With flags flying at half-mast, tombstones decorated with wreaths and bouquets, and processions of the bereaved paying their respects at national cemeteries, ceremonies honoring fallen soldiers take place across the country. First observed in 1865 to commemorate soldiers who died during the Civil War, Memorial Day (formerly known as Decoration Day) was later extended to honor all American military personnel who gave the ultimate sacrifice in all wars. Read more about it!
The information in this guide focuses on primary source materials found in the digitized historic newspapers from the digital collection Chronicling America.
The timeline below highlights important dates related to this topic and a section of this guide provides some suggested search strategies for further research in the collection.
|May 5, 1868||General John Logan officially proclaims Decoration Day (later known as Memorial Day), and on May 30 of that year flowers are placed on the graves of Union soldiers at Arlington Cemetery.|
|1869-1911||Northern states begin to adopt the holiday, featuring parades, speeches, and events commemorating the Civil War dead. The name of the holiday gradually changes to Memorial Day during this period.|
|1919-1920||While Decoration/Memorial Day originally commemorated Civil War dead, newspapers begin to advocate commemoration of those killed in The Great War (World War I) and eventually all wars.|