Least We Forget Where it Started
Memorial Day is a federal holiday in the United States for remembering the people who died while serving in the country's armed forces.
The holiday, which is observed every year on the last Monday of May, originated as Decoration Day after the American Civil War in 1868, when the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union veterans founded in Decatur, Illinois, established it as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the Union war dead with flowers.
By the 20th century, competing Union and Confederate holiday traditions, celebrated on different days, had merged, and Memorial Day eventually extended to honor all Americans who died while in the military service. It typically marks the start of the summer vacation season, while Labor Day marks its end.
The first widely publicized observance of a Memorial Day-type observance after the Civil War was in Charleston, South Carolina, on May 1, 1865. During the war, Union soldiers who were prisoners of war had been held at the Hampton Park Race Course in Charleston; at least 257 Union prisoners died there and were hastily buried in unmarked graves.
Together with teachers and missionaries, black residents of Charleston organized a May Day ceremony in 1865, which was covered by the New York Tribune and other national papers. The freedmen cleaned up and landscaped the burial ground, building an enclosure and an arch labeled "Martyrs of the Race Course". Nearly 10,000 people, mostly freedmen, gathered on May 1 to commemorate the war dead. Involved were about 3,000 school children, newly enrolled in freedmen's schools, as well as mutual aid societies, Union troops, black ministers and white northern missionaries. Most brought flowers to lay on the burial field.
David W. Blight described the day:
|Grand Army of the Republic James R. Carnahan |
Department Commander 1882-1883.
|Grand Army of the Republic parade|
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Grand Army of the Republic Post, Cazenovia, NY, c. 1900.
In this, and the photo below, Black Union vets stand side by
side with their white brothers in the same GAR Post.
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Grand Army of the Republic Dumont Post No. 18
|A GAR Black Post|
Former slave and GAR Member Charles H. Anderson, age 92,
Photo about 1936-38.