Memorial Day has not always been called Memorial Day, and it has not always been celebrated on the last Monday in May. Where did it start and when? This and other trivia are fun facts, even though there is nothing trivial about the reason we celebrate Memorial Day.
When and Where Did Memorial Day Start?
There has always been some dispute as to when and where Memorial Day actually began. At the end of the Civil War, many towns across America gathered to honor those killed during the war. Historian David Blight believes that Memorial Day started in April 1865 in Charleston, S.C. when a group of former slaves gathered at a former confederate prison where 250 Union soldiers were killed.
There are other accounts that place the first Memorial Day event in April 26, 1866 at Columbus, Georgia. Other places that claim to have held the first Memorial Day include Waterloo, NY, Boalsburg, PA, Columbus, MS and Carbondale, IL.
Three years later in 1868, General John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic, proclaimed May 30 as Decoration Day and designated as day to place flowers on the graves of those killed in the Civil War.
Are There More Than One Memorial Day Holidays?
After the Civil War, southern states started to believe that Memorial Day only honored Union soldiers, so they started observing Confederate Memorial Day. After World War I, Memorial Day was set aside to honor fallen Americans in all wars. Confederate Memorial Day is still a state holiday in several southern states today.
When Did Memorial Day Officially Become Memorial Day?
For more than 100 years after the Civil War, Memorial Day was celebrated on May 30th. In 1968, President Johnson signed into law the Uniform Holiday Bill which stated that Memorial Day would be celebrated on the last Monday in May. The law went into effect in 1971.
Arlington National Cemetery
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery is the site where presidents lay a wreath every Memorial Day. Arlington National Cemetery was the home of General Robert E. Lee before the start of the Civil War. Arlington National Cemetery became a U.S. cemetery in 1864.
In a tradition that started around 1948, soldiers of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) places flags on the more than 260,000 gravesites at Arlington National Cemetery on the Thursday before Memorial Day. The soldiers stand guard in the cemetery to ensure each flag remains in place until after Memorial Day.
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