The roots of Memorial Day can be traced to the spring of 1865, which marked the end of the War Between States (the Civil War). It’s hard to imagine that more than 650,000 dead American bodies were scattered about, mainly across the Southeastern U.S.
Many communities claim to have held the first observance of this holiday. There are numerous accounts of freed slaves decorating the graves of Union soldiers whose graves they dug as the bodies were relocated following the war. This is why the original title of the national observance was Decoration Day.
Some contend that when President Abraham Lincoln visited the battlefield at Gettysburg in 1863 and presented his famous address, a ceremony was held to commemorate the soldiers buried there and that location should therefore receive the founding honors.
Officially, Decoration Day is credited to General John A. Logan, who called for a nationwide day of remembrance in May of 1868. “The 30th of May, of 1868, is 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,” he proclaimed.
On the first observance, at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C., more than 5,000 people participated in a ceremony decorating the graves of the 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried there. Few people today realize that at our National Cemetery both Union and Confederate troops are buried together, proving that the historical background of that bloody war are at the very least, complicated.
Arlington was established as the first National Cemetery because of the growing demand for burial space for those who lost their lives in the Civil War.
Arlington was originally the home of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, who was asked by President Lincoln to command the Union troops. He declined in the name of States’ Rights. His property was eventually taken by the Federal Government to become a military cemetery.
Today more that 400,000 troops representing many decades of service are buried there.
Memorial Day became the common name for the observance after World War II. Initially, it was honored on May 30, regardless of the day of the week the date fell on each year. In 1968, as part of the Uniform Holiday Bill establishing a series of three-day holidays, it was moved to the last Monday in May. We now honor all who have fallen in war on this sacred day.
In recent years, Americans have been asked to stop at 3 p.m. for a moment of silence in recognition of those who paid the ultimate price for freedom.
I hope you will take a moment Monday at 3, to pray.
My prayer will go something like this:
“Lord, thank you for the United States of America. Thank you that you have used this nation as a beacon of hope to the world.; not as an instrument of war, but as a messenger of peace. For it has been the this country, the USA, that has been the most significant nation in history to not just stop atheistic tyranny, but to allow men and women the means to spread the Good News that Jesus is the Prince of Peace who can save souls from hell, and bring them into His eternal Kingdom.
I ask you’ll have mercy on this nation and bring about a revival.