Memorial Day Origins Date Back to Civil War

Article excerpt

Byline: Diana Dretske

Memorial Day is a national holiday that traces its beginnings to the Civil War (1861-1865) and is an important reminder of those who died in the service of their country.

Memorial Day was originally known as Decoration Day because it was a time set aside to honor the nation's Civil War dead by decorating their graves. It's difficult to pinpoint the origins of the day, but it seems likely that it had many separate beginnings, including women's groups in the South who decorated graves before the end of the Civil War. The first widely observed Decoration Day was on May 30, 1868, commemorating the sacrifices of Civil War soldiers by proclamation of Gen. John Logan (1826-1886), national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic.

Logan's order read as follows: "The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land."

During this celebration, Gen. James Garfield (1831-1881) made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery after which 5,000 participants decorated the graves of the more than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried in the cemetery. Garfield would become the 20th president of the United States in 1881, but only four months after his inauguration he was shot and subsequently died from the infected wound. …