The origins of Memorial Day can be traced back to the Civil War, when the practice of decorating graves by organized women’s groups in the South began. Originally called Decoration Day, Memorial Day is a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation’s service.
While a number of towns and cities lay claim to being the birthplace of the holiday, the first official Memorial Day proclamation was made by General John Logan on May 5, 1868, as part of his General Order No. 11. Following the proclamation, Decoration Day was first observed on May 30, 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.
The first state to officially recognize the holiday was New York in 1873. By 1890 it was recognized by all of the northern states. The South refused to acknowledge the day, honoring their dead on separate days until after World War I, when the holiday changed from honoring just those who died fighting in the Civil War to honoring Americans who died fighting in any war.
Initially celebrated each year on May 30, Memorial Day is now celebrated in almost every state on the last Monday in May to ensure a three day weekend for Federal holidays, as established by the National Holiday Act of 1971. To this day, several southern states have an additional separate day for honoring their Confederate war dead.