“After the recent Memorial Day gun salute, I got to thinking. What is the origin of the twenty one gun salute?” The Newton Falls Public Library staff finds questions about customs to be interesting.
We began and ended our search with Brassey’s Encyclopedia of Military History and Biography. The section on Customs and Etiquette addresses the various types of military salutes, which are perhaps the oldest of military customs. “Although most commonly given by hand, a salute can also be rendered by guns, swords, banners, or music [p. 253].” “Friendly foreign naval vessels . . . sometimes saluted with blank cannon fire . . . supposedly started when ships and/or shore batteries would harmlessly discharge their cannon to show that they were unloaded and there was no hostile intention. Usually, the maximum number of rounds is 21 [p. 254].”
Also according to Brassey’s Encyclopedia of Military History and Biography, the final salutes fired over graves of fallen warriors are not tributes, but rather the result of an old superstition to frighten evil spirits away from the graves. “Customarily, three volleys are fired by an honor guard [p. 255].”