The first Memorial Day isn’t something Americans talk about much. If we knew our history, we’d all know that Memorial Day is far more than an opportunity to fire up the barbecue or get to the lake for the first time.
The holiday is an extraordinary celebration of America’s values, history, and traditions.
First Memorial Day Fun Facts
Heres a few surprising things you probably didn’t know about Memorial Day:
1. It commemorates the end of the Civil War. Freed slaves and Union troops held the earliest Memorial Day celebrations in May 1865 – just a few weeks after the fighting ended.
2. Memorial Day was first celebrated on May 1 or May Day. The first recorded Memorial Day observance occurred on May 1, 1865, when U.S. Troops and freed slaves celebrated in Charleston, South Carolina. Charleston was the city where the Civil War started with the bombardment of Fort Sumter in 1861.
3. Memorial Day is also about prisoners of war (POWs). The first Memorial Day celebration in Charleston on May 1, 1865, was held to consecrate the graves of 250 Union prisoners who died while in prison. The prisoners were called the “Martyrs of the Race Course” because the camp where the prisoners were kept was constructed at the site of a former horserace track.
4. Memorial Day is a Christian holiday. The original Memorial Day in 1865 was marked by the singing of hymns, and readings from the Bible.
5. Memorial Day has been celebrated historically May 30, not the last Monday in May.
6. Memorial Day became an official holiday in 1868. Union war hero General John A. Logan organized the first Memorial Day and designated May 30, 1868, as the first official celebration.
7. Logan chose the date because no Civil War battles were fought on the day. He was hoping to promote peace by not reviving wartime hatreds.
8. General Logan was the head of the first modern veterans’ organization; the Grand Army of the Republic, which represented Union veterans. Logan Street in Denver and Logan Circle in Washington D.C. have been named after the General.
9. Memorial Day was first celebrated by African Americans. Most of the participants in the first Memorial Day celebration in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1865 were freed slaves. They wanted to thank the Union soldiers who had liberated them as well as celebrate their freedom.
10. Memorial Day is a celebration of freedom. The first Memorial Day was organized by former slaves who also wanted to give thanks to God and to the fallen Union soldiers for their freedom.
11. Memorial Day was originally called “Declaration Day” by General Logan. The term Memorial Day was adopted by ex-Confederates in the South who did not want to celebrate a holiday they felt was confined to the Union.
12. Memorial Day did not become a federal holiday until 1971. An act of Congress in that year created the modern Memorial Day by designating the last Monday in May as a national holiday.
13. Southerners did not start celebrating Memorial Day until 1886 when the Ladies Memorial Association of Columbus, Georgia, held a service to commemorate the Confederate War Dead.
14. Some states hold separate “Memorial Days,” nine Southern States still recognize Confederate Memorial Day; which falls either on the birthday of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, or the day General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson died.
15. Ironically enough, Stonewall Jackson was shot by his own Confederate troops. On May 2, 1863, Confederate infantry mistook Jackson and his staff for Union Calvary and opened fire on them after the battle of Chancellorsville. Jackson was hit and died eight days later from the wounds and other complications.
16. Even though the first celebration was held in 1865 in Charleston, South Carolina. Waterloo, New York, was recognized as the official birthplace of Memorial Day by federal legislation in 1966. Waterloo was one of the first towns to close businesses to honor the war dead in 1866.
17. Over 20 towns around the United States claim to be the “birthplace of Memorial Day.” Communities that claim to have held the first Memorial Day festivities include; Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, Columbus, Georgia, Columbus, Mississippi, and Carbondale Illinois.
18. Americans are supposed to pause for a “National Moment of Remembrance” at 3 p.m. on Memorial Day. Congress passed a resolution encouraging such a moment in 2000.
19. The Lincoln Memorial was dedicated on Memorial Day (May 30) 1922.
If you want to celebrate the real Memorial Day, it will take place on Wednesday, May 30, 2018. Not Monday as most people believe.