Today is Memorial Day but do you know the history of it? Memorial Day – or Decoration Day – dates back to the Civil War but the first official Federal Holiday of Memorial Day wasn’t recognized until 1971!
The Civil War which ended in April 1865 resulted in the deaths of an estimated 620,000 people and lead to the establishment of national cemeteries. By the late 1860’s cities and towns all over the country were organizing late spring activities to clean up the cemeteries after the winter as well as ceremonies to honor the fallen while decorating their graves.
In 1868, General John A. Logan who was the leader of an organization of Northern Civil War veterans called for a national day of remembrance. “The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land,” he proclaimed according to History.com. It was said he called for the date of May 30th because it did not commemorate any particular battle.
After that first Memorial Day, the date continued to be observed but still honored only those who had fallen in the Civil War. With the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, the United States once again found itself in a conflict resulting in thousands of soldiers’ deaths. And Memorial Day evolved to honor all American military personnel that perish in all wars.
Through World War 2, the Korean War into the Viet Nam era, Memorial Day continued to be observed on May 30th as designated by General Logan, but in 1968 Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. This act declared Memorial Day as a federal holiday and moved its observance to the last Monday in May to create a 3-day weekend for federal employees. The law went into effect in 1971 – so the first official Memorial Day holiday was Monday May 31st in 1971.
Happy Memorial Day everyone – please do take a moment to remember those who served for us.