Memorial Day, May 30, 2011

Today, the day before Memorial Day, there are so many distractions, shopping, sales, parties and such, that we don’t even think about the signifigence of the day and why it is remembered. This brings me to the history of Memorial Day and one of an early childhood memory of my grandmother, Linnie Ross Sanders Wallace, telling me the story. She wanted to be sure that I remembered it and passed it on. Since that day, many years ago, I’ve researched the story and remarkably, her story and the true history of Decoration/Memorial Day are very similar.

In the North, tradition was that Decoration Day began in New York in 1868, but it really started in Virginia as the Civil War ended. Grandma Wallace, a Civil War Baby Boomer and yes, we had them then too, told me the outline, not including all of the details, of the story. Her Father, Levi Sanders, had spent 4 years fighting with the 6th Texas Cavalry, across Indian Territory, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia. She made sure that I knew what “Decoration Day”, or in Texas known as “Confederate Heroes Day”, now known as our Memorial Day, was and just what it meant.

Within a month of the end of the Civil War, May 1865, ladies in Winchester, Virginia, formed a Ladies Memorial Association, (LMA), with the single purpose to gather fallen Confederate soldiers within a 15 mile radius of their town and provide them burial in a single graveyard. Once that task had been done they hoped to establish an annual tradition of placing flowers and evergreens on the graves. There were Federal troops buried along with the Confederates and they received the decorations also. Within a year, ladies across the south had established over 70 LMA’s and in the first year, these LMA’s had assisted in the recovery of over 70,000 Confederate dead!

The ladies of Lynchburg chose May 10 as their Decoration Day. This was the day that Lt. General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson had succumbed to wounds. The Richmond LMA had chosen May 31 because that was the day the populace of that town had first heard the guns of war.

Vicious Reconstruction laws not withstanding, by 1867, Decoration Day flourished across the South and it was a day that southern spirit and pride surfaced. Alabama, Florida and Mississippi celebrated it on April 30; North and South Carolina on May 10 and Virginia finally compromised on May 27. Texas celebrated “Confederate Heroes Day” on January 19.
Then in 1868, in the North, May 5 was officially designated Memorial Day. This was later changed to May 30, because no significant battle was fought on that day.

In May 1968, at Waterloo, New York, Pres. Lyndon Johnson “officially” recognized Waterloo as the birthplace of Memorial Day. Still later, our government intruded and made the last Monday in May, Memorial Day, a Federal holiday.

LBJ, who began his career as a history teacher at San Jacinto High School in Houston, should have studied his Civil War history a little closer.