Memorial Day was originally known as Decoration Day when it was first officially observed on May 30, 1868. It is a day to remember and honour those who died defending their country in any of the American wars. Memorial Day is observed by the placing of wreaths and flowers on the graves of those who have fallen. Religious services, parades and speeches are also held throughout the nation to observe this day.
The custom of placing flowers on the graves of war dead began during the American Civil War. A ceremony was held on May 5, 1866 at Waterloo N.Y. to recognize and honour the deaths of both Union and Confederate Soldiers. This ceremony has been recognized as the birth place of Memorial Day,
Professor David W. Blight, of Yale University, has claimed, however that the first Memorial Day was observed by liberated slaves at the historic racetrack in Charleston in 1865. This site had been a former prison camp and mass grave for Union soldiers who had died while captive.
General John A. Logan, President of the Grand Army of the Republic, declared that May 30 would be a day recognized “for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defence of their country during the late rebellion.” In 1971 the date of observance of Memorial Day was changed to the last Monday in May.
After World War I, the day came to be observed in honour of all those who have died in wars defending the United States. At this time the day was renamed Memorial Day.
The Memorial Amphitheatre was built at Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia, by the efforts of the veterans of the American Civil War from the Grand Army of the Republic. One of the most solemn ceremonies of the day is where a wreath is placed at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
For the duration of the weekend beginning on Thursday before Memorial Day, the members of the 3rd US Infantry, also known as the â€˜Old Guardâ€™, honors the fallen by placing American flags on all graves at Arlington National Cemetery and guarding those graves twenty four hours a day for the entire weekend, to ensure that those flags remain standing.
“Memorial Day.” Encyclopedia Britannica. 2007. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. 24 Mar. 2007
“Arlington National Cemetery.” Encyclopedia Britannica. 2007. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. 24 Mar. 2007
Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American History, Blight, David W. Cambridge, Massachusetts, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2001.
Learn more with these Memorial Day websites.