5 Questions: Memorial Day
National holiday has roots in post-Civil War
The Department of Veterans Affairs answers questions about the first major holiday of the summer season.
Q: When did Memorial Day begin?
A: Three years after the Civil War ended, on May 5, 1868, the head of an organization of Union veterans — the Grand Army of the Republic — established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan declared that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30. The first large observance was held at Arlington National Cemetery.
Q: So is Arlington National Cemetery the home of Memorial Day?
A: Local springtime tributes to the Civil War dead already had been held in various places. One of the first occurred April 25, 1866, when a group of women visited a cemetery in Columbus, Miss., to decorate the graves of Confederate soldiers who had fallen in battle at Shiloh. Nearby were the graves of Union soldiers, neglected because they were the enemy. Disturbed at the sight of the bare graves, the women placed some of their flowers on those graves, as well.
Q: Then Columbus, Miss., is the birthplace of Memorial Day?
A: In 1966, Congress and President Lyndon Johnson declared Waterloo, N.Y., the “birthplace” of Memorial Day. There, a ceremony on May 5, 1866, honored local veterans who had fought in the Civil War. Businesses closed and residents flew flags at half-staff. Supporters of Waterloo’s claim say earlier observances in other places were either informal, not community-wide or one-time events.
Q: When did Memorial Day become a national holiday?
A: In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by an act of Congress to honor those who have died in all American wars.
Q: What is the National Moment of Remembrance?
A: In 2000, the president signed into law “The National Moment of Remembrance Act,” which encourages all Americans to pause wherever they are at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day for a minute of silence to remember and honor those who have died in service to the nation.