By Mary Gasper, Army Heritage and Education CenterApril 30, 2008
Every year, American families come together to honor those fallen service members, men and women, who have given their lives to make all future AmericansAca,!a,,c lives better. Memorial Day is set aside to remember those who were strong and fought the good fight. The holiday and remembrance, however, did not start off as the honorable event it is seen as today.
For the first twenty years Memorial Day was initially a spiritual practice, remembering the dead and what they died for. After all, 620,000 soldiers gave their lives; the immediate legacy of the war was its slaughter and how to remember it. During the war soldiers, after countless remote skirmishes and awful battles, had gathered to mourn and bury their comrades. Women had begun informal rituals of burial and remembrance well before the war ended, both in home towns and at the battlefront. Americans carried flowers to graves or to makeshift monuments representing their dead, and so was born the ritual Aca,!A"Decoration Day,Aca,!A? eventually known as Memorial Day.
Black South Carolinians and their Northern white abolitionist allies were primarily responsible for the first Decoration Day. In Charleston, South Carolina, where the war had begun, the first collective ceremony involving a parade and the decoration of the graves took place on May 1, 1865.
As a Northern ritual of commemoration, Memorial Day officially took hold in May 1868, when Major-General John A. Logan, commander-in-chief of the veterans organization the Grand Army of the Republic, called on all Union veterans to conduct ceremonies and decorate the graves of their dead comrades. On May 30, 1868, in 183 cemeteries in 27 states, funeral ceremonies were attended by thousands of people. In 1873 the New York Legislature designated May 30 a legal holiday, and by 1890 every other Northern state had followed its lead.
As the years have come and gone, remembrance has become difficult for some, but still for many Americans their friends and loved ones will never be forgotten. A speech given by a Rev. Dr. Brown in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania on Saturday, May 30, 1868, best represents this thought. Aca,!A"We have come to do honor to the noble dead -- to strew up with flowers the graves of those who died that we and the nation might live. We have come not in midwinter or with cypress wreaths, but in Springtime, when the fields are green, and the flowers blooming, and birds singing, that, in sympathy with universal nature, we might bring our grateful offering of reverence and affectionAca,!A|.
The noble dead, who fell here and on these neighboring hills, need no eulogium from our lips. They have secured the proudest of all earthly honors, and their tombstones bear the inscription: They Died for their Country. There is no danger that they will be forgottenAca,!A|.Aca,!A?