The Forgotten History of Memorial Day

Dec 2015
17,428
16,443
Arizona
#1
In the years following the bitter Civil War, a former Union general took a holiday originated by former Confederates and helped spread it across the entire country.

The holiday was Memorial Day, and this year’s commemoration on May 27 marks the 151st anniversary of its official nationwide observance. The annual commemoration was born in the former Confederate States in 1866 and adopted by the United States in 1868. It is a holiday in which the nation honors its military dead.

Gen. John A. Logan, who headed the largest Union veterans’ fraternity at that time, the Grand Army of the Republic, is usually credited as being the originator of the holiday.
Yet when General Logan established the holiday, he acknowledged its genesis among the Union’s former enemies, saying, “It was not too late for the Union men of the nation to follow the example of the people of the South.”

During 1866, the first year of this annual observance in the South, a feature of the holiday emerged that made awareness, admiration and eventually imitation of it spread quickly to the North.
During the inaugural Memorial Day observances which were conceived in Columbus, Georgia, many Southern participants – especially women – decorated graves of Confederate soldiers as well as, unexpectedly, those of their former enemies who fought for the Union.
Shortly after those first Memorial Day observances all across the South, newspaper coverage in the North was highly favorable to the ex-Confederates.

“The action of the ladies on this occasion, in burying whatever animosities or ill-feeling may have been engendered in the late war towards those who fought against them, is worthy of all praise and commendation,” wrote one paper.
On May 9, 1866, the Cleveland Daily Leader lauded the Southern women during their first Memorial Day.
“The act was as beautiful as it was unselfish, and will be appreciated in the North.”
To be sure, this sentiment was not unanimous. There were many in both parts of the U.S. who had no interest in conciliation.
But as a result of one of these news reports, Francis Miles Finch, a Northern judge, academic and poet, wrote a poem titled “The Blue and the Gray.” Finch’s poem quickly became part of the American literary canon. He explained what inspired him to write it:

“It struck me that the South was holding out a friendly hand, and that it was our duty, not only as conquerors but as men and their fellow citizens of the nation, to grasp it.”

Finch’s poem seemed to extend a full pardon to the South: “They banish our anger forever when they laurel the graves of our dead” was one of the lines.
It was not long before Northerners decided that they would not only adopt the Southern custom of Memorial Day, but also the Southern custom of “burying the hatchet.” A group of Union veterans explained their intentions in a letter to the Philadelphia Evening Telegraph on May 28, 1869:

“Wishing to bury forever the harsh feelings engendered by the war, Post 19 has decided not to pass by the graves of the Confederates sleeping in our lines, but divide each year between the blue and the grey the first floral offerings of a common country. We have no powerless foes. Post 19 thinks of the Southern dead only as brave men.”

Other reports of reciprocal magnanimity circulated in the North, including the gesture of a 10-year-old who made a wreath of flowers and sent it to the overseer of the holiday, Colonel Leaming, in Lafayette, Indiana, with the following note attached, published in The New Hampshire Patriot on July 15, 1868:
“Will you please put this wreath upon some rebel soldier’s grave? My dear papa is buried at Andersonville, (Georgia) and perhaps some little girl will be kind enough to put a few flowers upon his grave.”

President Abraham Lincoln’s wish that there be “malice toward none” and “charity for all” was visible in the magnanimous actions of participants on both sides, who extended an olive branch during the Memorial Day observances in those first three years.
Although not known by many today, the early evolution of the Memorial Day holiday was a manifestation of Lincoln’s hope for reconciliation between North and South.

The Forgotten History of Memorial Day
 
Dec 2015
17,428
16,443
Arizona
#2
Growing up in a very small Wisconsin town, national holidays were big celebrations. There were parades down Main St, ceremonies in the park and chicken barbeques. Each year a high school senior would be chosen to recite "In Flanders Fields" by John McCrae. I was chosen my senior year so "In Flanders Fields" has always been special to me.

In Flanders Fields, the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.
 
Jul 2018
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1,987
Trump World! Where the circus is always in town.
#4
Growing up in a very small Wisconsin town, national holidays were big celebrations. There were parades down Main St, ceremonies in the park and chicken barbeques. Each year a high school senior would be chosen to recite "In Flanders Fields" by John McCrae. I was chosen my senior year so "In Flanders Fields" has always been special to me.

In Flanders Fields, the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.


We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.


Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.
wow, this may well be the only poem I know by heart. I chose it myself for a class project in grade school and mesmerized it to recite to the class. :)
 
Likes: Clara007

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