The Southern Roots of Memorial Day

Memorial Day (formerly known as “Decoration Day”) was established in 1868 by Union General John A. Logan, who served for a brief time as the commander of the Federal Army of the Tennessee in 1864. It was a time to remember, praise, and memorialise the fallen boys in blue all across the States. Today (like most holidays), it has mushroomed into a secular consumer frenzy of food and indulgence.

Was this now-common holiday one of Northern origin, or did General Logan rather steal the idea from others? The answer is that, like most “American” articles, the day was of Southern stock. Historians the Union over recognise Dixie as being the true place of origin for Decoration Day. The top contender for the title of founder is Columbus, Mississippi, but another Columbus has recently contested this:

That’s the thesis of a 2014 book “The Genesis of the Memorial Day Holiday in America” by Daniel A. Bellware and Richard Gardiner. They trace it back to a woman named Mary Anne Williams in another city named Columbus — Columbus, Ga. In March of 1866, she sent an open letter to newspapers, saying that women in her area had been cleaning and decorating the graves of “our gallant confederate dead,” but that they thought “it is an unfinished work unless a day be set apart annually for its especial attention.”

Memorial Day arose out of Northern ire that the South celebrated its war-dead while the North did not. Let us remember these origins, and celebrate above all our own kin who have died in such terrible struggles.

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