Chamblee54

Memorial Day

Posted in History, Holidays, Library of Congress, War by chamblee54 on May 28, 2017

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Memorial Day started as Decoration Day. During the War Between the States, people started to go out to graveyards, and put flowers on the soldiers. It is tough to say whether the custom started in the south. or the north. Waterloo NY is considered the official birthplace of Memorial Day. This is not what Abba was singing about.

WBTS was by far the most costly war in American history. There were more casualties in WBTS than in World Wars I, II, Korea, and Vietnam combined. Americans were not used to this carnage on this scale. Decoration Day was one of the results.

It was also, literally, a divisive war. The causes of the conflict are debated to this day. More men died of disease than in combat. Shitting yourself to death is not glory.

An important cause of the war was the desire, of some, to maintain their investment in slaves. In other words, the hundreds of thousands of Southern deaths were to insure that African Americans cannot be free. The lofty rhetoric of Memorial Day does not always reflect the squalid reality.

The legend is that May 30 was chosen because it was not the anniversary of any major battles. For many years after WBTS, the southern states had a separate day of remembrance. Confederate Memorial Day is still observed, though not on as large a scale as before.

The next major killing session for the United States was World War I. After this conflict, May 30 evolved into a day to remember all soldiers who died. The south began to embrace the unified holiday.

The United States lost at least 116,516 men in World War I. Almost all of these casualties were in 1918, the last year of the war. The other countries lost far more men. Not one person in a thousand can tell you today why World War I was fought. All it did was provide the causes of World War II, which was even more costly.

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There is a bit of polemic on the internet now, The revolutionary origins of Memorial Day and its political hijacking. It tells the story of an incident in Charleston SC, where newly freed slaves buried some Union soldiers who died in a prison camp. The incident is described as the first Decoration Day, which later evolved into Memorial Day. As the article tells it, this Holiday was intended as a revolutionary statement about Black freedom, and was whitewashed into an all caucasian affair. This is not a good summary of the article, but should do for now. You can read it for yourself.

PG read the article, and started to get a headache. While researching a Memorial Day. post, he came across the Charleston incident. Apparently, it did happen. There were also numerous other remembrances of the fallen soldiers. The War Between the States was an incredibly bloody affair, with many families losing someone. The urge to remember these fallen soldiers was overwhelming. The custom of Decoration Day would probably have happened with, or without, the Charleston incident. It is incorrect to say that those former slaves invented Decoration Day.

There was an exchange of messages. PG left a comment, “That article is not completely true.”

Lendon Sadler Thank you for your comment concerning the historical roots of Memorial day, but could you be so kind as to explain a bit more the inaccuracy contained in the posting.For my sake, and that of my friends, it would be greatly appreciated. Thanks. And please feel comfortable saying whatever is on your mind in my pages. Sincere regards, Lendon

Luther Mckinnon I will have to think about it some. Also, I am not sure that I have an interest in exploring this issue. I did some research about the celebration in Charleston. It apparently did take place. However, there were other people decorating graves before that. After the carnage of the War Between the States, there seemed to be a lot of activity towards remembering the dead. The slaves in Charleston definitely did not “invent” decoration day. That they had one of the earliest celebrations is notable, but they should not take sole credit. As to the rest of the article… i would have to think about it some, and to tell you the truth I don’t know if I am particularly interested. One of the pieces I read about the evolution of Memorial Day mentioned World War One, which was the next major war the US was involved in after WBTS. Here again, there was a lot of dead soldiers to remember. This was when the holiday evolved into a remembrance of soldiers from all wars. Anyway, I hope this is helpful, and maybe we can explore some of the other issues of that article.

The article in question is at a site called Liberation, “Newspaper of the Party for Socialism and Liberation at LiberationNews.org.” There is a some historic revisionism, with statements like this. “In 1877, the Northern capitalist establishment decisively turned their backs on Reconstruction, striking a deal with the old slavocracy to return the South to white supremacist rule in exchange for the South’s acceptance of capitalist expansion.” Whatever, dude. The article is no longer online.

The custom of Decoration/Memorial Day is pretty much what it says it is… to remember the fallen soldiers of our wars, especially the ones with lots of casualties. According to this source, it was World War I that facilitated the transition from Decoration Day, focused on WBTS, to a Memorial Day that honored the dead of all wars. It almost certainly was not done as a gesture of white supremacy.

The so-called lessons of history are very versatile. You can find whatever facts are convenient for your agenda, and if you don’t get what you need you can make some up. After all, there is nobody alive today that can remember 1877. We have to take the word of whoever tells the tale of a “deal with the old slavocracy.” Sometimes, these stories are more plausible than others.

Sometimes, things just don’t ring true. “The concept that the population must “remember the sacrifice” of U.S. service members, without a critical reflection on the wars themselves, did not emerge by accident. It came about in the Jim Crow period as the Northern and Southern ruling classes sought to reunite the country around apolitical mourning, which required erasing the “divisive” issues of slavery and Black citizenship.”

This is a repost. Notes about the Charleston parade are showing up on facebook. This incident almost certainly took place, and is worth noting. However, it was not the “invention” of Memorial Day. Gentlemen, start your engines. Pictures are from The Library of Congress.

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