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

Memorial Day–A Bit of History

Flag Planting at Arlington Cemetary
A soldier from the 3rd US infantry (The Old Guard) laying a flag on a grave in Arlington Cemetery.  The Old Guard lays flags on each grave in the Cemetery to celebrate Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day.

Memorial Day is an American holiday, observed on the last Monday of May, honoring the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. Memorial Day 2020 occurs today,  Monday, May 25.

Memorial Day sprang out of remembrances of the millions of Americans who died during the Civil War (1861-1865).   So many Americans died that the first federal cemeteries were established.

The federal government designated Arlington as a national military cemetery in 1864.

It was not an accident that Arlington was designated as the first national cemetery.

Arlington Estate was established by George Washington’s adopted grandson, George Washington Parke Custis, to be a living memorial to the first president. Custis’s daughter, Mary, married U.S. Army 1st Lieutenant Robert E. Lee in 1831. When he died, Custis left the estate to his daughter Mary Custis Lee for the duration of her life, and upon her death, her eldest son would inherit the property. Robert E. Lee served as the executor of his father-in-law’s will and never owned the property

After the Lees abandoned the property at the start of the Civil War, the U.S. Army seized Arlington Estate on the morning of May 24, 1861 to defend Washington, D.C. From the property’s heights, rifled artillery could range every federal building in the nation’s capital. The estate was seized not to punish the Custis-Lee family, but rather for its strategic value. Three forts were built on the property during the Civil War: Fort Cass/Rosslyn, Fort Whipple/Fort Myer and Fort McPherson (currently Section 11 of the cemetery). Beginning in June 1863, a large Freedman’s Village, established for freed and escaped slaves, was established in what today are Sections 3, 4, 8, 18, and 20.

On May 13, 1864, the first military burial was conducted for Private William Christman. Brigadier General Montgomery Meigs, Quartermaster General of the U.S. Army, who was responsible for the burial of soldiers, ordered Arlington Estate used for a cemetery.  He wanted to ensure that the Lees would never be able to resume living on the estate. The existing D.C.-area national cemeteries (Soldiers’ Home and Alexandria National Cemeteries) were running out of space — both closed on the day that burials began at Arlington.

Following the death of his mother, in 1873, Lee’s oldest son, Custis, brought suit against the U.S. Government in hopes of gaining compensation for Arlington after its seizure during the Civil War. After a long court battle, the United States Supreme Court ruled that Arlington had been illegally seized and Custis regained title to the property. Knowing that he could not live at Arlington and operate it as a plantation estate, he sold the title back to the U.S. Government for $150,000.

Happy Memorial Day

Memorial Day flag rememberingAmericans celebrate Memorial Day on the last Monday in May.  It used to be celebrated on May 31.

AllABout History provides a summary of Memorial  Day’s History.  Memorial Day was first widely observed in May 1868. The celebration commemorated the sacrifices of the Civil War and the proclamation was made by General John A Logan. Following the proclamation, participants decorated graves of more than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers.

In years since World War 1, the day has become a celebration of honor for those who died in all America’s wars, as well as those who are Veterans and current members of the US military.

In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday. The United States celebrates this holiday the last Monday of May.

Memorial Day Thank You

Now-a-days, it has come to mark the unofficial start of summer.

From Reagan’s Memorial Day Speech at Arlington Cemetery in 1986.

“Oliver Wendell Holmes is here, the great jurist and fighter for the right. A poet searching for an image of true majesty could not rest until he seized on ‘Holmes dissenting in a sordid age.’ Young Holmes served in the Civil War. He might have been thinking of the crosses and stars of Arlington when he wrote: ‘At the grave of a hero we end, not with sorrow at the inevitable loss, but with the contagion of his courage; and with a kind of desperate joy we go back to the fight.'”

Memorial Day is now marked with sales, cook-outs, pool openings, and parades.  It is also a time when restaurants and other businesses offer free or discounted prices for veterans. Fortune, the Today Show,  and the PennyHoader all offer discount information.

Please remember to thank an active duty member of the military, a retiree, or a veteran for their service.