Many credit Charleston, S.C., with first Memorial Day observance

May 21

Although President Lyndon Johnson issued a proclamation in 1966 naming Waterloo, N.Y., as the birthplace of Memorial Day, first held there  May 5, 1866, there are still many who give the credit to Charleston, S.C., where a ceremony to honor fallen soldiers was held May 1, 1865, just weeks after the war had ended.

A Richmond Times-Dispatch story  describes that Charleston ceremony as one attended by teachers, missionaries and some reporters. The place was a POW camp at the Charleston Race Track where Union soldiers had been buried in unmarked graves.

The gathering was, “organized as a memorial to all men who had died during captivity. The burial ground was landscaped, and those freed as a result of the Civil War played an integral role in the event at the Charleston Race Track.”

The ceremonies in Charleston and Waterloo were of a local nature. On a national level, it was Gen. John A. Logan, commander in chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, who in 1868 issued a proclamation making May 30 the official day for decorating the graves of the Civil War dead. In 1971, Congress passed legislation making the last Monday in May the official Memorial Day observation.

However, many of the Southern states adopted a “Confederate Memorial Day,”  including Mississippi  on the last day of April, Alabama on the fourth Monday of April, Georgia on April 26, North and South Carolina on May 10, Louisiana on June 3 and Virginia on the last day of May. Tennessee marks “Confederate Decoration Day” on June 3 and Texas has its “Confederate Heroes Day” on Jan. 19.

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