Dear Readers: Happy Fourth of July! While you are enjoying the outdoor barbecue, here’s a little history to go with the day:
The United States has a Great Seal that is used to authenticate certain documents issued by the federal government. The Great Seal has a picture of a bald eagle with its wings outstretched, holding a bundle of 13 arrows in one talon and an olive branch in the other. The arrows refer to the 13 original states, and the olive branch symbolizes a desire for peace. The olive branch is usually depicted with 13 leaves and 13 olives, going back to the original states.
In its beak, the eagle has a scroll with the motto “E pluribus unum,” which means “out of many, one.” Over its head is a blue field (called a “glory”) with 13 stars. In front of the eagle is a shield with a blue top (called a “chief”) and red and white stripes (called “pales”). The stripes represent the states joined together, supporting a chief, which unites the whole and represents Congress. The reverse side of the Great Seal has the familiar pyramid.
The Great Seal was first used publicly in 1782. The front of the Great Seal is also our national coat of arms and is used on US passports, military insignia, etc.
Charles Thomson, secretary of the Continental Congress, stated that the white signifies purity and innocence. The red stands for hardiness and valor. Blue, which is the color of the chief, signifies vigilance, perseverance, and justice.
Q. I saw your column about “Taps” on Memorial Day. As a Southern-born woman, I heard the story differently.
Captain Robert Ellicombe, a Union soldier, was at Harrison’s Landing in Virginia with the Confederate Army on the other side of the narrow strip of sand. During the night, Ellicombe heard the moans of a wounded soldier and decided to bring the stricken man back for medical attention. Crawling on his stomach through the gunfire, the captain reached the soldier and began pulling him toward his encampment. When the captain finally reached his own lines, he discovered it was a Confederate soldier, but the soldier was dead. In the dim light, he saw the face of the soldier. It was his son. He had been studying music in the South when the war broke out. Without telling his father, he had enlisted.
The father asked for permission to give his son a full military burial, despite his enemy status. The request for an Army band to play a funeral dirge was turned down, but he was allowed to have one musician. He chose a bugler and asked him to play a series of musical notes that he found on a piece of paper in the pocket of his dead son’s uniform. It was the haunting melody we now know as “Taps.”