Memorial Day from Home
This Memorial Day weekend Americans will pay tribute to the men and women of the military who have died protecting this country.
You may wonder how Memorial Day began. I paid a visit to a cemetery near my home town that claims to be the birthplace of what was once called Decoration Day. You’ll be surprised at what I learned!
According to some historians, Memorial Day began 143 years ago about 30 minutes from my home in the nearby town of Columbus, Mississippi.
On April 25, 1866, four women decorated the tombstones of the Confederate soldiers buried in Friendship Cemetery. They noticed at the time that the graves of the Union soldiers were being ignored, so they laid flowers there, too.
At the Friendship Cemetery in Mississippi, I learned that a famous poem was inspired by the women who decorated those graves. Francis Miles Finch’s poem “The Blue and the Gray” was published in the September 1867 issue of the Atlantic Monthly. The headnote to the poem read:
The women of Columbus, Mississippi, animated by noble sentiments, have showed themselves impartial in their offerings to the memory of the dead. They strewed flowers on the graves of the Confederate and the National Soldiers.
Some experts claim this is the first time both the Confederate and Union soldiers were recognized at the same time.
But other regions make the same claim. In fact, about 25 different communities say Memorial Day began in their cemeteries, including Richmond, Virginia; Carbondale, Illinois; and Columbus, Georgia.
The first national observance of the Civil War dead was held on May 30, 1868 in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. That was three years after the end of the “War Between the States.”
After World War I, the day was designated to honor those who died in all American wars, not just the Civil War. In 1966, President Lyndon Johnson declared Waterloo, New York, the "birthplace" of Memorial Day. Congress passed a law in 1971 designating the last Sunday in May as Memorial Day.
I have attended several Memorial Day ceremonies and it has changed the way I think of all our men and women in uniform. It has taught me to appreciate all of them for risking their lives to give us our freedoms. Have you ever been to a Memorial Day ceremony? What does Memorial Day mean to you? Send us your comments below!