Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day to remember those who have died in our nation's service. After the Civil war many people in the North and South decorated graves of fallen soldiers with flowers.
In the Spring of 1866, Henry C. Welles, a druggist in the village of Waterloo, NY, suggested that the patriots who had died in the Civil War should be honored by decorating their graves. General John B. Murray, Seneca County Clerk, embraced the idea and a committee was formed to plan a day devoted to honoring the dead. Townspeople made wreaths, crosses and bouquets for each veteran's grave. The village was decorated with flags at half mast. On May 5 of that year, a processional was held to the town's cemeteries, led by veterans. The town observed this day of remembrance on May 5 of the following year as well.
Decoration Day was officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868 by General John Logan in his General Order No. 11, and was first observed officially on May 30, 1868. The South refused to acknowledge Decoration Day, honoring their dead on separate days until after World War I. In 1882, the name was changed to Memorial Day, and soldiers who had died in other wars were also honored.
In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday to be held on the last Monday in May.
Today, Memorial Day marks the unofficial beginning of the summer season in the United States. It is still a time to remember those who have passed on, whether in war or otherwise. It also is a time for families to get together for picnics, ball games, and other early summer activities.
The First Memorial Day
According to one writer, the first Memorial Day service took place on Belle Isle in the James River, at Richmond, Virginia. The school superintendent, Andrew Washburn, and F.B. May, the Mayor, planned a program for May 30, 1866. Several teachers, and Miss Gibson, a nurse, went to the burial ground of Union soldiers, who had died during the war in a Confederate prison located there. It was raining when Mr. May set up a cross and placed bouquets at each headboard, Miss Gibson sang a hymn, and the others joined in the refrain. R.R. Wilson, who described the scene in the New York Tribune, stated that suddenly the clouds parted and a bright ray of sunshine shone on the cross.
The first official observance in 1868, included a program at the National Cemetery at Arlington and memorial services in various communities, the idea gradually spread around the country. In 1873, New York was the first state to make the day a legal holiday; and others soon followed. Now the occasion is set by Presidential Proclamation.
General Orders No.11
WASHINGTON, D.C., May 5, 1868
I. The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated 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, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet church-yard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.
We are organized, comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the purpose among other things, "of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers, sailors, and marines who united to suppress the late rebellion." What can aid more to assure this result than cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foes? Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains, and their deaths the tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms. We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no vandalism of avarice or 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.
If our eyes grow dull, other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain to us.
Let us, then, at the time appointed gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with the choicest flowers of spring-time; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from hishonor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon a nation's gratitude, the soldier's and sailor's widow and orphan.
II. It is the purpose of the Commander-in-Chief to inaugurate this observance with the hope that it will be kept up from year to year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades. He earnestly desires the public press to lend its friendly aid in bringing to the notice of comrades in all parts of the country in time for simultaneous compliance therewith.
III. Department commanders will use efforts to make this order effective.
By order of
JOHN A. LOGAN, Commander-in-Chief
N.P. CHIPMAN, Adjutant General
Official: WM. T. COLLINS, A.A.G.
Guidelines for Displaying the Flag
1. The flag of the United States should be flown daily from sunrise to sunset in good weather from public buildings, schools, permanent staffs, and in or near polling places on election days. The flag may be displayed 24 hours a day on patriotic holidays or if properlyilluminated.
2. The flag should not be displayed on days when the weather is bad, except when an all-weather flag is used.
3. The flag should always be flown on national and state holidays and on those occasions proclaimed by the President. On Memorial Day, the flag should be half staffed until noon.
4. The flag should be hoisted briskly and lowered ceremoniously. It should never be dipped to any person nor should it ever be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress.
5. The flag should never touch anything beneath it, nor should it ever be carried flat or horizontally.
6. It should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, drapery, or decoration, nor for carrying or holding anything.
7. The flag should never be fastened, displayed, used, or stored in such a manner as to be easily torn, soiled, or damaged. It should never be used as a covering for a ceiling.
8. The flag should not be draped over the hood, top, sides, or back of a vehicle. When a flag is displayed on a car, the flag's staff should be fixed firmly to the chassis or clamped to the right fender.
9. The flag or its staff should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever. Nor should any picture, drawing, insignia or other decoration be placed on or attached to the flag, its staff, or halyard.
10. The flag should not be embroidered on cushions, handkerchiefs, or other personal items nor printed on anything designed for temporary use and discarded. However, a flag patch may be affixed to the uniform of military personnel, firemen, policemen, or members of other patriotic organizations.
11. When the flag is so worn or soiled that it is no longer suitable for display, it should be destroyed in a dignified manner, preferably by burning.
- New Year's Day
- Lincoln's Birthday
- Washington's Birthday
- Armed Forces Day
- Memorial Day Flag Day
- Independence Day
- V-J Day
- Labor Day
- Veterans' Day
- Pearl Harbor Day
- Christmas State
- Admission Day