There is a belief time changes things. I choose to think that time encompasses and embraces all things in its forward movement. We may speak, behave, and view life differently now than in days gone by; but, I do not think those long ago ways are gone, they just are no longer used. And so it is with Memorial Day.
There was a time and place my family called it Decoration Day. I called it that because my parents and grandparents called it that. And it was celebrated on May 30th. Every year, following an early afternoon dinner, my mother and grandmother pulled out the garden shears, went to our abundant flower beds, and cut all the loveliest blossoms they felt were worthy of my grandfather’s grave. When the bouquet was complete, we all piled into our car, and drove to the Modesto Citizen’s Cemetery. The place always was packed with families decorating their loved ones graves. Flags lined the cemetery streets. And kids played as though it were a spring day in the park. It was not a sad day at all. We were honoring my grandfather, and making my grandmother very happy as she lovingly tended his grave. Even though he did not die in a war, it seemed right to remember him with our homespun family tradition. Seemed right then, and still does today.
As years went by, Decoration Day became better known as Memorial Day, and the day it actually was celebrated changed in 1968 when the Uniform Monday Holiday Act was passed by Congress. That was all right, because moving the day and changing the name did not alter the significance of the holiday, itself. It is a practice that has its roots in the Civil War; citizens decorating the graves of soldiers lost in both sides of the conflict. And it is good that there is continuity through the years, no matter what the day is called, or when it is celebrated.
I do not believe there are too many of us whose families were in the United States prior to the Civil War who did not have men who fought for one side or the other. I look through old family photographs, and read documents that pertain to my soldier ancestors, and find them worthy of so much more than anything placed on their graves. More than flowers or flags, I would like them to be remembered.
So today, my second great grand uncle, John V. Apple will have the opportunity to once again step forth, and make the acquaintance of those who, now given the opportunity, might wish to give him a nod, or even a salute, in honor and thanksgiving for his valor.
John fought in the Civil War for the North. He was not only a Union soldier, a volunteer from Indiana; he was in the 11th Indiana Volunteer Infantry Regiment, also known, spectacularly, as Wallace’s Zouaves. He enlisted on August 31, 1861, out of Indianapolis, serving under Colonel Lewis Wallace.
Colonel Wallace had learned of, and utilized a French method of fighting. The zouave method: “…They employed light infantry tactics and drill, emphasizing open-order formations, with several feet between soldiers, rather than the close order, with its characteristic touch of elbows. They moved at double time, rather than marching in a stately cadence, and they lay on their backs to load their rifles rather than standing to do so. To fire, they rolled prone and sometimes rose on one knee.” And their uniforms also differed from the ordinary Union soldier. They wore a black zouave jacket with sky blue trimming, a red kepi with a dark blue band, and sky blue pantaloons. A unique band of soldiers; some of Indiana’s best.
John Apple and his 11th Regiment, Company K, initially were sent to Paducah, Kentucky, and from there joined Major General Ulysses S. Grant in operations against Fort Henry, Fort Donelson and Shiloh. There were many, many more advances on, and sieges leading up to their battle at Grand Gulf, Mississippi.
As part of Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign, Union naval forces, under Rear Admiral David D. Porter, launched an attack of seven ironclad river gunboats on Confederate fortifications and batteries at Grand Gulf, downriver from Vicksburg, Mississippi. It was April 29, 1863. The lower batteries of Fort Wade were silenced that day, but the upper batteries at Fort Cobun were not. They continued to fire, and though the battle at Grand Gulf was considered a Confederate victory, the ironclads engaged the Confederates again after dark, enabling Union steamboats and barges to successfully run up the Mississippi River.
Grant was not defeated by this small setback. He marched his men overland to Coffee Point below the Gulf. The troops were loaded onto transports, and embarked at Disharoon’s plantation, then disembarked on the Mississippi shore at Bruinsburg, below Grand Gulf. They then began marching overland toward Port Gibson, Mississippi on their way to Vicksburg.
And so it was at Grand Gulf, Mississippi, not on April 29th, the day of the battle with the US Navy and its ironclads, and subsequent Confederate victory, that John Apple, marching with his 11th Indiana Regiment, a member of Wallace’s Zouaves, was shot. The exact day is unknown. He received a gunshot wound on that march, in that place, and died on May 19, 1863. He was twenty-seven years old.
I do not know where he was buried; my best guess was, like so many other Civil War casualties, he was buried where he died. Probably in an unmarked grave. So John, the best I can do for decoration this Memorial Day is to present you to my fellow readers, and trust they will, through knowing you, about your devotion to duty, commitment to country, and sacrifice for that in which you believed, acknowledge your brief time here, and appreciate all you gave. Your journey did leave a footprint, and we remember. For that, we also say thank you.