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Marquette celebrates Memorial Day

Albert T. Jackson. (Photo courtesy of the Marquette Regional History Center)

MARQUETTE — This year’s Memorial Day observances were somewhat different than normal due to the current pandemic.

As we remember the ultimate sacrifice that soldiers have given for American freedom, let’s look back at the holiday’s rather complex history.

The U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs recognizes that approximately 25 places claim to have originated the holiday, although some are believed to be myths. Decorating soldiers’ graves with flowers is an ancient custom that was found throughout the United States before the Civil War.

During the conflict and in the years shortly after, a number of communities in both the North and the South are known to have decorated the graves of soldiers from the war.

Then in early May 1858, General John Logan, the national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic (a fraternal organization composed of Union veterans), issued a proclamation calling for a “Decoration Day.”

He wanted a nationwide, annual observance for decorating the graves of comrades who had died in defense of their country. The holiday was quickly adopted.

Just three weeks later, on May 30, 1868, memorial events were held in 183 cemeteries in 27 states. The following year the number had climbed to 336 cemeteries.

In 1871, Michigan made “Decoration Day” an official state holiday and by 1890, every northern state had followed suit. Following World War I, the meaning of Memorial Day expanded to include honoring and mourning all military personnel who died while serving in the Unites States armed forces.

Memorial Day became an official federal holiday in 1971 and is now celebrated on the last Monday in May. Memorial Day is distinct from both Veterans Day (Nov. 11) which honors the service of all U.S. military veterans and Armed Forces Day (the third Saturday in May) which honors all those currently serving in the armed forces.

One of the soldiers from Marquette who died in the Civil War was Albert T. Jackson. Albert was born Aug. 4, 1834 in New York. Prior to the start of the war, he operated a billiard room in Marquette for his older brother Lorenzo, a local hotel keeper.

Albert enlisted in Company B of the 1st Michigan Cavalry for three years of service on Aug. 8, 1861 as a Corporal, taking his muster oath on Sept. 7, 1861.

Albert reported to Company G as a 2nd lieutenant and was then commissioned as a 1st lieutenant on Nov. 13, 1862. He was later transferred to Company L and eventually Company F. He was wounded at the Battle of Winchester, Virginia on Sept. 19, 1864.

While he was in the hospital, he was promoted to Captain on Oct. 25, 1864 but he succumbed to his wounds and died at Brandy Hook, Maryland, on Nov. 12, 1864, at the age of 30. Albert’s body was returned to Marquette where he was buried on the south side of Park Cemetery.

The Marquette Grand Army of the Republic Post 300 was named in his honor.

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