Thought for the Week

A Short History of Memorial Day

On May 5, 1868, the Grand Army of the Republic established Memorial Day or Decoration Day as the national day to decorate the graves of the Civil War soldiers with flowers. Major General John A. Logan appointed May 30 as the day to be observed. Arlington National Cemetery had the first observance of the day on a grand scale. The place was appropriate as it already housed graves of over 20,000 Union dead and several hundred Confederate dead. Gen. and Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant presided the meeting and the center point of these Memorial Day ceremonies was the mourning-draped veranda of the Arlington mansion. Speeches were followed by a march of soldiers’ children and orphans and members of the GAR through the cemetery strewing flowers on both Union and Confederate graves. They also recited prayers and sang hymns for the dead.

Many cities in the North and the South claim to be the first to celebrate Memorial Day in 1866 but Congress and President Lyndon Johnson officially declared Waterloo, New York, as the ‘birthplace’ of Memorial Day in 1966. It was said that on May 5, 1866, a ceremony was held here to honor local soldiers and sailors who fought in the Civil War, businesses were closed for the day and residents furled flags at half-mast. It was said to be the first formal, community-wide and regular event.

In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by the Congress, who designated the last Monday in May as the day for its observance. Many states observe separate Confederate Memorial Days.

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