It also marks the start of the summer season (which Labor Day marks its end).
Remembering the Fallen
Because of the high number of dead soldiers, both Union and Confederate, memorial and burial services became important following the war. The federal government began creating national cemeteries in 1865 for the Union dead.
The First Celebration
May 1, 1865, in Charleston, S.C. at the Charleston Race Course, the first known observance of Memorial Day was held. 257 Union prisoners died there and were hastily buried in unmarked graves.
Freed slaves knew of the Union dead and wanted to honor them. Along with teachers and missionaries, the African Americans organized a May Day ceremony. Close to 10,000 people, mostly freedmen commemorated the dead. They built an enclosure and arch labeled "Martyrs of the Race Course." Today the site is Hampton Park.
On May 5, 1868, General John A. Logan, commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, the organization for Northern Civil War veterans, issued a proclamation that "Decoration Day" should be observed nationwide.
May 30, 1868 was the first national observation. May 30 was chosen because that was not the anniversary of any battle.
Name & Date Change
It wasn't until after World War I that "Decoration Day" became "Memorial Day" officially.
June 28, 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Holidays Bill making Memorial Day (& 3 other holidays: Washington's Birthday, Columbus Day & Veterans Day) a "Monday Holiday" to create the yearned-for 3-day weekend.
So on the last Monday in May, remember those who died for our freedom.
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