Where did it begin, who created it, and why?
As a nation we are at war now, but for most Americans the scale of death and suffering in this seemingly endless wartime belongs to other people far away, or to people in other neighborhoods. Collectively, we are not even allowed to see our war dead today. That was not the case in 1865.
At the end of the Civil War the dead were everywhere, some in half buried coffins and some visible only as unidentified bones strewn on the killing fields of Virginia or Georgia. Americans, north and south, faced an enormous spiritual and logistical challenge of memorialization. The dead were visible by their massive absence. Approximately 620,000 soldiers died in the war. American deaths in all other wars combined through the Korean conflict totaled 606,000. If the same number of Americans per capita had died in Vietnam as died in the Civil War, 4 million names would be on the Vietnam Memorial. The most immediate legacy of the Civil War was its slaughter and how to remember it.
Some twenty-eight black workmen went to the site, re-buried the Union dead properly, and built a high fence around the cemetery. They whitewashed the fence and built an archway over an entrance on which they inscribed the words, “Martyrs of the Race Course.”
KNOW YOUR HISTORY: Memorial Day was started by former slaves on May, 1, 1865 in Charleston, SC to honor 257 dead Union Soldiers who had been buried in a mass grave in a Confederate prison camp. Some 28 black workmen went to the site, dug up the bodies and worked for 2 weeks to give them a proper burial as gratitude for fighting for their freedom. They built a high fence around the cemetery. They whitewashed the fence and built an archway over an entrance on which they inscribed the words, “Martyrs of the Race Course.” They then held a parade of 10,000 people led by 2,800 Black children where they marched, sang and celebrated.
Officially, as a national holiday, Memorial Day emerged in 1868 when General John A. Logan, commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, the Union veterans organization, called on all former northern soldiers and their communities to conduct ceremonies and decorate graves of their dead comrades. On May 30, 1868, when flowers were plentiful, funereal ceremonies were attended by thousands of people in 183 cemeteries in twenty-seven states. The following year, some 336 cities and towns in thirty-one states, including the South, arranged parades and orations. The observance grew manifold with time. In the South Confederate Memorial Day took shape on three different dates: on April 26 in many deep South states, the anniversary of General Joseph Johnston’s final surrender to General William T. Sherman; on May 10 in South and North Carolina, the birthday of Stonewall Jackson; and on June 3 in Virginia, the birthday of Jefferson Davis.
[Excerpts from: David W. Blight teaches American History at Yale University where he is the director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition, the author of the Bancroft prize-winning Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory, and the forthcoming A Slave No More: Two Men Who Escaped to Freedom, Including Their Narratives of Emancipation.]
On what rests the hope of the republic?
One country, one language, one flag!
Patriotism is supporting your country all the time,
and your government when it deserves it.