The Civil War (also referred to as The War Between the States), resulted in Americans forming the first national war cemeteries. Those who had lost loved ones would visit these cemeteries regularly. They would decorate the graves of each soldier, both those they new, and those who had simply fought alongside their loved ones.
The act of decorating graves and honoring the dead, is alleged to have originated by African slaves. Assigned the gruesome task of digging up 257 Union soldiers (whose bodies had been dumped in a mass grave), these slaves were ordered to reburying them, this time, separately. These dead soldiers had been taken as prisoners of war and had died in a Confederate prison camp in Charleston, South Carolina. It is said that these African American men, worked tirelessly for weeks, in order to insure that each received a proper burial. Upon the completion of their task, they honored the dead further, by singing, marching, and celebrating. Statistics very, but many believe the numbers to have included at least 10,000 individuals.
By 1860, this act of remembering and honoring the fallen, was well known across America.
In 1868, the Northern General, John A. Logan, established an official day of remembrance: May 30th. (The month of May was chosen, due to the fact that May produces the most flowers). The date was originally called: Decoration Day.
On the first observance of Decoration Day, a speech was made at Arlington National Cemetery, and it is said that over 5,000 individuals were in attendance. After the speech, thousands decorated over 20,000 Union and Confederate graves. Although the Northerners respected the graves of their enemies, by decorating them too, many Southerners, at that time, refused to acknowledge this act of kindness. Instead, they declined to participate in Decoration Day, choosing rather to establish their own day of remembrance, known as Confederate Memorial Day.
The date of Confederate Memorial Day varies from state to state. Georgia and Florida, for instance, celebrate on April 26th, whereas Texas observes the day on January 19th. Both Tennessee and Louisiana, recognize June 3rd as their day to remember.
By 1890, Decoration Day, was viewed as an official state holiday. These ceremonies were led by groups such as the Women’s Relief Corps, the Ladies Memorial Association, and the Grand Army of the Republic (a women’s auxiliary group).
In the South, the United Daughters of the Confederacy, headed up their own event. They only decorated and built monuments, however, for soldiers who had fought on the Confederate side.
At its start, one hundred eighty three cemeteries were said to have been decorated, but, by 1869, these numbers had soured to well over three hundred. (Little did Americans know that the future would result in several more wars and thousands more graves.)
In 1890, Knoxville, Tennessee, held a “Blue-Grey Reunion”, in which members from both sides of the way, came together. Former enemies, who had fought against each other at the Battle of Fort Sanders, shook hands for the first time. In 1913, veterans again came together. This time, for a four-day celebration in which thousands listened to patriotic speeches, watched battle scene re-enactments, and met President Woodrow Wilson.) President Wilson, was the first president from the south to be elected as America’s leader, post- Civil War). Perhaps due to these reunions, Southerners eventually began observing Decoration Day as well.
On May 26th, 1966, President Johnson, signed papers declaring Waterloo, New York, as the birthplace of Memorial Day. Despite this presidential proclamation, several other states debated this decision, declaring their own geographical location as the original birthplace. Despite the dispute, New York is still known as the founding location.
By 1971, Congress had established the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which converted Declaration Day, into a three-day holiday, covering the last Monday in May. The government wanted this three0day weekend for their federal employees. Groups like the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, opposed this decision. They felt that a three-day weekend would result in American’s becoming dispassionate and distracted about the observance. These groups continued to oppose this decision through 2002.
Although the term, “Memorial Day”, had been used as early as the mid 1800’s, the title did not become official until its establishment in 1971.
Traditional observances include: flags being lowered to half-mast and a 3:00 p.m. moment of silence. Since 1911, the Indianapolis 500 auto race, has also been held on this day.
*3:00P.M. is the national moment of remembrance. It is observed by thousands of Americans in every state. This was established by Congress in 2000, and is part of the National Moment of Remembrance Act.
Modern traditions include: setting off fireworks, grilling hamburgers and hotdogs, wearing patriot colors, decorating in red/white/blue, and boating with family and friends. Others attend parades, watch war re-enactments, sing patriotic songs, and watch laser shows. The Atlanta Braves will also be playing this year (2016), and hundreds of people will flock to the stadium.
Although our culture has changed, and many Americans have allowed themselves to get caught up in the fun of partying and relaxing, many others still hold to the true reason behind the day.
Hundreds of Americans will spend Memorial Day quietly walking through military cemeteries. Minds focusing on sacrifice, honor, duty, and commitment, they will show tribute to the fallen. Flags, and sometimes lights, will be placed next to each individual headstone. Songs like, “God Bless America”, will be sung over the dead. Women and children will cry over their lost loved ones. The taps will play. A moment of silence. America will remember. Not every American perhaps, but those who still love this land, whose hearts remain filled with gratitude, love, and respect for our Country, will take this time to thank God for those who have given the ultimate sacrifice- so that we might stand today.
I ask you, my fellow Americans, to please take the time to remember those who have died fighting for our freedom and for their families.
May God bless our troops, and may God bless America!
*Civil War (1861-1865)– 2,213,363 (Union) Service Members = 140,414 deaths; 1, 050, 000 (Confederate) Service Members = 74, 524 deaths.
*World War I (1917-1918)– 4, 734, 991 Service Members = 53, 402 deaths
*World War II (1941-1945)– 16, 112, 566 Service Members = 291, 557 deaths
*Korean War (1950-1953) – 5,720,000 Service Members = 47, 434 deaths
*Vietnam War (1055-1975) – 8, 744,000 Service Members – 47, 434 deaths
*Persian Gulf War (1990-1991) – 2, 322,000 Service Members – 148 deaths
*War in Afghanistan (2001-2014) – 45,000 Service Members (as of 2011) – 2, 326 deaths and 20, 083 wounded
*Operation Iraqi Freedom (2003-2012) – 4, 489 deaths
*War on Terrorism (2001- Present) – Unknown
*ALL PHOTOS FEATURED ON THIS BLOG COURTESY OF : A.N.Photography