Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day and started as a day to decorate the graves of Civil War (or War Between the States, if you prefer) veterans. Until after World War I, when all war dead were commemorated, the South either did not observe Memorial Day or did so on a different day. In South Carolina, May 10th is still observed as Confederate Memorial Day. In 1971, Memorial Day was moved to the last Monday in May as part of a consolidation of holidays on Mondays to create 3-day weekends.
The first Decoration Day was proclaimed on May 5th, 1868 to be observed on May 30th, by General John Logan, the national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic. General Logan had a local Columbia connection, as part of General William Tecumseh Sherman’s occupation force of Columbia; Logan established his headquarters at the Hampton-Preston Mansion on Blanding Street.
When Decoration/Memorial Day started, some communities would hold elaborate ceremonies but over time, this has diminished. Still, at Arlington National Cemetery outside Washington,D.C, all graves are decorated by soldiers of the 3rd Infantry Division. Similar projects are carried out at the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery outside St. Louis, and the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park in Virginia.
Today, Memorial Day is regarded as the unofficial kickoff to summer with cookouts, barbecues and other events to signify the occasion. As we fire up the grill, let us remember the true spirit of the occasion,
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