Research paper I did for the Civil War Zine.
The Real Origins of Memorial Day
Whenever we hear the word Memorial Day, we automatically think of pool parties, barbeques, the official start of summer and a chance to show off the hot bikini that you put away last year. However, that is not the real reason Memorial Day was created or celebrated. A women’s group in the South started Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day until World War II. There is evidence that these women decorated the graves of the Confederate and Union dead before the war ended.There are many origins of where Memorial Day actually began, since it is more than likely that people in every town gathered to commemorate the dead in the1860’s. From then on, it tapped into the human need to honor the dead.
On the fifth of May in 1868, Memorial Day was officially proclaimed by General John Logan, commander of the Grand Army of the Republic. The week before, Logan was the principal speaker at a cemetery in Illinois for a citywide memorial observation. This event most likely gave him the idea to make it a national holiday. Logan was impressed with the way the South honored their dead by giving them a special day. He thought that the Union needed something similar. It was in his General Order No. 11 that he proclaimed this holiday to be celebrated on May 30th when flowers were placed on Confederate and Union graves at Arlington National Cemetery. ”It was most fitting; that the ancients, especially the Greeks, had honored their dead, particularly their heroes by chaplets of laurel and flowers,” it supposedly said in regards to the ceremonies and the wish to keep the day designated to remembrance.
New York became the birthplace of Memorial Day due to their observance on May 5, 1866 and each year after. It was also likely that the friendship between Logan and General John Murray, a distinguished Waterloo resident, helped spread the event nationwide. New York was also the first state to officially recognize this holiday in 1873; by 1890 all the Northern states recognized the holiday. However, the South, due to lingering hostility toward the Union army, refused to recognize the day and they honored their dead on different days (usually after a birthday, death, or a significant day in the Civil War) until World War I (when it changed from only honoring Civil War veterans to anyone who served in war). It is now celebrated in every state, usually on the last Monday to ensure a three day weekend, and the South still has separate days honoring the Confederate dead.
Today, the Southeastern states celebrate Decoration Day as a day to decorate the graves of all the family members who passed on, and it is not reserved for only those who served in the military and war. This observation day is on the Sunday before Memorial Day. Memorial Day is also celebrated around the world. After World War I, countries such as France and Belgium, remember who died in war on November 11 (Remembrance Day).
So, before we head out to the barbeque or pool party on Memorial Day, we should all pay respect to a deceased loved one and especially to the people that served the country to help get us the freedoms we take for granted nowadays. If it wasn’t for their bravery, courage and dying to preserve our rights in this country, we would not be here today to enjoy what they’ve sacrificed so much for.
Merchant, David M. "Memorial Day." 1994. May 26, 2006. <http://www.usmemorialday.org/>
The History Channel. "The History of Memorial Day." 2004. May 26, 2006.
Wikipedia. "Memorial Day." 2006. May 26, 2006.
May 27, 2006
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