Over the course of the Civil War, more than half a million soldiers died on both sides of the conflict. Historians disagree on whether it was closer to 600-thousand or 850-thousand, but all agree it was the deadliest of all American wars in terms of hometown casualties, many of them friends, family, and neighbors.
In 1868, General John Logan, commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, officially proclaimed a day of remembrance in his General Order No. 11:
“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 was the first memorial to fallen soldiers in our country and was originally termed “Decoration Day.” More than 5,000 people decorated the graves of 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried at the recently opened Arlington Cemetery. Future President James A Garfield gave a speech.
Much like our modern world, however, the strife amongst people didn’t end with the surrender at Appomattox Courthouse on April 9, 1865 or Juneteenth in Texas.
By the late 1800s and into the Twentieth Century, many cities and states recognized their own version of Decoration Day. The term ‘memorial day’ started to pop up in 1882. Politicians in the southern states declared that they had come up with the day of remembrance, referring to it as Confederate Memorial Day.
In July 1913, veterans from both sides gathered in Gettysburg to commemorate the fifty-year anniversary of the Civil War's most famous battle. Promoted as a "Blue-Gray Reunion," the four-day event featured battle reenactments, parades, and speeches from several dignitaries, including President Woodrow Wilson.
After The War to End All Wars (WWI), Decoration Day was extended by many to cover those lost in any war, especially since Civil War Veterans had almost all died by this point. In the early 1920s, a new tradition was married to the holiday. Picking up on a custom from France and Belgium, the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) started selling artificial poppies made by disabled veterans for people to decorate graves.
After World War II, calling the holiday Memorial Day became much more common as did combining various military memory-themed holidays into one. Finally, in 1967 & 1968, the name Memorial Day was made official and the date formally set as the last Monday in May. By 1971, it was ratified by all 50 states.
Today, although still ostensibly a military and religious holiday, Memorial Day for most folks is less about honoring and remembering the dead and more about BBQs and the start of summer sales.
The Uniform Monday Holiday Act, intended to streamline and unite the country’s celebrations, in some ways backfired. Instead of honoring the history that established President’s Day (Washington's Birthday) and Memorial Day, most of the nation sees them merely as an excuse for a fun three-day weekend.
The holiday is also often confused in modern times with Veteran’s Day. Memorial Day is specifically for those who gave their lives during or as a result of military service, while Veteran’s Day is for all veterans, living and dead.
In 2000, Congress passed the National Moment of Remembrance Act, asking people to stop and remember at 3:00 pm. It’s unclear whether this has had any affect in the past 23 years.
Some communities still host Memorial Day parades and many churches also take time out, on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, to honor the fallen military connected to their congregational family.
Here at Good News Pest Solutions, we do our best to honor the fallen men and women of the Armed Forces who gave the ultimate sacrifice in the battle for freedom. We will be closed for the national holiday, May 29th.
While it may be fun to check out a sale, have a picnic, or bring out the grill, we hope you also take a moment to remember that for everything we enjoy, there was a cost. And in that moment, give thanks for the men and women who paid that price.
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