May 25, 2023

The History of Memorial Day

Monday in the United States is Memorial Day, a day of remembrance for those who died in our nation’s service. The origins of this day of remembrance are in doubt, with more than two dozen cities and towns laying claim to being the birthplace of Memorial Day. There is also evidence that organized women’s groups in the South were decorating graves before the end of the Civil War. 

Originally called Decoration Day, the holiday was officially proclaimed on 5 May 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic: “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.” 

It is believed that the end of May was chosen for the first Memorial Day because “flowers would be in bloom all over the country.” 

The first state to officially recognize the holiday was New York, in 1873. By 1890 it was recognized by all of the northern states. The South refused to acknowledge the day, honoring their dead on separate days until after World War I (when the holiday changed from honoring just those who died fighting in the Civil War to honoring Americans who died fighting in any war). In 1971 Memorial Day was declared a national holiday to be held on the last Monday in May. In addition, several southern states have an additional, separate day for honoring their Confederate (Civil War) dead as follows:

    Mississippi: Last Monday in April

    Alabama: Fourth Monday in April

    Georgia: April 26

    North Carolina: May 10

    South Carolina: May 10

    Louisiana: June 3

    Tennessee (Confederate Decoration Day): June 3

    Texas (Confederate Heroes Day): January 19

    Virginia: Last Monday in May

Memorial Day is the perfect time to pause and remember our ancestors who fought in defense of their country. Now is the time to learn of the sacrifices, large and small, that they made so that we can all enjoy the freedoms we have today.

Here is a list of web sites that will help you learn about Memorial Day and our military heroes:

    Army Mortuary Affairs History Page  

    Auxiliary to the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War 

    Billion Graves 

     Blinded American Veterans Association 

    Cemeteries and Cemetery Records 

    Department of Veterans Affairs 

    Dept of Veterans Affairs National Cemetery Administration 

    Disabled American Veterans (DAV) 

    Find A Grave 

    GI Search (Military personnel search) 

    Gold Star Wives 

    Military Order of the Purple Heart (MOPH) 

    National Cemeteries and War Veterans Burials 

    The National D-Day Museum 

    The Old Guard Association 

    Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War 

    US Merchant Marine Museum 

    Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) 

    World War Two Maps