Memorial Day Origins

April 2, 2021
Featured Article Image


A day honoring those who made the ultimate sacrifice likely began with grieving women honoring their loved ones (and their once-enemies) in the exact same way, at the exact same time.

Did You Know?

  • Memorial Day tradition dates back to just after the Civil War.
  • Specifically honors those killed in action.
  • Commonly called “Decoration Day” at the time, as flowers or other items were used to decorate graves.
  • May 30th reportedly chosen because it’s the time of year when ample flowers bloom nationwide.

Here’s The Backstory

  • About 25 cities claim ties to the first Memorial Day.
  • In one well-publicized story, women in Columbus, Mississippi visited a cemetery in April 1866 to decorate the graves of Confederate soldiers and saw neglected graves of Union soldiers. They decided to place flowers on ALL the graves despite the war ending just a year earlier.
“They start to see these Union graves that are just laying there, kind of barren….Their hearts start to feel bad for the mothers who have lost these children. So, they start to throw flowers on the Yankee graves. And then that story gets published everywhere.”

Dr. Richard Gardiner, co-author of "The Genesis of the Memorial Day Holiday," argues the women in Mississippi were simply following a proposal by a women's association in Georgia weeks earlier.

The Official Beginning

  • First “Memorial Day” at Arlington was spearheaded by Maj. Gen. Logan – a Civil War veteran & lawmaker who advocated for others who had served.
  • Fmr. Union General & soon-to-be-elected President Ulysess S. Grant attended.
  • About 5,000 people gathered & put small American flags on graves; about the same # of people attend in modern times and do exactly the same thing.

Federal Holiday

  • Memorial Day designated a federal holiday in 1971 ~ last Monday of May.
  • MEMORIAL DAY: “a day for remembering and honoring military personnel who died in the service of their country, particularly those who died in battle or as a result of wounds sustained in battle.”
  • VETERANS DAY (Nov 11): “largely intended to thank LIVING veterans for their service…”

"We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance…Let no vandalism of avarice of neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten, as a people, the cost of free and undivided republic." Maj. General John A. Logan

Memorial Day Order 1868: CLICK HERE

Origins as described by the Dept. of Veterans Affairs: CLICK HERE

A little bit more about the fascinating origins of Memorial Day: READ HERE & HERE

by Jenna Lee,