The last Monday in May is designated as Memorial Day, a day set aside to remember the men and women who have died while serving in the U.S. armed services.
In the beginning, just after the Civil War, it was called Decoration Day, as it was the day that graves of Confederate and Union soldiers were decorated with flowers. By the 20th century, it had been extended to include all Americans who have died in military service.
I have permission from John Toby Woods Jr. and George Armelagos, who wrote the book "St. Catherines Island," to share a letter that Woods’ great-great-grandfather, Eldridge Hatcher (1825-1862), a Confederate lieutenant and a member of the Ohoopee Guards, wrote to his wife and family as he lay dying in the Second Georgia Hospital in Richmond, Virginia, on June 10, 1862. Hatcher had a wife, Celia Hart Hatcher, and 10 children at home.
"Dear Wife, I wish to say to you not to render yourself uneasy. To all appearances I can’t stand it much longer. My faith is strong in God; I am not afraid to die. Do the best you can, dear wife, for yourself and children. I want to be buried at the plum orchard at the old place (Washington County, Ga.). Try to be prepared to meet me in a better world than this.
"Dear Anna, be a good girl, obey your mother, take care of yourself, and do not throw yourself away.
"Dear Son (Elbert?), be a good boy, do the best you can, and make something to eat.
"Georgia, be a good girl, mind your mother and do not throw yourself away with some trifling fellow. And, my little children, be good to each other and do not fight and scratch. Work and be smart. Go to school when you can. To your dear mother, I must say, do the best you can. I hope we will not be separated long. Dear wife, I sent you twenty dollars by T. J. Simmons, also two dollars by Isaac L. Smith. ..."
"Mrs. Hatcher — Dear Madame, Lt. Hatcher was too feeble to say anymore than the above. He gradually sank and at an early hour this morning left us, as he believed, for a better world. He was fully aware of his condition and met death calmly and fearlessly. He spoke very affectionately of you and his children. For a long time, Lt. Hatcher seemed in a fair way for recovery, and I was only waiting for him to gain a little more strength, when I hoped to send him home on furlough; but unfortunately, he suffered a relapse of fever and since that time has steadily grown worse.
"His disease was typhoid fever. He expressed a desire to be removed to Georgia, but this for a time will be impossible, as an order has been issued not to permit any more bodies to be sent over the road until the present press of business is over. He is buried or will be buried in Oakwood Cemetery near this city and his grave will be marked so that his remains may be removed at some future time, if such be your wish. Lt. Hatcher was well treated by his physicians and attendants and I assure you that he lacked for nothing that could be furnished. Believe me, Madam. Very respectfully and truly yours, J.A.S. Milligan, Surgeon in Charge 2nd Georgia Hospital.
"P. S. Lt. Hatcher left in money $117. Out of this, some little may be deducted for payment of little debts incurred which he ordered to be paid. Please direct me what to do with the money."
"The above was written at the request of the dying man by Dr. Milligan and was received by the family of the deceased in due course of mail and is now printed for preservation by his son, J.L. Hatcher, May 10, 1878. It was reprinted by his son, J.L. Hatcher, of Kite, Johnson County, Georgia, on Feb. 8, 1920. Lt. Hatcher was later reburied in Sandersville."
Let us remember the men and women who have given their lives for all the freedoms we take for granted in the United States of America.