The Founding of Memorial Day

Flags decorate the graves of the fallen.

Flags decorate the graves of the fallen. Today we still celebrate the holiday by “decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country” just like Logan initially called for.

This weekend marks the unofficial beginning of summer to Americans.  Many BBQs will be had, many miles will be driven and many boats will be taken out for one of the first times this year.  Yet we cannot forget what this weekend holiday is about.  This holiday was created to honor our dead servicemen and their sacrifice to our country and our cause of liberty.  There will be many Memorial Day parades around America this weekend where children will be excited to get candy from the floats and listen to the bands as they pass and all these parades and celebrations go to show the freedoms that we enjoy in America that these men and women that we are celebrating weekend died for.

146 years ago this week the original proclamation for “Decoration Day”, the celebration that would become memorial day, was given by Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) General John A. Logan.  In this proclamation General Logan said that this day should be “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”.*  The holiday was quickly recognized by many states and was adopted after World War I as the day to recognize all service members who have died in war.

General John A. Logan, Founder of Memorial Day

General John A. Logan, Founder of Memorial Day

General Logan first set up a day of recognition after he was given command of Atlanta after the Union’s victory in that battle at the Civil War.  This day was mirrored in many cities in America in the years before he issued General Order #11 including in his home county in Carbondale, Illinois on April 29, 1866.  Logan was seen as the greatest volunteer General of the Civil War and went on to be one of the most influential politicians in America for 20 years after the Civil War.  His early death caused him to miss the presidential nomination in 1888 that was surely going to be his. (You can learn more about John A. Logan here.)

I hope that as every celebrates this weekend, weather you are travelling, going to a parade, participating in a race or just relaxing please remember the meaning of this day and remember to enjoy the freedoms that so many have sacrificed their all for.

*Taken from General John A. Logan’s General Order #11 from May 5, 1868 (Its full text is below).

General Order
No. 11
Headquarters, Grand Army of the Republic
Washington, D.C., May 5, 1868

I. The 30th day 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. In this observance no form or ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.

We are organized, comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the purpose, among other things, “of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers, sailors, and marines who united to suppress the late rebellion.” What can aid more to assure this result than by cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foes? Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains, and their death a tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms. We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the Nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten, as a people, the cost of free and undivided republic.

If other eyes grow dull and other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain in us.

Let us, then, at the time appointed, gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with choicest flowers of springtime; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us as sacred charges upon the Nation’s gratitude,–the soldier’s and sailor’s widow and orphan.

II. It is the purpose of the Commander-in-Chief to inaugurate this observance with the hope it will be kept up from year to year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades. He earnestly desires the public press to call attention to this Order, and lend its friendly aid in bringing it to the notice of comrades in all parts of the country in time for simultaneous compliance therewith.

III. Department commanders will use every effort to make this order effective.

By command of:
JOHN A. LOGAN,
Commander-in-Chief.

N. P. CHIPMAN,
Adjutant-General

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