The years immediately following the Civil War were tempestuous ones. Anger, loss, and poverty plagued the South and continued to rattle the North. By 1868, General John A. Logan of the Northern Civil War veterans, stepped forward and called for a nationwide day of remembrance. He suggested folks decorate graves of fallen soldiers with flowers and mementos, stating they “lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard” in the country. He further suggested the day be standardized on May 30 specifically since no battle had been fought on that day. And, according to spring calendars, the flowers would be in full bloom. Logan wanted the day to focus on remembering and honoring the individuals who fell, not on battles or armies.
The day was originally called Decoration Day, and for many years following, continued to be called Decoration Day.
The first observance of the day occurred at Arlington National Cemetery. Ceremonies were held under the veranda of the Arlington mansion of Gen. Robert E. Lee, draped in mourning black, with Gen. and Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant attending. Flowers were strown on both Union and Confederate graves. Hymn singing and prayers marked the day.
Fast forward one hundred plus years and Decoration Day is celebrated as Memorial Day commemorating fallen soldiers in all wars. Around each, stories and customs have sprung up. World War I with the poem Flanders Field and the red poppies. World War II with its great circle of marble arches memorial. A party of 19 soldiers, representing an ethnic cross section of those military fighting in Korea, still patrol. A black marble roll of Vietnam causalities cuts deep into the ground on the Washington mall. Remembrances of the Gulf Wars and Afghanistan populate the minds of Americans.
Memorial Day celebrations are marked by flags, speeches, and an annual patriotic concert on the National Mall. Days at the beach and backyard barbeques likewise mark the day. But most of all, remembering and honoring fallen war heroes is poignantly represented with the laying of a wreath on the unknown soldiers’ graves in the Arlington National Cemetery.
Monday, May 30 marks the day for 2022.