Memorial Day Flag 2022 – History of Memorial Day – On May 5, 1868, three years after the Civil War ended, the leader of a Union veterans’ organization, the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the war dead’s graves with flowers. Decoration Day was established on May 30 by Maj. Gen. John A. Logan. It is thought that this date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom across the country.
The first large-scale commemoration was held that year at Arlington National Cemetery, which is located across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.
The ceremonies centered on the Arlington mansion’s mourning-draped veranda, which was once home to Gen. Robert E. Lee. The ceremonies were presided over by a number of Washington officials, including Gen. and Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant.
Following the speeches, children from the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Orphan Home and GAR members made their way through the cemetery, laying flowers on both Union and Confederate graves, reciting prayers and singing hymns.
Local Observances Argue That They Are The First Local springtime tributes to the Civil War dead had already taken place in a number of locations. One of the first occurred on April 25, 1866, in Columbus, Mississippi, when a group of women went to a cemetery to decorate the graves of Confederate soldiers who had died in the Battle of Shiloh.
Nearby were the graves of Union soldiers, who had been forgotten because they were the enemy. The women were disturbed by the sight of the bare graves and placed some of their flowers on those graves as well.
Today, cities in both the North and South claim to be the originators of Memorial Day in 1866. Both Macon and Columbus, Georgia, as well as Richmond, Virginia, claim the title. The village of Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, claims it started there two years earlier.
The first Decoration Day ceremony was held in Carbondale, Illinois, on April 29, 1866, according to a stone in the cemetery. Gen. Logan lived in Carbondale during the war. Around 25 locations have been named in connection with the origins of Memorial Day, many of them in the South, where the majority of the war dead were interred.
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Declared Official Birthplace Waterloo, New York, was designated as the “birthplace” of Memorial Day by Congress and President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1966.
On May 5, 1866, a ceremony honoring local Civil War veterans was held there. Businesses were closed, and residents lowered their flags to half-staff. Supporters of Waterloo’s claim argue that previous commemorations in other cities were either informal, not community-wide, or one-time events.
By the end of the nineteenth century, Memorial Day ceremonies were being held across the country on May 30. The day was declared by state legislatures, and the Army and Navy issued regulations to ensure proper observance at their facilities.
However, it wasn’t until after World War I that the day was expanded to honors those who died in all American wars. Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by an act of Congress in 1971, though it is still commonly referred to as Decoration Day. It was then moved to the last Monday in May, along with a few other federal holidays.
Confederate Observances are observed in some states. Many Southern states also have their own commemorative days to honors the Confederate dead. Confederate Memorial Day is observed in Mississippi on the last Monday of April, in Alabama on the fourth Monday of April, and in Georgia on April 26.
It is observed on May 10 in North and South Carolina, June 3 in Louisiana, and June 3 in Tennessee as Confederate Decoration Day. Confederate Heroes Day is observed in Texas on January 19, and Confederate Memorial Day is observed in Virginia on the last Monday in May.
In 1868, Gen. Logan directed his posts to decorate graves “with the finest flowers of springtime,” urging: “We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance….” Allow pleasant paths to welcome reverent visitors and heartfelt mourners. Let no neglect, no ravages of time bear witness to the present or future generations that we as a people have forgotten the cost of a free and undivided republic.”
The crowd at the first Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery was roughly the same size as those present today, around 5,000 people. Small American flags were placed on each grave back then, as they are now in many national cemeteries. Many families have adopted the practice of decorating the graves of all departed loved ones in recent years.
The origins of special services to honors those killed in battle can be traced back to antiquity. “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,” Athenian leader Pericles said of the fallen heroes of the Peloponnesian War over 24 centuries ago, and it could be applied today to the 1.1 million Americans who have died in the nation’s wars.
To ensure that America’s fallen heroes’ sacrifices are never forgotten, the United States Congress passed and the president signed into law “The National Moment of Remembrance Act,” P.L. 106-579, in December 2000, establishing 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 with so much freedom and opportunity” by encouraging and coordinating Memorial Day and the National Moment of Remembrance commemorations in the United States.