Memorial Day Interesting Facts

by | May 23, 2023

Memorial Day

  • The ancient Greeks and Romans held annual days of remembrance for loved ones, which included soldiers, in which flowers were placed on graves and feasts were held in their honor. In Athens, there would be public funerals for soldiers who died after each battle before their remains were taken to the cemetery in procession.  
  • One of the earliest commemorations was organized by recently freed African Americans. As the Civil War neared its end, thousands of Union soldiers, held as prisoners of war, were herded into a series of hastily assembled camps in Charleston, South Carolina. Conditions at one camp, a former racetrack near the city’s Citadel, were so bad that more than 250 prisoners died from disease or exposure, and were buried in a mass grave behind the track’s grandstand. Three weeks after the Confederate surrender, an unusual procession entered the former camp: On May 1, 1865, more than 1,000 people recently freed from enslavement, accompanied by regiments of the U.S. Colored Troops (including the Massachusetts 54th Infantry) and a handful of white Charlestonians, gathered in the camp to consecrate a new, proper burial site for the Union dead. The group sang hymns, gave readings, and distributed flowers around the cemetery, which they dedicated to the “Martyrs of the Race Course.” 
  • Even before the war ended, women’s groups across much of the South were gathering informally to decorate the graves of Confederate dead. In April 1886, the Ladies Memorial Association of Columbus, Georgia resolved to commemorate the fallen once a year—a decision that seems to have influenced John Logan to follow suit, according to his own wife. However, southern commemorations were rarely held on one standard day, with observations differing by state and spread out across much of the spring and early summer.  
  • For decades, Memorial Day continued to be observed on May 30, the date General Logan had selected for the first Decoration Day. But in 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which established Memorial Day as the last Monday in May in order to create a three-day weekend for federal employees. The change went into effect in 1971. The same law also declared Memorial Day a federal holiday 
  • Memorial Day traditions have evolved over the years. One formal ritual is that the American flag should be hung at half-staff until noon on Memorial Day, then raised to the top of the staff. And since 2000, when the U.S. Congress passed legislation, all Americans are encouraged to pause for a minute of silence (National Moment of Remembrance) at 3 p.m. local time, to honor those who have died in service to the nation. 
  • Over Memorial Day weekend, more than 135,000 people visit Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. Traditionally, the president or vice president lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. More than 280,000 flags are placed at headstones for all those who have laid down their lives for their country. 

Commander in Chief, John A. Logan said:

 “We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance … Let no neglect, no ravage 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.”

Read the full “Memorial Day Order” by John A. Logan on the VA website by CLICKING HERE.