Top of page

Remembering Our Honored Dead: Memorial Day Traditions

Share this post:

You may know that Memorial Day was first called Decoration Day, but did you know that originally it honored only those who died in the Civil War?

Daisies gathered for Decoration Day, May 30, 1899

In 1868, John Logan, the Commander in Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization for Union veterans, issued an order designating May 30th as a memorial day. He said this day should be 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.” Logan also asked that we guard their graves so that future generations can remember the cost of a free and undivided republic.

Primary sources from the Library of Congress can help students explore some of the ways people have commemorated Memorial Day in the past.

People cleaning and decorating graves at Pineview Cemetery on Memorial Day weekend

Students can:

What comparisons did students make between  these commemorations from the past and the commemorations of today? Let us know in the comments.


  1. I think it’s time to update this piece with the most relevant scholarship and include the first observation of “Memorial Day” on May 1st by the freed people of Charleston South Carolina honoring Union dead from a local prisoner of war camp.

Add a Comment

This blog is governed by the general rules of respectful civil discourse. You are fully responsible for everything that you post. The content of all comments is released into the public domain unless clearly stated otherwise. The Library of Congress does not control the content posted. Nevertheless, the Library of Congress may monitor any user-generated content as it chooses and reserves the right to remove content for any reason whatever, without consent. Gratuitous links to sites are viewed as spam and may result in removed comments. We further reserve the right, in our sole discretion, to remove a user's privilege to post content on the Library site. Read our Comment and Posting Policy.

Required fields are indicated with an * asterisk.