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General Order No. 11 (from General John A. Logan)  May 5, 1868.

"The 30th of May, 1868 is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the grass of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land...." 

This is always on the last Monday in May.  It was originally a day set aside to honor the Northern Civil War soldiers that died,   Today, Memorial Day celebrates fallen soldiers of any war.  And whether you honor them by putting flowers on their graves  or wear a poppy (see below) or fly a flag makes no real difference.

But to provide a general bit of history about Memorial Day, Waterloo, New York is credited with having held the first Memorial Day observance on May 5, 1866 two years prior to the General Order No. 11 above.   It was Henry C. Welles, a pharmacist in Waterloo, NY, that suggested  to veteran's organizations that the graves of the dead be decorated. This is how the term, "Decoration Day" became associated with Memorial Day.  The celebration also included flying flags at half-mast, a parade and a march to the local military cemetery to hear patriotic speeches.

However, many other places and people also claim that they originated Memorial Day.

  In Jackson, Mississippi  Sue Landon Vaughan (a descendant of President John Adams) put out a call to decorate Confederate graves on April 26, 1865.  This is commemorated on a stone monument erected in 1888 on the old State Capitol grounds (know known as Confederate Park) in Jackson, MS.

  On April 25, 1866 in Columbus, Mississippi four women in Friendship Cemetery decorated the graves of their fallen soldiers. Their decorating of 40 Federal soldiers' graves also, inspired the poem "The Blue and Gray" by Francis Miles Finch.  He was a NY attorney who read about this in the newspaper.

  On November 7, 1865 in Hopkinton, Iowa they dedicated a monument to the 44 soldiers from Lenox College who served in the Civil War.  This was not the first monument to be erected to the deceased soldiers of the Civil War.  Earlier monuments were put up in Kensington, CT and Stones River National Battlefield in Murfreesboro, TN.

  Mrs. George H. Evans (Sarah J. Nichols) decorated the graves of  soldiers in Arlington Heights (near D.C.).

  The state of Virginia  has several stories that all proclaim that they originated Memorial Day.
(a) Cassandra Oliver Moncure decorated graves in the Hollywood Cemetery (Richmond).
(b) Belle Isle in James River had Memorial Services
(c) Winchester, VA had a Women's Memorial Society and observed on June 6, 1866 (The anniversary of the death of General Turner Ashby.)
(d) Petersburg, VA observed June 9, 1866 (anniversary of the assault of 1864.)
(e)  In Blandford Cemetery, on the stone of Nora Fontaine Maury Davidson is credited with being the originator of Memorial Day.

  One version is that Mrs. Henry S. Kimball of W. Philadelphia, PA suggested in a letter to General Logan to make it a custom to decorate the graves with flowers.  But, another version is that General Logan's  Adj. General of the G.A.R. ,N. P. Chipman claims that a comrade of German background from Cincinnati suggested the custom of decorating the graves with flowers.  And, according to this, it was Chipman who wrote General Order 11 (and not General Logan.)

A friend of Carl Sandberg (the poet),  Lloyd Lewis who was a newspaperman, suggested that in the wild delirium following President Lincoln's assassination and burial, that Memorial Day was established. 

  James Redpath, a newspaperman from Charleston, SC, reported of the decorating of 257 graves of Union soldiers by the families of former slaves on May 1, 1865.

  On March 12, 1866 Mrs. Mary Williams wrote a letter in the Columbus, GA paper appealing to women all over the south to cover the graves of their soldiers with flowers.  April 26, 1866 was the date chosen to do this (i.e. the date of the surrender of General Joseph E. Johnston, the last of the Confederate Army's forces.)

  The grave of Lizzie Rutherford Ellis in Linwood Cemetery is credits her with originating Memorial Day.

  Henry C. Welles and General John B. Murray of Waterloo, NY are given credit as the originators of Memorial Day. Their first observance was May 5, 1866 because it was the first "formal village-wide observance of the day."  So, by a joint resolution of Congress, Waterloo has been recognized as the "Birthplace of Memorial Day" as I stated above.

 

Arlington Cemetery received it's first Union soldier for burial in May, 1864.

The first nationwide Memorial Day parade was held on May 30, 1868 by a group of Civil War Union Army Vets.  They were known as "Grand Army of the Republic."  Why they chose May 30, no one knows. It had no real significance.  Rumor has it that it did coincide with May 26, 1865, which was the date of the surrender of the last Confederate army. Because of this, the southern states got a bit offended and felt that Memorial Day was to honor only the North (or Union's) Civil War dead. So, in 1891, Florida designated the birthday of Confederate President, Jefferson Davis as Confederate Memorial Day.

Then 9 other states followed, each coming up with their own date for Memorial Day.  These ranged from April 26 (the anniversary of the surrender of General George Johnson at Durham Station, NC) to June 3, Jefferson Davis' birthday.

So, after WWI, the American Legion took over the task of trying to create some uniformity to Memorial Day.  It was the American Legion organization that officially gave the patriotic observance it's official name of "Memorial Day."  And it was to honor American service people (men and women) from ALL wars or conflicts.

Memorial Day is now celebrated by 49 of the 50 states on the set date by the American Legion.  Which state doesn't honor it? Alabama is the only state that chooses to celebrate their Confederate Memorial Day on the 4th Monday in April.

Today the celebration of Memorial Day is marked by both religious services and patriotic parades.  Nationally, for the nation as a whole, it is celebrated by having a wreath placed on the Tomb of the Unknown soldier (see above) at Arlington Cemetery.  This can be done by the President, Vice President or whomever the President chooses to replace him. 

 One of the more touching Memorial Day ceremonies is held at the Gettysburg, PA cemetery where school children spread flowers over the graves of the unknown Civil War soldiers.  

In 1986, an organization called "Hands Across America" (began really to raise money for the homeless in the US) wanted to create an unbroken chain of people holding hands across a continent. Unfortunately, not enough people signed up and it never happened.  But those that wanted to participate were encouraged to do so anyway, and it has now become a traditional event.

Memorial Day has also been designated by the Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Organization as a time to remember those service men and women listed as either prisoners of war (POWs) or those  missing in action ( MIAs ).  They have many state chapters. But they are most known for their grand  annual get-together at the Pentagon in Washington, DC every Memorial Day.  Many of the bikers go over to the Vietnam Memorial, because they are veterans from that war.  Others over to Arlington Cemetery.  But the focus is to remember POWs and MIAs from ALL wars, who have either been found or are still missing.

I would personally like to say that since I live near D.C. as I have stated above, I've seen this group going down the highways etc.  And one year while on vacation I ran into a few coming back from the celebration at a restaurant.  How they ride for days in the heat amazes me.  Anyway, hands off to all that participate and make sure no one is forgotten who served!

 

INDY 500

Indianapolis, IN has a Memorial Day tradition that has nothing to do with fallen soldiers.  It's their annual Indy 500 race.  It's been a tradition since the first race began on May 30, 1911.  I have a separate page on the history of the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500, so I won't repeat the information here.

 


Memorial Day is also known as 
Poppy Day

Red Paper Poppies are a symbol of the war dead because real poppies bloomed all over the battlefield graveyards of France. They have now become a traditional sale item for the Veterans of Foreign Wars to raise money for disabled and destitute vets. The first official "Poppy Sale" nation wide was in 1922.  


Memorial Day, Veteran's Day and 
The 4th of July 
all honor fallen soldiers
and loved ones who served
in the armed services
by decorating their graves.

Waterloo, New York says it started the Memorial Day practice of decorating graves back in 1866. But, Boalsburg, PA claims it was doing it 2 years sooner, 1864.  Rumor has it that both towns got the idea from a newspaper article featuring two women in Columbus, MS who spread flowers on the graves of BOTH Confederate and Union soldiers as act of friendship and understanding between the North and the South.  But decorating graves goes way way back  and still remains as rituals in countries today in Europe, China, Japan

 

 

The History of  The 21-Gun Salute At Funerals

The use of gun salutes for military occasions is traced to early warriors who demonstrated their peaceful intentions by placing their weapons in a position that rendered them ineffective. Apparently this custom was universal, with the specific act varying with time and place, depending on the weapons being used. A North African tribe, for example, trailed the points of their spears on the ground to indicate that they did not mean to be hostile.

The tradition of rendering a salute by cannon originated in the 14th century as firearms and cannons came into use. Since these early devices contained only one projectile, discharging them once rendered them ineffective. Originally warships fired seven-gun salutes--the number seven probably selected because of its astrological and Biblical significance. Seven planets had been identified and the phases of the moon changed every seven days. The Bible states that God rested on the seventh day after Creation, that every seventh year was sabbatical and that the seven times seventh year ushered in the Jubilee year.

Land batteries, having a greater supply of gunpowder, were able to fire three guns for every shot fired afloat, hence the salute by shore batteries was 21 guns. The multiple of three probably was chosen because of the mystical significance of the number three in many ancient civilizations. Early gunpowder, composed mainly of sodium nitrate, spoiled easily at sea, but could be kept cooler and drier in land magazines. When potassium nitrate improved the quality of gunpowder, ships at sea adopted the salute of 21 guns.

The 21-gun salute became the highest honor a nation rendered. Varying customs among the maritime powers led to confusion in saluting and return of salutes. Great Britain, the world's preeminent seapower in the 18th and 19th centuries, compelled weaker nations to salute first, and for a time monarchies received more guns than did republics. Eventually, by agreement, the international salute was established at 21 guns, although the United States did not agree on this procedure until August 1875.

The gun salute system of the United States has changed considerably over the years. In 1810, the "national salute" was defined by the War Department as equal to the number of states in the Union--at that time 17. This salute was fired by all U.S. military installations at 1:00 p.m. (later at noon) on Independence Day. The President also received a salute equal to the number of states whenever he visited a military installation.

In 1842, the Presidential salute was formally established at 21 guns. In 1890, regulations designated the "national salute" as 21 guns and redesignated the traditional Independence Day salute, the "Salute to the Union," equal to the number of states. Fifty guns are also fired on all military installations equipped to do so at the close of the day of the funeral of a President, ex-President, or President-elect.

Today the national salute of 21 guns is fired in honor of a national flag, the sovereign or chief of state of a foreign nation, a member of a reigning royal family, and the President, ex-President and President-elect of the United States. It is also fired at noon of the day of the funeral of a President, ex-President, or President-elect.

Gun salutes are also rendered to other military and civilian leaders of this and other nations. The number of guns is based on their protocol rank. These salutes are always in odd numbers.

Source: Headquarters, Military District of Washington, FACT SHEET: GUN SALUTES, May 1969.

 

 

Check out our Page on Veteran's Day for more information.


These were created by Brownielocks for all patriotic occasions.

 

Visit our MAIN PATRIOTIC PAGE. Or check out a few featured links below:

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Sources:
"Holiday Symbols, 2nd Edition"
by Sue Ellen Thompson
Omnigraphics, Inc.  © 2000

"America Celebrates" by Hennig Cohen and Tristram Potter Coffin
Visible Ink Press, Detroit, Michigan  © 1991

 

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