Monday, May 30, 2011

Lest we forget

by Jenna Bennett

Happy Memorial Day!

It’s a holiday that started in the South, did you know that? Known back then as Decoration Day, the first commemoration was held in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1865, less than a month after the Civil War ended.

The site of the celebration, at the Washington Race Course, had been used as a temporary Confederate prison camp for captured Union soldiers, as well as a mass grave for those soldiers who died there. Immediately after the cessation of hostilities, freedmen – freed African slaves – exhumed the bodies from the mass grave and reinterred them in individual graves. They built a fence around the graveyard with an entry arch, and declared it a Union cemetery. On May 1, 1865, a crowd of thousands, mainly black residents, proceeded to the location for events that included sermons, singing, and a picnic, thereby creating the first Decoration Day celebration

The practice of decorating soldiers’ graves had become widespread in the North, as well. The first known observance of Decoration Day north of the Mason-Dixon line was in Waterloo, New York, a year later, on May 5, 1866.

In 1868, Decoration Day was made a national holiday, and was observed for the first time on May 30 of that year; a date chosen because it was not the anniversary of a battle. There were events in 183 cemeteries in 27 states that year, and 336 the next. 

At first, Decoration Day was an opportunity for veterans, politicians and ministers to commemorate the glorious sacrifice of their own side as well as recall the atrocities of the enemy. But by the end of the 1870s, the rancor was gone and the speeches praised the soldiers of both sides. The town of Columbus, Mississippi was actually far ahead of the curve in this endeavor: as early as 1866, their celebration commemorated both the Union and Confederate casualties buried in the town cemetery.

On Memorial Day the flag is raised briskly to the top of the staff and then solemnly lowered to the half-staff position, where it remains only until noon. It is then raised to full-staff for the remainder of the day. The half-staff position remembers the more than one million men and women who gave their lives in service of their country. At noon their memory is raised by the living, who resolve not to let their sacrifice be in vain, but to rise up in their stead and continue the fight for liberty and justice for all.

Have a good day, and at 3 PM, please observe the National Moment of Remembrance, and “voluntarily and informally observe in your own way a moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever you are doing for a moment of silence or listening to Taps."



Make Money For Free said...

What a wonderful tribute to all our fallen and serving military. Have a wonderful Memorial Day as we all stop to honor the men and women who protect us.

Perfect Poker Profit Pointers said...

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Ramona said...

Thank you for the history lesson, Jenna. I knew a bit about the original of the holiday; now I know more.

Andy said...

Thanks for the reminder of what this day is really all about. said...

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