Decoration Day (later Memorial Day) was created by General Order No.11 – by Union Army Maj. General John A. Logan. With General Orders No. 11, Logan designated May 30, 1868, “for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country” and conduct special services as circumstances permitted. “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 free and undivided republic,” he declared. He also asked that the nation renew its pledge to assist the soldier’s and sailor’s widows and orphans. It was just three years after the end of the Civil War, and memory of that epic struggle was still fresh in the minds of everyone, especially those who had lost a love one or friend. It was created to honor the dead of union soldiers only; Survivors of the Confederate Army created their own Memorial Day.
The general said he
inaugurated the observance “with the hope it will be kept up from year to
year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed
comrades.” The observance has continued, although now Memorial Day is
observed as the last Monday of May.
James Garfield, who later became President, gave the Memorial Day speech at the first Memorial Day Ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery in 1868. The speech began with the words:
“I am oppressed with a sense of the impropriety of uttering words on this occasion. If silence is ever golden, it must be here beside the graves of fifteen thousand men, whose lives were more significant than speech, and whose death was a poem, the music of which can never be sung.”
And ended with these:
“What other spot so fitting for their last resting place as this under the shadow of the Capitol saved by their valor? Here, where the grim edge of battle joined; here, where all the hope and fear and agony of their country centered; here let them rest, asleep on the Nation’s heart, entombed in the Nation’s love.”