May 30, 2022
Did you know that Memorial Day originated from two separate celebrations for those that died fighting the Civil War? In 1866, a letter was sent to all the principal cities of the former Confederacy by the Ladies Memorial Association to memorialize the fallen soldiers on April 26th, the one-year anniversary of the Confederate surrender to General Sherman.
In 1868 General John Logan, representing the Grand Army of the Republic (Union veterans’ group) called for “Decoration Day” for the northern soldiers who fought in the Civil War, every May 30th, and was called Memorial Day starting in 1882. By 1890 every northern state had adopted it as a holiday.
After the North initiated Decoration Day, the memorial in the South became known as “Confederate Memorial Day”, and by 1916 ten states celebrated it on June 3rd, the birthday of Jefferson Davis.
The World Wars then turned it into a general day of remembrance for those who had fallen in battle instead of just the Civil War. In 1968, Congress standardized the four holidays (Uniform Monday Holiday Act) as Memorial Day, to be observed on the last Monday in May, which took effect in 1971.
A little history of Arlington National Cemetery, prepare to have your mind blown…
The land was originally owned by the grandson of George and Martha Washington (yes that George Washington), who passed it down to his daughter Mary Anna who married Robert E Lee. Yes, the Robert E Lee, who resigned his commission in the US Army, took command of the Army of Northern Virginia and was also the overall commander of the Confederate States Army. In March of 1883, the land was sold to the government by Custis Lee for $150,000 ($3,701,364 today), at a signing ceremony with the Secretary of War, Robert Todd Lincoln (yes, Abraham Lincoln’s son). That is a lot of historical figures wrapped together…can you imagine all of that in the news today?!
The major battles of the honored fallen that we remember this and every Memorial Day:
American Civil War 655,000 (In the 3-day battle of Gettysburg alone - The two armies suffered between 46,000 and 51,000 casualties)
World War II 405,399
World War I 116,516
Vietnam War 58,209
Korean War 36,574
Revolutionary War 25,000
War of 1812 20,000
Mexican-American War 13,283
Iraq War 4,576
War in Afghanistan 2,432
A letter from Abraham Lincoln to Mrs. Lydia Bixby that, for me, captures the essence of Memorial Day.
I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle.
I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save.
I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.
Yours, very sincerely and respectfully,
- Contributed by Kevin Henderson