Memorial Day is an American holiday, observed on the last Monday of May, honoring the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. While most of us will probably have the day off from our normal Monday routine, many are unaware the true meaning of this recognized holiday or it’s origin.
Memorial Day grew out of the grief and tragedy wrought by the Civil War, and to appreciate the day—and continue its traditions—one must first understand the context from which it arose.On April 9, 1865, Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia to General Ulysses S. Grant, commander of the United States army. Though it took another few months for the remaining Confederate armies to follow Lee’s example and for hostilities to end, Lee’s surrender signaled the close to the bloodiest four years in US history.By the end of the Civil War, more than two percent of the population of Americans in the North and South—had been killed. In 2018 numbers, such a percentage would exact a death toll of more than 6.5 million Americans.
In addition to the history of his holiday, there are a number of things you might not know about Memorial Day. Here are 12 of them:
- The Civil War is the reason Memorial Day was established. Approximately 620,000 soldiers on both sides died, and this loss of life and its effect on communities throughout the country is why the holiday began.
- Memorial Day was originally known as “Decoration Day.” That’s because the burial sites of Civil War soldiers were decorated with flowers on this day.
- Because the Civil War had torn the country apart so badly, separate Memorial Days were originally celebrated in the North and South.
- The first observance of Memorial Day is said to have occurred at Waterloo, New York in 1866.
- Following the Civil War, General John A. Logan, the Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, decided that the annual commemoration of fallen soldiers should be held on May 30 each year. In 1971, the holiday was moved to the last Monday in May to ensure a long weekend.
- Memorial Day was established as an official holiday in 1968 when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Uniform Monday Holiday Law recognizing a number of legal public holidays.
- At 11 a.m. each Memorial Day, Americans are encouraged to pray for peace.
- The exact “National Moment of Remembrance” is 3 p.m. on Memorial Day, established in 2000 by President Bill Clinton.
- An annual National Memorial Day Concert is held on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol.
- Memorial Day customs that are generally followed in America include flying the flag at half-mast until noon, then raising it to the top of the staff until sunset.
- It has became a tradition to wear red poppies to honor those who have died in war.
- “Taps” is a bugle call often played on Memorial Day and during other flag ceremonies or military funerals. Some historians believe it was borrowed by Union Brigadier General Daniel from a French bugle song titled “Tattoo.”
If you have any other Memorial Day factoids you’d like to share, feel free to add a comment below.