A war Memorial in downtown Highland Park, Illinois
Today, May 28, America is celebrating MEMORIAL DAY.
Let us return to history, and the place is Columbus, Mississippi, in the spring of 1866. The Civil War has been over for a year, yet Union soldiers still occupy the town. The fires of passion and prejudice that had consumed over 500,000 American lives between 1861 and 1865 still smolder in bitterness behind closed doors.
Jut outside Columbus is a cemetery where both Confederate and Union soldiers killed at the Battle of Shiloh are buried. On April 25, 1866, four young women pay a visit to the cemetery to tend the graves of lost loved ones and decorate them with memorial garlands of flowers.
After decorating the Confederate graves, the women walk over to a small plot where forty Union soldiers are buried. Gently they scatter Southern Magnolia blossoms on the Northern graves. The news of this unselfish, compassionate gesture spreads quickly and touches everyone. Newspaper editorials praise this act of reconciliation and urge the nation to come together to mourn both "the Blue and the Gray."
Soon in many small towns all over the country, people were gathering at Civil War cemeteries and holding commemorative or "Memorial Day" services. Afterward, there would be parades l;ed by a brass band, the volunteer fire brigade, and a review to honor America's veterans. Following the parade and patriotic orations, there would be a community picnic on the town common.
During the late 19th century, Decoration Day was a major American holiday and was celebrated with even more fanfare than Independence Day. This was because the Civil War had touched or altered nearly every one's life.
Even thous the country came together in spirit to honor America's war dead, the North and South still managed to commemorate independently. In 1868, General John A. Logan, commander in chief of the GAR (Grand Army of the Republic, a union veteran's organization), designated May 30 as Memorial Day, while the Daughters of the Confederacy held firm with the term Decoration Day and the date of April 26. Today, Memorial Day is recognized as a day of honoring all of those who fought wars and legally observed on the last Monday in May.
(Source:"Mrs. Sharp's Traditions" by: Sarah Ban Breathnach)