Friday, May 27, 2011

Memorial Day: Originally Established to Honor Civil War Soldiers Who Died in Defense of Their Country

Although the practice existed in both the north and the south, following the American Civil War, of decorating graves of fallen soldiers the first “official” Memorial Day to honor and remember those who died in the military service of the nation did not occur until May 30, 1868. 

                   Antietam National Cemetery, May 27, 2011

Major General John Alexander “Blackjack” Logan a resident of Illinois, who had served with distinction in the Army of the Tennessee, is attributed with having established Memorial Day, or Decoration Day as it was then called, when on May 5, 1868, as national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in General Order No. 11 he made the following proclamation: 

General Orders No.11, WASHINGTON, D.C., May 5, 1868
The 30th day 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 church-yard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit. We are organized, comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the purpose among other things, "of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers, sailors, and marines who united to suppress the late rebellion." What can aid more to assure this result than cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foes? Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains, and their deaths the tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms. We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.

If other eyes grow dull, other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain to us. Let us, then, at the  time appointed gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with the choicest flowers of spring-time; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from his honor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon a nation's gratitude, the soldier's and sailor's widow and orphan.

It is the purpose of the Commander-in-Chief to inaugurate this observance with the hope that it will be kept up from year to year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades. He earnestly desires the public press to lend its friendly aid in bringing to the notice of comrades in all parts of the country in time for simultaneous compliance therewith.
Department commanders will use efforts to make this order effective. By order of

  Graves of Union Veterans, Antietam National Cemetery

New York State recognized Memorial Day as a holiday in 1873.  By 1890 it was recognized by all the northern states.  Southern states did not observe the holiday until after World War I although many continued to observe a separate decoration day to honor soldiers who fought for the Confederacy.  Now Memorial Day is celebrated across the nation the last Monday of May.  

Lets not loose sight of the reason for Memorial Day.  It is much more than a 3 day weekend with an extra paid day off work.

1 comment:

  1. I would like top use some of your images for a veterans graves restoration website I am working on. If you could please email me at with permission or call 267.977.3033 to let me know if it is OK I'd appreciate it. The Society is Saving Hallowed Ground in Radnor PA (Near Valley Forge)

    Semper Fi,
    Paul Manz