Looking for other sources

By some accounts, the ladies of Columbus visited the cemetery in late April of 1862, decorating the graves of Confederate soldiers who were killed at Shiloh, or succumbed from their wounds after the battle. They resumed the practice on April 25, 1866. Noticing that the graves of Union soldiers went undecorated, the women of Columbus placed flowers on the burial plots of their former enemies.

Columbus wasn’t the only American town to remember the war dead in that spring of 1866. But it could be argued that the Mississippi commemoration had the most impact. The simple act of generosity and reconciliation was noted in Horace Greely’s New York Tribune and it inspired Frances Miles Finch’s poem, “The Blue and the Gray,” which became required memorization for generations of school children.

The Columbus event also influenced the establishment of a formal Memorial Day. In 1868, General John A. Logan, leader of a veterans group called the Grand Army of the Republic, issued General Order Number 11 designating May 30 as a memorial day “for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion.” The first national celebration of the event took place on May 30th of that same year, at Arlington National Cemetery.

Originally known as Decoration Day, the commemoration officially became Memorial Day at the turn of the century. By that time, the practice of decorating the graves of dead soldiers had become customary throughout the nation. But the annual act of remembrance might have never occurred, except for a bloody Civil War battle, and an act of kindness by a group of southern women.

Any dates prior to this date?

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One of the early Decoration Day commemorations took place at Friendship Cemetery in Columbus, Mississippi, on April 25, 1866. This event made national news, and the following is one of the articles about it.

Springfield Republican (MA), June 2, 1866:

The Columbus (Miss.) Sentinel abuses the women of that place for having placed flowers on the graves of the Union dead, at the same time that they decorated the graves of their own friends. The Vicksburg Herald, on the contrary, which is edited by an ex-Confederate soldier, says: ‘We envy not the narrow-heartedness of journals that can find fault with so noble an action. To our mind, it speaks volumes for the purity of woman’s character. Our ladies are not politicians – they are Christian women. And while engaged in decorating and preserving the graves of our soldiers, they thought not of war-like strife, nor of vengeance against the dead. They only knew, as they viewed those solitary graves of strangers in a strange land, that they were sleeping far away from home, far from mothers and sisters, and as they dropped the Spring roses of our own sunny clime upon their silent resting-places, it was with the Christian hope that some fair sister in the North, in a like charitable spirit, might not overlook the silent graves of our Southern sons which are scattered among them.”

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42 thoughts on “Looking for other sources

      • Yes, I am aware of that. However people visited cemeteries during the war all the time. However the event mentioned by Blight seems to be the first organized event following the war…thus making it the most likely candidate for the origin of Memorial Day.

        It also appears that the Columbus activity was not done during 63-65 and then resumed in 66 so that would make the events in Charleston, starting in 65 a continuous event…while Columbus wasn’t.

        IMHO

      • Corey. if they were listed as white would you feel the same? There are no reports earlier than 1862 that I can find. Also these folks only decorated Union graves. No document is offered to support this event.

      • Well the article clearly says these folks in Charleston were black. Would you submit this article if these folks were white, knowing the dates as posted?

        Article mentions “newly discovered Doc” yet no documents are presented as evidence. It appears this is a one time event also.

        In my opinion Columbus Mississippi held the first and the longest. You point that there was a four year lapse has no support. It was only then the newspapers picked up on the event.

      • Why would white Charlestonians decorate the graves of the enemy? So it doesn’t matter the color of their skin as in this case only blacks would have done it.

        If you want documentation read Blight’s Book “Race and Reunion”…I bet you won’t and IF you do I bet you won’t like it.

      • Because IF YOU READ the article about Columbus that s exactly what the white women did!!!!!!!!!!

        You are right I won’t read the book. Unlike you I have no interest in something that is race based and not historically accurate.

      • How do you know it is not historically accurate? You have not read the book. And how is dealing with a topic like race race based?

      • God Lord Corey. See this is exactly why I don’t let your posts show up. You are nothing but argumentative.
        1st –My original post proves this article wrong.
        2nd — no sources listed except a recently found article.
        3rd– “topic like race race based?” Really you can’t see it even though you wrote it???

        I am not arguing for the sake of arguing. I just gave you another chance and as I suspected you just went back to your same old ways. You are done here.

      • I didn’t go back to any old ways. Your initial article post does not prove Blights event wrong.

        I simply asked you to clarify your statements. You claim the 1862 even in Columbus was the beginning of Memorial Day…right? I said it was not continued and therefore could not be the initial event. I then provided an article which lays out another event that can be seen as the real beginning of Memorial Day…which was continuous. However it would appear that you will not accept that event because it was done for the sake of Yankees and not confederates.

        Please let me know what I have wrong if any thing….

        I won’t beg for another chance here since I don’t care if you post my comments or not. You don’t want to discuss/argue this because you know you will lose in the long run. So be it.

      • You are doing what you always do argue, speculating and not posting facts. For this reason, this is the last post of your I will allow.

        You can’t prove the Columbus ladies didn’t decorated the graves year after year nor can you prove the Negros’s in Charleston had more than a one time thing. I laid out the Columbus article with supporting newspaper accounts. ’62 still comes before ’66 what is hard about understanding that??

        You won’t get another chance. I exchange facts that are supported, not agenda or race driven arguments and speculation. Now you want to tell me I will lose in the long run. That is not a proven fact

        It is.

      • I’ve read Blight’s book…

        The idea of decorating the graves of soldiers in ceremony by women started before the war and continued during and obviously after the war. There are examples of this in VA in 1861 and in Savannah in 1862. Technically there the Gettysburg Ceremony was a dedication day complete with decoration. The next year, women went back to Gettysburg and decorated graves again. The one mentioned in Charleston in 1865 is usually referred to as the idea of a national memorial day because it was so widely publicized, which is the most important feature in regards to widespread public observance. Even that event, as David Blight points out, has no proof positive that it kicked off the establishment of Memorial Days across the country.

        Congress passed legislation recognizing Waterloo New York as the beginning – it should be said that investigation into a lot of these original stories has proved moot.

      • Rob,

        All sources that I have read, point to Columbus as the first Decoration Day. By all accounts Mississippi was the first to decorate graves of both sides. I have even posted one newspaper account which supports this event. What I am looking for is more supporting evidence of the event in Columbus, Ms. if any is available.

      • I’m confused as to what sources you have that argue that when there are other sources that predate Columbus, MS. Columbus, GA and Charleston, SC are two that immediately come to mind.

      • I would like top see the sources that opre-date the 1862 date. Do you have references??? Do you have anything that that trumps the newspaper article I posted?

      • George, the article you listed is 1866. The story you related from 1862 was something that went on in other places throughout the war, before the war, and after the war. There is no evidence of the 1862 memorial service being what one might call a Decoration Day,.

      • Rob the date is cited in the article. I know graves have been honored since the beginning of time, but how could a WBTS grave be honored before the war? Corey tries to point out that the Columbus affair was a one time thing in 1862, the racetrack affair appears to also be a one time thing in 1866, now the difference is the ladies of Columbus in 1866 decorated the graves from both sides, that gives them one-uppence for having the honor of having the first Decoration/Memorial Day.

      • Actually Corey cited nothing. He did nothing but argue for Blights book, which is race based. Regardless of where you find an example, if the date is not before 1862, Mississippi still wins the race for decorating graves of the dead from the WBTS. Still Columbus Ms. is the first to decorate the graves from both sides.

        Here is something else on Columbus —

        http://www.civilwarpoetry.org/confederate/postwar/blue-grayexp.html

        Hailed as a national classic from the moment of its publication in 1867, this poem is perhaps the most touching and expressive of all the “reconciliation poems” written after the War’s end. It was inspired by the following brief news item, which appeared in the New York Tribune: “The women of Columbus, Mississippi, animated by nobler sentiments than many of their sisters, have shown themselves impartial in their offerings made to the memory of the dead. They strewed flowers alike on the graves of the Confederate and of the National soldiers.”

      • George you have a paper article, but that doesn’t mean that it’s the first. Even the NPS doesn’t recognize that it is the South. Charleston 1865, Columbus, GA 1866. I mean, get real.

      • The1 NPS??? Ypu have got to be kidding….. You mean that big government trained Yankee puppet???

        The point is I have proved that Columbus was the first significant event to honor both sides have posted sources that support this statement and you know you and Al always want sources.

        Rob now you are just arguing. If you can’t post something real your posts will not show up.

        Oh and I am real.

      • Nice try but no cigar. I had that link for sometime just waiting for you to find it so you could make your argument as I knew you would.

        1. As stated — <em>“Mrs. Williams [widow of Col. Charles Williams, d.1862] and her little girl visited his grave every day, and often comforted themselves by wreathing it with flowers.” She only laid flowers on Col. Williams grave, NOT other graves or all graves.

        2. “So in March 1866, [Mrs. Williams] published an appeal for —— Did not mention decorating all CSA graves

        3. The initial ceremonies which ushered Memorial Day into life were held in Linnwood Cemetery at Columbus, on April 26, 1866; and the patriotic Southern woman in whose loyal heart Even at best one day after Columbus, Ms. April 25 1866, and no mention of decorating Union graves.

        Now it does appear Jackson, Ms. beat Columbus, Ms. by a year in decorating the graves of both sides, however for some unknown reason it seems that Columbus got all the publicity. Regardless Mississippi still holds honor.

        Oh and I have nothing to do with the Ole Miss “Black Bears” except for the CSA cemetery.

      • Rob,
        I just used your source that you provided. Again to be clear this is what your source states—
        “So in March 1866, [Mrs. Williams] published an appeal for the people of the South to join in setting apart a certain day ‘to be handed down through time as a religious custom

        Published an appeal — that is all.

      • Yehh . Did you notice this —First suggested by the ladies of Columbus, Georgia in 1866,

        Suggested not actually decorating the graves of both sides.

        The flowers from Jennie is a nice story but it happens in 1868.

      • They sent out a calling George, Linwood Cemetery was decorated.

        The flowers from Jenny is primary source demonstration that the ladies in Columbus achieved their goal of more widespread support and decoration. Are you really differentiating between who decorated the first graves and where did our national observance come from?

      • No it is a nice try but none of that is in the article.

        Mississippi owns both distinctions. Supporting facts support this statement. Why do you find it so hard to give credit where credit is due?

      • No you have not posted anything with any real supporting facts. You have posted your opinion. I ask again why not give credit where credit is due? Also do you believe the NPS is beyond question accurate in every aspect?

      • First of all they didn’t post any doc. that trumps the two Mississippi events. Just a story about a widow decorating her husbands grave and then making an appeal. As usual you are just trying to twist history. You are wrong and you know it. You are doing nothing but arguing at this point.

        Heck I’ll make an appeal. Due to the unlawful war waged against the citizens of the Southern United States and as a result of this this war, the Confederate loss of property, lives, finances, independence that still effect the southern portion of the country today, as a direct result of this unlawful war, I appeal to the United States government to starting in the year 2016, to begin payments of 1Million dollars annually to descendants of all men and women of all races who faithfully served the Confederacy. This payment will be paid each April 1st of every year.

        There you go lets see how far that goes.

        Now that you have said you trust the NPS, let’s revisit an old thread of yours. You remember the post about Black Confederate Found that you made sometime ago? You were poking fun at the idea of Black Confederates. Well since you trust the NPS so much, you should visit this website—

        http://www.nps.gov/thrb/learn/historyculture/storyofteddybear.htm

        Roosevelt’s assistants, led by Holt Collier, a born slave and former Confederate cavalryman, cornered and tied a black bear to a willow tree.

        Absolute proof of Black Confederates. No questions left the NPS says so, What this article doesn’t mention is the numbers. I have some 10,000 listed on Negroes in Gray.

      • I’m sorry, I didn’t even read the rest of this comment when you started by saying, “they didn’t post no doc.” Did you bother to click on the link?

      • I’ll do ya one better George, since you won’t consider any of my arguments, which included historical fact and interpretation, I’ll reciprocate by not reading your comment or replying again. Have a Dixie Day.

  1. Here’s the facts:

    The May 1, 1865 dedication of the cemetery in Charleston, SC was not a memorial day, nor was it ever intended to launch a holiday. It was a cemetery dedication. It led to nothing. David Blight of Yale admitted as much to the New York Times in 2012.

    On March 10, 1866 the Ladies of Columbus Georgia proposed an idea to start an annual memorial day on April 26 of that year (the first anniversary of the final surrender at Bennett Place). The press in and around Columbus, MS (e.g., Memphis, Pulaski, Panola, etc.) mistyped the letter from Columbus, GA in their papers–they published that the first memorial day was going to be held on Apr. 25. It was a typo. The ladies of Columbus, MS acted on the typo. Hence, they had a one day jump on the rest of the South regarding celebrating the first memorial day. However, it is entirely disingenuous to claim that the Ladies of Columbus, MS were the initiators, proposers, or creators of memorial day. The NPS is correct in saying that the holiday emerged from Columbus, GA.

    Insofar as the Mississippi women decorated forty union graves and that was publicized across the U.S., they were instrumental in causing the event to go “viral.”

    Waterloo is a hoax.

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