As much as there is to dislike about Black Jack Logan his one accomplishment of note was to emulate the Southern tradition of a memorial day for the fathers and sons, the husbands and brothers who had fallen in the conflict. We present here the story of the start of Memorial Day along with Logan’s order instituting the observance for the north.
From the May, 1893 issue of “Confederate Veteran,” the Origin of Memorial Day
It is a matter of history that Mrs. Chas. J. Williams, of Columbus, Ga., instituted the beautiful custom of decorating soldiers’ graves with flowers, a custom which has been adopted throughout the United States. Mrs. Williams was the daughter of Maj. John Howard, of Milledgeville, Ga., and was a superior woman. She married Maj. C. J. Williams on his return from the Mexican War. As colonel of the First Georgia Regulars, of the Army in Virginia, he contracted disease, from which he died in 1862, and was buried in Columbus, Ga.
Mrs. Williams and her little girl visited his grave every day, and often comforted themselves by wreathing it with flowers. While the mother sat abstractly thinking of the loved and lost one, the little one would pluck the weeds from the unmarked soldiers’ graves near her father’s and cover them with flowers, calling them her soldiers’ graves.
After a short time while the dear little girl was summoned by the angels to join her father. The sorely bereaved mother then took charge of these unknown graves for the child’s sake, and as she cared for them thought of the thousands of patriot graves throughout the South, far away from home and kindred, and in this way the plan was suggested to her of setting apart one day in each year, that love might pay tribute to valor throughout the Southern States. In March, 1868, she addressed a communication to the Columbus Times, an extract of which I give:
“We beg the assistance of the press and the ladies throughout the South to aid us in the effort to set apart a certain day to be observed from the Potomac to the Rio Grande, and to be handed down through time as a religious custom of the South, to wreathe the graves of our martyred dead with flowers, and we propose the 26th day of April as the day.”
She then wrote to the Soldiers’ Aid Societies in every Southern State, and they readily responded and reorganized under the name of Memorial Associations. She lived long enough to see her plan adopted all over the South, and in 1868 throughout the United States. Mrs. Williams died April 15, 1874, and was buried with military honors. On each returning Memorial Day the Columbus military march around her grave, and each deposits a floral offering.
The Legislature of Georgia, in 1874, set apart the 26th day of April as a legal holiday in obedience to her request. Would be that every Southern State observed the same day.
Headquarters, Grand Army of the Republic
Washington, D.C., May 5, 1868
I. The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated 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, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land. In this observance no form or ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.
We are organized, comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the purpose, among other things, “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 by cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foe? Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains, and their death a 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 found 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 free and undivided republic.
If other eyes grow dull and other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain in us.
Let us, then, at the time appointed, gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with choicest flowers of springtime; 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 as sacred charges upon the Nation’s gratitude,–the soldier’s and sailor’s widow and orphan.
II. It is the purpose of the Commander-in-Chief to inaugurate this 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. He earnestly desires the public press to call attention to this Order, and lend its friendly aid in bringing it to the notice of comrades in all parts of the country in time for simultaneous compliance therewith.
III. Department commanders will use every effort to make this order effective.
By command of:
JOHN A. LOGAN,