Monday, May 26, 2014
By the spring of 1864 Union dead had completely filled the cemeteries of both Washington and Alexandria. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton directed the Quartermaster General, Montgomery Meigs (below, left) to find a new site for more burials. Meigs, who had a reputation as a hard driving, and scrupulously honest officer, had been born in Augusta, Georgia. Indeed he had served under Robert E. Lee in the peace time Union Army. But by this point in 1864, Meigs had come
"Memorial Day" is Established
During the Civil War, some 600,000 men were killed – nearly every city, town and hamlet in the country suffered the loss of some significant portion of it’s male population. As the conflict drew to a close, mourners started decorating the graves of the fallen soldiers with flowers and small flags. It was in Waterloo, New York that this practice was first made an official day of remembrance when May 5 was designated as a day for all of the town’s shops and businesses to close so the townspeople could decorate the graves of the war dead in 1866. There were nevertheless a great many different days that were set aside for this recognition, and General John Logan, head of the Union Army Veterans Association lead an effort to combine these days into one day. May 30th was the best day and Gen. Logan chose that date for two very important reasons: First, the day did not mark the anniversary of a Civil War battle, and second "flowers would likely be in bloom all over the United States." And it was in that very cemetery at Arlington which Gen. Meigs had set aside that the first National Memorial Day ceremony was held on May 30 in 1868, when 5,000 Civil War widows, orphans and family members placed flowers on the graves of the 20,000 Civil War veterans who were therein interred… both Union and Confederate. Eventually, the name of the day was changed to Memorial Day, although older Americans (such as my Grandmother) continued to call it “Decoration Day”. In 1971, Congress designated the fourth Monday in May as a national Memorial Day holiday.
READERS!! If you would like to comment on this, or any "Today in History" posting, I would love to hear from you!! You can either sign up to be a member of this blog and post a comment in the space provided below, or you can simply e-mail me directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org I seem to be getting hits on this site all over the world, so please do write and let me know how you like what I'm writing (or not!)!!
"The Civil War" - Produced by Ken Burns, PBS, 1990, Episode 7, "Most Hallowed Ground".