Memorial Day History

Mostly from here, because people seem to have no idea of the genesis of Memorial Day:

Three years after the Civil War ended, on May 5, 1868, the head of an organization of Union veterans — the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) — established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan declared that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30. It is believed that date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country. The first large observance was held that year at Arlington National Cemetery, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.

A long weekend!

The ceremonies centered around the mourning-draped veranda of the Arlington mansion, once the home of Gen. Robert E. Lee. Various Washington officials, including Gen. and Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant, presided over the ceremonies. After speeches, children from the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Orphan Home and members of the GAR made their way through the cemetery, strewing flowers on both Union and Confederate graves, reciting prayers and singing hymns.


Local Observances Claim To Be First Local springtime tributes to the Civil War dead already had been held in various places. One of the first occurred in Columbus, Miss., April 25, 1866, when a group of women visited a cemetery to decorate the graves of Confederate soldiers who had fallen in battle at Shiloh. Nearby were the graves of Union soldiers, neglected because they were the enemy. Disturbed at the sight of the bare graves, the women placed some of their flowers on those graves, as well.

Summer has begun!

Today, cities in the North and the South claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day in 1866. Both Macon and Columbus, Ga., claim the title, as well as Richmond, Va. The village of Boalsburg, Pa., claims it began there two years earlier. A stone in a Carbondale, Ill., cemetery carries the statement that the first Decoration Day ceremony took place there on April 29, 1866. Carbondale was the wartime home of Gen. Logan. Approximately 25 places have been named in connection with the origin of Memorial Day, many of them in the South where most of the war dead were buried.

Family get-togethers!

Official Birthplace Declared In 1966, Congress and President Lyndon Johnson declared Waterloo, N.Y., the “birthplace” of Memorial Day. There, a ceremony on May 5, 1866, honored local veterans who had fought in the Civil War. Businesses closed and residents flew flags at half-staff. Supporters of Waterloo’s claim say earlier observances in other places were either informal, not community-wide or one-time events.

Heavy traffic!

By the end of the 19th century, Memorial Day ceremonies were being held on May 30 throughout the nation. State legislatures passed proclamations designating the day, and the Army and Navy adopted regulations for proper observance at their facilities. It was not until after World War I, however, that the day was expanded to honor those who have died in all American wars. In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by an act of Congress, though it is still often called Decoration Day. It was then also placed on the last Monday in May, as were some other federal holidays.The origins of special services to honor those who die in war can be found in antiquity. The Athenian leader Pericles offered a tribute to the fallen heroes of the Peloponnesian War over 24 centuries ago that could be applied today to the 1.1 million Americans who have died in the nation’s wars: “Not only are they commemorated by columns and inscriptions, but there dwells also an unwritten memorial of them, graven not on stone but in the hearts of men.”

Big movie releases!

To ensure the sacrifices of America ’s fallen heroes are never forgotten, in December 2000, the U.S. Congress passed and the president signed into law “The National Moment of Remembrance Act,” P.L. 106-579, creating the White House Commission on the National Moment of Remembrance. The commission’s charter is to “encourage the people of the United States to give something back to their country, which provides them so much freedom and opportunity” by encouraging and coordinating commemorations in the United States of Memorial Day and the National Moment of Remembrance.

Let’s eat outside!

The National Moment of Remembrance encourages all Americans to pause wherever they are at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day for a minute of silence to remember and honor those who have died in service to the nation. As Moment of Remembrance founder Carmella LaSpada states: “It’s a way we can all help put the memorial back in Memorial Day.”
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0 thoughts on “Memorial Day History”

  1. It has always bothered me that our own Remembrance Day in November honours those who died in WWI and since, but not those before. Like Memorial Day, I suppose people were moved by the sheer industrial scale of ‘modern’ warfare, much like the US Civil War.


  2. Here in Fairbanks Memorial Day has almost a schizophrenic attitude. Between the four military bases, the vast majority of Fairbanks is military.

    But not all military respond the same way. Some are huge on Memorial Day, and are volunteering to read the names of all the men lost in Iraq and Afghanistan. Others want to forget about it entirely. Most of the people I know personally lost people in the Afghanistan War. They’re all infantry, so they, along with the Marines, are doing the dying.


  3. I think this was the first Memorial Day Weekend that I was actually out celebrating with vets my age. Being in our 30s, most of their careers and tours in the military are over, and I have to admit that I never knew the holiday’s origination story till reading this.


  4. Roger, thank you for the historical info on Memorial Day. Cynical moi says that, as with Christmas and other meaningful days, commercialism has taken hold of a solemn occasion and turned it into another excuse to spend, spend, spend.

    I spent one Memorial Day with my mom in Council Bluffs, Iowa, her birthplace. We washed gravestones, all of them, then placed flowers and wreaths and other remembrances at the graves of fallen soldiers.

    I’ll be happy when there are no more fresh graves having their first “Memorial Day Scrub.” War is pointless, yet it continues… Amy


  5. I’d like to thank you too for posting this. I knew little of the history behind it, and find it interesting that it’s origins was “Decoration Day”. I now live next to a cemetery that seems to be specified for those that served in the military (can’t find anything about it through Google, believe it or not). Many relatives of the deceased do a great job in keeping the cemetery looking very nice, with fresh flowers. But come Memorial Day weekend, all graves get flowers and a small American flag. It’s quite a sight. Last year it was kept this way through July 4th.


  6. You overview of the day is a bit more explanatory than mine! 🙂 Good stuff. But, I’m a bit partial since I’m a MIL for an Army Guy.


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