The Memorial Day Connection to Abraham Lincoln

Union soldier reenactor with B. Nash at Fort Wilkins, Michigan

As the nation prepares to observe Memorial Day 2011, many do not know an interesting connection that exists between Lincoln and the holiday. Lloyd Lewis in his book Myths After Lincoln, reveals that the funeral ceremonies given for the slain Abraham Lincoln-that went on for an extended period from Washington to Springfield-served as a foundation for the practice. About Lincoln’s funeral train, Lewis writes:

“…the cities of the North were honoring the traveling corpse with everything that imagination could devise, parades, decorations, mottoes, and flowers, flowers, flowers. The services had been both profane and beautiful…” “From the windows of the creeping train, the funeral party could see heaps of flowers besides mock graves on hillsides where people were staging tableaus of grief as the black train went by.”

In the South, a curious thing was happening, black ex-slaves began decorating graves of Union dead buried in certain areas, like Charleston. Lewis comments further:

“News of this observance came North through the army and spread as the soldiers, mustered out, passed to their homes through the summer of ’65. (Emphasis mine): A TINY SEED THE IDEA WAS, BUT IT FELL ON THE GROUND THAT HAD BEEN HARROWED INTO FERTILITY BY THE LINCOLN FUNERAL CEREMONIES. THE STORY OF THE FLOWERS ON THE SOLDIERS’ GRAVES BLENDED SIMPLY AND DRAMATICALLY INTO THE NORTHERN PEOPLE’S MEMORY OF THE FLOWERS THAT HAD STORMED DOWN TO HIDE THE MARTYRED PRESIDENT’S CASKET.”

It wasn’t long after, that General John A. Logan became Commander in Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic. In May 1868, he issued an order designating the thirtieth of May as a day for all members to strew with flowers the “graves of comrades” who had died in defense of the Republic during the war. Other explanations are offered for the origin of Memorial Day. I’d be willing to bet that the “Lincoln connection” wasn’t one of them! Almost forgotten!

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One Response to “The Memorial Day Connection to Abraham Lincoln”

  1. Jack Head says:

    thanks for the great information

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