Decoration Day (Predecessor to Memorial Day)

Emily pins a snowball flower on the uniform of her grandfather, a Battle of Gettysburg veteran, on Decoration Day (circa 1912) before he and some other veterans go to visit the Deep Valley schools to tell the story of the Battle of Gettysburg.

The sun was higher now, glittering on the trees with their small new leaves, on the dewy grass. Emily, too, circled the bush, inspecting the luscious white clumps. “Snowball is too cold a name for them,” she said.

Selecting the finest, she cut it carefully. He looked stern again while she pinned it on his chest. “Now! You look very nice!”

“I’ll go to the gate and wait for the auto.”

“Tell them about Gettysburg in your very best style.”

“By Jingo, I will!” he answered happily.

Lovelace, Maud Hart. Emily of Deep Valley . William Morrow Paperbacks. Kindle Edition.

Three years after the Civil War ended, on May 5, 1868, the head of an organization of Union veterans — the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) — established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan declared that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30. It is believed that date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country.-VA Memorial History Day.

More from Deep Valley–the Decoration Day parade.

A tremendous emotional roar of welcome almost drowned out the sprightly tune.

For the “old soldiers” were coming, Deep Valley’s survivors of the now historic Civil War, six old men in blue uniforms with badges and bulging snowball clumps.

They were marching in pairs. They didn’t keep time very well. One walked with a cane. But they all held themselves with military stiffness. No beard equaled Judge Hodges’ beard. There were flourishing mustaches, though, and a goatee, and old Cap’ Klein’s chin whiskers. Cyrus Webster was clean shaven but his heavy eyebrows bristled with martial grimness.

Yes, Emily thought, they got feebler and fewer. And so did the old ladies of the Women’s Relief Corps who were passing now in another automobile, brave in their new bonnets. Her grandmother used to ride with them! She was gone now. And the white horse of memory was replaced by an automobile. Yet Decoration Day was always the same.

Lovelace, Maud Hart. Emily of Deep Valley . William Morrow Paperbacks. Kindle Edition.

Today, cities in the North and the South claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day in 1866. Both Macon and Columbus, Ga., claim the title, as well as Richmond, Va. The village of Boalsburg, Pa., claims it began there two years earlier. A stone in a Carbondale, Ill., cemetery carries the statement that the first Decoration Day ceremony took place there on April 29, 1866. Carbondale was the wartime home of Gen. Logan. Approximately 25 places have been named in connection with the origin of Memorial Day, many of them in the South where most of the war dead were buried.

Official Birthplace Declared In 1966, Congress and President Lyndon Johnson declared Waterloo, N.Y., the “birthplace” of Memorial Day. There, a ceremony on May 5, 1866, honored local veterans who had fought in the Civil War. Businesses closed and residents flew flags at half-staff. Supporters of Waterloo’s claim say earlier observances in other places were either informal, not community-wide or one-time events.

By the end of the 19th century, Memorial Day ceremonies were being held on May 30 throughout the nation. State legislatures passed proclamations designating the day, and the Army and Navy adopted regulations for proper observance at their facilities.

It was not until after World War I, however, that the day was expanded to honor those who have died in all American wars. In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by an act of Congress, though it is still often called Decoration Day. It was then also placed on the last Monday in May, as were some other federal holidays.

Happy Memorial Day/Happy Decoration Day