This is the day set aside to honor our Republic of Suffering: The survivors of the men and women who have given their lives for America.
This holiday began as a day of remembrance by the suffering survivors of the dead during the American Civil War, a conflict that claimed between 620,000 and 850,000 lives. Four hundred thousand men simply disappeared and were never seen by their loved ones again.
The holiday, which throughout most of our history has been called Decoration Day, seems to have begun spontaneously in both the North and the South in 1864, the spring after Gettysburg – as a day to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. There was an observance in Columbus, Mississippi on April 25, 1866 when a group of suffering women gathered to decorate the graves of the local men who had died at Shiloh. The Confederate dead were buried near an untended patch that held the remains of the despised Yankee dead and the compassionate women of Columbus decorated the Yankee graves as well.
There were at least 25 Decoration Day observances that Spring. The next year Decoration Day had its own hymn titled “Kneel Where Our Loves are Sleeping.” The year after that the dead were remembered in 183 cemeteries and General John Logan, the head of a Union Veteran’s group called the Grand Army of the Republic, asked his veterans to decorate the final resting places of both the Union and the Confederate dead at Arlington National Cemetery. Logan wrote that the graves should be decorated “with the choicest flowers of springtime.” He told his Northern veterans: “We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance…. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.”
The name Memorial Day appeared in 1882 and the bitterness between the North and the South continued for almost a century after that. There are still separate days to honor the Confederate War dead in Texas, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana and Tennessee
Memorial Day became a national holiday and the culmination of a three day weekend in 1971. Now the holiday is mostly associated with the start of summer.
But this day has always also had a more somber meaning and these few words are only to briefly remind you of that.