The Roots of Memorial Day

By May 24, 2013Archives

Memorial Day is just around the corner. While some younger Americans may associate the holiday with the beginning of summer, family barbecues or a three-day weekend; most senior citizens remember the true origin of this special day.

Memorial Day, celebrated on a Monday, is the day which is set aside to honor the members of the United States armed forces who have died in battle. While it was originally meant to honor those soldiers who died during the Civil War, it has evolved to honor the memory of every fallen soldier.

Back during the Civil War era, Memorial Day was actually known as Decoration Day. Citizens from both the North and the South would commemorate the memory of their fallen loved ones by decorating the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers.

The Very First Memorial Day Observance

We do know that the first observance of what is now called Memorial Day was held in 1865 by a group of liberated slaves. The celebration was held at a historic race track located in Charleston, S.C. The race track had previously served as a former Confederate prison camp and mass grave site for hundreds of Union soldiers who died while held captive at the camp.

The very first Memorial Day was observed and celebrated with a huge parade. Thousands of free slaves and Union soldiers took part in the parade, which was followed up by singing patriotic songs and a picnic.

On May 5, 1866 and every year thereafter, Waterloo, New York observed the event. General John A. Logan led the campaign for the day to be observed each year. Even though the Union won the Civil War, General Logan was impressed with the way the South honored their dead soldiers on a special day of the year. He believed that the North should have such a day. In 1868, he declared Decoration Day and it was celebrated that year on May 30th.

Memorial Day as We Know It

It wasn’t until 1967 that Memorial Day got its current name. One year later, Congress passed the Uniform Holidays Bill. This bill moved three holidays from their original dates to a specific Monday in order to create those much-loved three-day weekends. Memorial Day was given the last Monday in May.

This Memorial Day, take the time to thank a Veteran for their service. Talk with seniors about their fond memories of Memorial Day’s past or their service in WWII. Consider the fact that thousands upon thousands of brave men and women have given their lives to provide us with the freedom we enjoy every day. Take this Memorial Day to remember.



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