Memorial Day at 150
Submitted by Stu Johnson
Posted: May 27, 2018
The story behind our national holiday…
Originally called Decoration Day to honor Union soldiers who gave their lives during the Civil War, the federal holiday we now know as Memorial Day honors the fallen from all conflicts. The following is an excerpt from an article that appeared in my local paper, The Daily Herald (DuPage County, Illinois edition) on Sunday, May 27, 2018.by Jerry Turnquist, includes references to the histroy of observances in Elgin, Illinois.
May 30, 2018, marks the 150th anniversary of the first Memorial Day. Begun in the aftermath of the Civil War, this day of remembrance was started by Gen. John A. Logan, commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, a Northern veterans organization, when he issued his "General Order No. 11" in May 1868.
In this directive, Logan asked that May 30 be "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 churchyard in the land." Originally known as "Decoration Day," Logan's actions only formalized tributes that had been going on in both the North and South since before the end of the Civil War.
Newspaper accounts of the time show the largest observance in 1868 was in Arlington Cemetery. This ceremony included President Grant, General Logan, and various other dignitaries. The program also included an address by Gen. James A. Garfield who would later become the nation's 20th president. Small flags were placed on almost half of the graves in the cemetery.
In Madison, Wisconsin, newspapers reported a milelong line of carriages in route to the cemetery. At Indianapolis, Indiana, a cemetery program drew 15,000 people while one in Memphis, Tennessee, attracted 5,000 people.
Newspapers also recorded other programs -- generally in larger cities -- in Des Moines, Iowa; Toledo, Ohio; and Springfield, Illinois. In the east, observances took place in Baltimore, Maryland; Richmond, Virginia; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.. . .
In his General Order No. 11 [see text below], Logan said of the holiday that it was his "hope that it be kept up from year to year." The Illinois orator offered similar feelings about the day's permanence when he remarked, "The sons of future generations will reunite to pay undying memorial."
Over the years Decoration Day became known as Memorial Day. It also now honors military personnel who died at any time in the nation's history.
Arlington National Cemetery remains today the focal point of the nation's Memorial Day ceremonies, where the president places a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Elgin offers four programs which draw a combined attendance of over 1,000 people.
Communities elsewhere offer tributes of their own. The reading of Logan's Order also remains as a prominent part of many programs. And, a century and a half after he spoke them as part of his first Memorial Day address, the words of Garfield, "For love of country, they accepted death," remains the central focus of the day's programs as we pay tribute those who offered the ultimate sacrifice for our country.
The order that started the holiday
General John A. Logan