Friday, May 23, 2014

30 May 1868: First Official Memorial Day Observance

As we celebrate this Memorial Day weekend, the Cabarrus Genealogy Society would like to respectfully acknowledge the service of our veterans, as well as active military members, who since Revolutionary times have defended the rights and freedoms of their fellow citizens. Thank you.

The following is taken from the blog for www.fold3.com. Fold3 is the top website for researching military records. They have unique partnerships with the National Archives and others, making available over 436 million original documents covering all periods of American military history. You may also honor a veteran from any U.S. conflict on their Honor Wall. Although full access for private use requires membership, they are offering free access to WWII records through May 31, and a library version is available to anyone in the Lore History Room at the Concord Library.

A Decoration Day crowd in front of the Cabarrus County Courthouse in the 1930s.
I
n Cabarrus County it was celebrated on May 10, the anniversary of Stonewall
Jackson's death. 
Courtesy of Julie Hampton Ganis.
In the years immediately following the Civil War, one way Americans sought to remember the multitudes of war dead was by holding “decoration days”—days on which they would gather to decorate the graves of those who died in the conflict. Although many local groups and communities had their own decoration days, including well-known ones in Waterloo (New York) and Charleston (South Carolina), the first official observance of what would eventually become Memorial Day took place on May 30, 1868.

This Decoration Day (it wouldn't officially be called Memorial Day until 1967) was coordinated by John A. Logan, a former Union general and at the time commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, a Union veteran’s association. In his General Order Number 11, dated May 5, 1868, he designated May 30 “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.” In addition to the decoration of graves, Decoration Day was also to be observed with “fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit,” according to Logan.

Veterans and their loved ones, as well as widows, orphans, and other bereaved, responded to Logan’s call with alacrity. That year, 183 cemeteries in 27 states celebrated Decoration Day, and observance only grew in the years that followed. By 1890, all the northern states had made it an official state holiday.

The South didn't celebrate Logan’s Decoration Day until after World Instead, Southerners memorialized the Confederate dead locally on days throughout spring and early summer, often on important dates such as Joseph Johnston’s surrender, Stonewall Jackson’s death [as was in Cabarrus County on May 10], or Jefferson Davis’ birthday.

Memorial Day, in the form we know it today, came about in 1967, when Decoration Day was renamed Memorial Day to better reflect contemporary usage. Then, the following year, it was permanently moved from May 30 to the last Monday in May to create a three-day weekend.

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