Memorial Day originated after Civil War

Published: Tuesday, May 21 2013 5:15 p.m. MDT

President Barack Obama speaks at a Memorial Day observance at the Memorial Amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery on Monday, May 28, 2012.

Charles Dharapak, AP

While Memorial Day may have transformed into the unofficial start of the summer season, it is the day Americans nationwide honor fallen members of the military.

Here is a short history of how Memorial Day began and how it has changed throughout the nation's history.

Following the end of the Civil War, the United States may have been united, but it was far from whole. According to the Civil War Trust, nearly 620,000 Americans from Confederate and Union forces died during the four-year war, more than any American war since. In the years that followed, widows and family members would visit memorials to their fallen soldiers.

According to Veteran Affairs, approximately 25 towns both north and south of the Mason-Dixon line claim to have held the first Memorial Day, including Macon and Columbus, Ga., Boalsburg, Pa., and Carbondale, Ill.

On April 25, 1866, Columbus, Miss., became one of the first cities to honor Memorial Day when a group of women went to place flowers on the graves of Confederate soldiers. One woman began placing flowers on the nearby graves of Union soldiers. The other women soon joined until every grave, both blue and gray, was decorated with flowers.

On the orders of Gen. John A. Logan, May 30, 1868, became the first official observance of what was then called Decoration Day to commemorate fallen Civil War soldiers. It is believed Logan chose May 30 because flowers across the country would be in bloom.

That year, more than 5,000 volunteers decorated nearly 20,000 graves at Arlington Cemetery. The tradition of Memorial Day celebrations at Arlington Cemetery continues today.

By the end of the century, Memorial Days were being celebrated across the country on May 30. However, it wasn't until after World War I that the day was extended as a memorial to fallen soldiers of all American wars.

In 1971, Congress officially recognized Memorial Day as a national holiday and the observation was moved to the last Monday in May.

Today, a National Moment of Remembrance encourages all Americans to honor fallen soldiers with a minute of silence at 3 p.m. local time.

Katie Harmer is a journalism graduate of Brigham Young University and writes for Mormon Times. Email: kharmer@deseretnews.com Twitter: harmerk

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