In commemoration of Memorial Day, Lila D. Bunch’s Ashley Layhew has compiled this quick history of the Memorial Day holiday.
The Civil War changed so many things about the country and its history, and created Memorial Day. The holiday began as Decoration Day, and was celebrated in the South by communities. It wasn't a widely recognized holiday until 1868. Families across the country faced the realities of the war in their daily lives, and mourned as they could. In places where battles had been fought, the brutalities of the war were even more obvious. Places that once had been farms were now unmarked cemeteries. In total, about 2% of the country's population died in just four years. Roughly 620,000 soldiers died in just four years of fighting. In comparison, American deaths in every other war from the Revolution to the Korean War totaled just over 600,000- combined.
Early Decoration Day ceremonies were private and local, and citizens would remember their lost loved ones either privately or in grave marking ceremonies. In 1868, General John Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), called for the first widespread celebration of Decoration Day, and asked participants to decorate graves with flowers. He did this at Arlington National Cemetery, and 5,000 people marked 20,000 graves. The GAR was a Union veteran organization that dissolved in 1956 after the death of its last member.
It remained a Civil War holiday until after World War I, when people began celebrating all war dead. In 1971, Congress declared it a federal holiday.