday the 23rd, his father had come to Camp Hayes in Centerville, Virginia to spend a couple of days with him.  It was a little more than a month before Manley would see battle for the first time at Gettysburg.  For their visit, Manley got a pass and he and his father went and stayed in Washington DC together, parting in Washington on the night of May 28th.

So they spent what would have been Memorial day weekend together.  They only saw each other one more time after that, when Manley got a short furlough to visit home later in September.  Manley Stacey died, accidentally shot, on December 26, 1863.

Here are Stacey’s letters home from May 26th and May 29th, 1863:

May 26th 6,30 AM

Dear Mother

We have been in so much excitement for the past few days, that I have not written as much as I should have done. I was very glad, on Saturday, to see Father. I had just been down in Swimming, & had washed my Shirt, & had nothing on but my Blouse. I was looking rather rough, but then they could see how we work it. Every day, since they have been here, we have run around the Country. I think Father has enjoyed his visit, very much. The Col has been very kind he has excused me from Duty every day, & has signed our Passes for Washington. I am very glad they have come down, it has done me a great deal of good, both the rest & the visit. I am expecting a great deal from my Trip to Washington, & think the change, will benefit me, At any rate, I shall feel more like doing my Daily Duty.

I should have been very glad, to have seen you here, & think the change would have done you a great deal of good. I had no idea you thought of coming, or I should have written & urged it before. I think I shall succeed in getting a Furlough in August, that is if we remain in this Camp. Then I shall have be 21 in August also. I am very much obliged for the things you sent, the Sugar, Tea, Stockings, Collars &c &c. all of which I wanted. I am now equipped for the Summer, I suppose Father has told you all about his Travels. There is one thing that I am sorry about that is, that we could not go on the Bull Run field.

Love to all
Will write soon again


Camp Hayes

May 29th 8 PM

Dear Father

Well we here in Camp again, which makes me feel at Home again. After you left last night I got my supper, & went around the City a little, then Slept at our Boarding house all night. This morning the first thing, after Breakfast, we went up to the Provost Marshals, to get our Pass, to cross the River. The office was closed up so we made up our mind’s to run the risk of the one we had. Then we got our Figures & letters. We then met Capt Perry of Co B, at Williards, who told us we could go on the Train from Alexandria, at 3 PM.

So we concluded to take the 1 oclock Boat, & look around the City a little. We then went to Mr Tafts, at the Patent Office. we then went through there, From there we went to the Smithsonian Institute. There we had a splendid time, I was very sorry that you had not visited there. At 1 PM we took the Boat for Alexandria, & had a very pleasant trip across the River. At 3,15 PM, we took the Cars, & arr at the Mills about 5 PM. We arrived in Camp about 6,45 PM, walking all the way.

Things are all right in Camp. On Monday next, we have got to move our Camp, over by the Mass Battery. You know where we saw the Brass Pieces. The Col, thinks it is healthier down there. In the City today, Capt Perry, told us, that it was reported, that Brig Genl Hays, had Marching Orders for Louisiana & he thought the Brigade would go with him. The Chaplain says there is nothing in this that we have only got to move a short distance.

May 30th 5 AM. I have just had a good nights rest, & feel a little better. Byron & Albert, have got to go on Picket today, The boys are all well, but very tired. We are to be paid off, next Tuesday, so we are in plenty of time. My visit to the City has done me a great deal of good, I am very glad you came down here, both on my account & yours. I met Dr Vosburg in Alexandria, last night, on his way to the City. Mr Millard did not charge me anything for Board, they invited me to come there & stay, when ever I came to the City.

Hoping you will return home all safe, & will soon recover from your Trip. Love to all


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  • Sharon posted: 26 May at 2:09 pm

    Wish his mother had gone to Washington too. Did she get to see him before he died? I hope so.

  • marty posted: 28 May at 9:55 am

    Yes she did, Sharon. For a couple of weeks in September when he finally got a short furlough. Those letters will posted on the site in a couple of months. Still a few interesting letters to come.