Friends in Christ,
Many towns and states have laid claim to the honor of being the source of Memorial Day. The true and unlikely source, of this federal holiday, is the practice in the Old South of laying flowers on the graves of their Confederate war dead. Shortly after the Civil War (March of 1866), the Ladies Memorial Association of Columbus, Georgia began this tradition. After deciding to set aside one day each year to honor their war dead, they wrote to ladies in every former Confederate state urging them to do the same. April 26, 1866 was chosen because it marked the first anniversary of General Johnston’s surrender at Bennett Place. For many in the South this marked the end of their struggle. It is important to remember that in Columbus, Mississippi and Macon, Georgia, Union and Confederate graves were both decorated during this first observance. I assume that they realized that all families mourn their war dead, no matter what side of the struggle they were on. New studies give a count of 770,000 men killed in the Civil War, 450,000 from the North and 322,000 from the South. Some studies suggest that the count is much higher.
General Logan, General Order No. 11 of May 5, 1868, commanded the posts of Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) to follow the practice of the of placing flowers on the graves of Union soldiers who died “in defense of their country during the late rebellion.” The GAR eventually renamed this day as Memorial Day in 1882. On the first Decoration Day, at Arlington National Cemetery, General James Garfield “delivered the oration,” “an original poem was read by Honorable J.C. Smith” and the services “concluded with a solemn dirge by the 44th Infantry band.” It was at this point that some 5,000 people helped “decorate the graves of the more than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried in the cemetery.” Shared mourning is often the beginning of healing.
- April 26, 1865, General Johnston surrendered at Bennett Place,
- April 26, 1866, first Decoration Day Observed,
- May 5, 1868, General Logan, General Order No. 11 of commanded the GAR to place flowers on the graves of Union soldiers who died “in defense of their country during the late rebellion”,
- May 30, 1868, first Decoration Day, at Arlington National Cemetery.
- 1868, memorial events were held in 183 cemeteries in 27 states,
- 1868, some southerners added the label “Confederate” to what they originally called Decoration Day in protest of what they saw as northerners coopting the holiday,
- 1869, memorial events were held in 183 cemeteries 336,
- 1871, Michigan made “Decoration Day” an official state holiday,
- 1890, every Northern State had made “Decoration Day” an official state holiday,
- 1867, Rochester, Wisconsin, held its first annual Memorial Day parade,
- 1868, Doylestown, Pennsylvania, held its first annual Memorial Day parade and claims it to be the nation’s oldest continuously running celebration,
- 1911-1973, the scheduling of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway car race (Indianapolis 500) on Sunday preceding the Memorial Day holiday,
- July 1913, veterans of the GAR and Confederate armies gathered in Gettysburg to commemorate the fifty-year anniversary,
- May 26, 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson designated an “official” birthplace of the holiday by signing the presidential proclamation naming Waterloo, New York (he was wrong),
- 1967, officially name “Memorial Day” by Congress (took effect at the federal level in 1971),
- 1967, House Concurrent Resolution 587, in which the 89th Congress had officially recognized that the patriotic tradition of observing Memorial Day had begun one hundred years prior in Waterloo, New York (they were wrong),
- June 28, 1968, moved Memorial Day from May 30 to the last Monday in May,
- 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by an act of Congress, and
- 1974 the scheduling of the Indianapolis 500 on the Sunday before Memorial Day.
A Prayer for Memorial Day
O God of All Might, we come this day giving thanks for the beauty of the earth, for the wonders of life, and for the love and mercy You have shown to us. On this Memorial Day, we give thanks to You for those who have died defending this great land. We thank you that through their sacrifice You have granted us liberties that serve as a model for all nations and for which all humanity longs.
O God of Mercy, we thank you that for so many of us, today is just another day filled with joyful memories and picnics. We ask, in the joy You have afforded us, that You would keep us mindful of the pain that this day brings to the families and friends of those women and men who have died serving and protecting us. We ask, as the bitter cup of loss is passed to them one more time, that in Your Mercy You would grant them Your Peace.
O God of Love, we pray that You would steel in the hearts of these families the loving memories they have of their husbands and wives, of their daughters and sons, and of their brothers and sisters who have now entered into eternity having answered the call to arms issued by our country. We thank for the words Jesus left us when he said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” We thank you for those who, following Jesus’ words and example, were willing to die for others.
O God of Peace, we pray for the abolition of war, for the silencing of all arms, and for the coming of the Peace of Your Kingdom. All of us must die and all of us must lose loved ones to death. We ask that those of us who have not yet tasted of the bitter fruit of loss to war would be spared this pain.
O God of Eternity, we thank You for these brave souls who have paid the ultimate price for our freedom, but most of all we thank You for Jesus Christ. We thank you that He chose to give His life so that all mankind might have freedom from the power of sin. We thank You for raising Him from the dead and for giving us the promise of victory over death through His Resurrection. We thank for the gift of the Holy Spirit and for the comfort He brings to us. We thank for the promise of Your coming Kingdom. On the Day of Judgement, we ask that You afford an extra measure of mercy to these men and women who died for us living out the example left to us by Your Son, our Brother and Savior, Jesus the Christ. O God have mercy upon all of us. Amen.
Yours in Christ,