Do you know the origin of Memorial Day?
Long before Memorial Day was a federally observed holiday on the last Monday of the month of May, it was celebrated informally on many different dates throughout the nation. Its origins stem from the American Civil War, when families of the hundreds of thousands of casualties desired to honor their lost loved ones and the cause for which they fought. Independent of each other, towns and cities across the nation began honoring the fallen soldiers by decorating their graves with flowers, flags and artifacts to show their remembrance.
A few years following the war, desiring to unify all of these independent days of remembrance, a former Union officer organized a date on which all Union soldiers would be honored, May 30th. As had been the custom throughout the nation already, graves and main streets would be decorated, citizens and soldiers would parade to remember the lost and their cause, and it would be called Decoration Day. The date, May 30th, was chosen because it was not the date of any particular battle, thus not honoring a battle. It was specifically chosen to remember the men that fell in what was deemed to be the “glorious cause.”
For years this formal Decoration Day on May 30th was believed to be the origins of what we now know as Memorial Day. Recent discovery tells us another story…
In his research, an author writing about the Civil War era discovered what historians believe to be the first celebration of Memorial Day. Following the end of the American Civil War, freedmen and freedwomen (former enslaved people) went to the racetrack grounds of Charleston, SC where Confederates held a prisoner of war camp. Within that former camp was a mass grave of union soldiers, hundreds of bodies piled on each other. The freedmen and women began to take up each body to bury them individually, each with their own grave. When each soldier was given the dignity of a private burial, they decorated the graves with flowers, they paraded through the streets, sang and danced, all to honor those soldiers who died in a war which resulted in their freedom. Thus started Decoration Day and thus started Memorial Day.
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