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The Civil War was the most severe trial the United States and its citizens had endured since the American Revolution. People felt they could not, and must not, forget the war. Personal grief over lost loved ones or lost homes reminded people every day of the horrors of the war. Those who fought and those who had lived through that time believed that remembering the causes and the effects of the war would be important to future generations. They thought it was important to remember not only the suffering, but that our democracy is fragile and requires careful attention to be successful.
There were many reasons to commemorate the Civil War in North Dakota. Many war veterans moved to Dakota Territory after the war, using their legal advantages as veterans to claim a homestead. In addition, the battles fought in Dakota Territory had to be honored and commemorated so they would not be forgotten.
Commemoration had many forms. Some cities erected statues of Civil War soldiers in a park or on the courthouse lawn. The scenes of battles were located and monuments were built to the men who fought and died there. Veterans organized themselves into memorial societies. The most important of these in the northern states was the Grand Army of the Republic, commonly known as the GAR. Veterans established chapters of the GAR in many North Dakota cities. The GAR held regular meetings in many towns. Members attended the national encampments (or gatherings) where they reunited with the survivors of their regiments. The GAR placed iron markers on the graves of deceased veterans that honored their service to their nation.
The national GAR leader, General John Logan, proclaimed May 30, 1868, as the first official day of remembrance. Memorial Day, or Decoration Day as it was then known, was celebrated by placing flowers on the graves of soldiers at Arlington Cemetery in Washington, D.C. Soon the tradition spread and states began to officially recognize Memorial Day. By 1890, all northern states celebrated Memorial Day. Today it is a national holiday.
During the Civil War, concern for the welfare of disabled soldiers led to passage of federal legislation in 1865 to establish the National Asylum for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers which had branches in many different states. In 1887, Congress followed up with a law to set aside land for homes for Union Army veterans.
The first legislative assembly of the state of North Dakota passed a law to build a veterans home at Lisbon. Governor Andrew Burke, a veteran himself, signed the bill into law. The board of commissioners purchased 90 acres on the Sheyenne River for a beautiful building and a small farm. Another 40,000 acres around the state was set aside to help support the home and its residents. The home, completed in August 1893, had rooms for 30 men and a small hospital. The first resident was George Hutchings. Hutchings, and the other residents until the 1950s, wore a blue uniform. Residents who were able performed some work at the home. This work might be on the farm, in the laundry or kitchen, or in their quarters. Today, the original building is gone, but it was replaced by a modern building that still houses veterans and their spouses.