Today is Memorial Day in the United States. For most Americans, it's the unofficial first day of summer, the day to head to the pool or fire up the grill. Somewhere in the middle of all that fun, we hope you'll pause to recall the original purpose of the holiday as a day of remembrance for all of those who died in our nation's service.
Memorial Day (or Decoration Day) was first observed on 30 May 1868 as one of the tortuous attempts towards healing the country after the Civil War, and flowers were placed on the graves of both Union and Confederates soldiers in Arlington National Cemetery. This excerpt is from the General Order No. 11 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic. The words still resonate today.
"We are organized, comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the purpose... "of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers, sailors, and marines who united to suppress the late rebellion." What can aid more to assure this result than cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foes? Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains, and their deaths the tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms. We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic....
"Let us, then, at the time appointed gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with the choicest flowers of spring-time; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon a nation's gratitude, the soldier's and sailor's widow and orphan."
Above: Unidentified girl in mourning dress holding framed photograph of her father as a cavalryman (from her dress, jewelry, & mourning ribbons, it is assumed her father died in the Civil War), photographer unknown, taken between 1861-1870. Collection, Library of Congress
Click here for more from this extraordinary collection of Civil War-related photographs.