Three years after the Civil War ended, on May 5, 1868, the head of an organization of Union veterans -- the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) -- established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan declared that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30.
It is believed that date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country.
Local springtime tributes to the Civil War dead already had been held in various places. One of the first occurred in Columbus, Mississippi, April 25, 1866, when a group of women visited a cemetery to decorate the graves of Confederate soldiers who had fallen in battle at Shiloh.
Nearby were the graves of Union soldiers, neglected because they were the enemy. Disturbed at the sight of the bare graves, the women placed some of their flowers on those graves, as well.
Today, cities in the North and the South claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day in 1866. Both Macon and Columbus, Ga., claim the title, as well as Richmond, Virginia. The village of Boalsburg, Pa., claims it began there two years earlier. A stone in a Carbondale, Illinois, cemetery carries the statement that the first Decoration Day ceremony took place there on April 29, 1866.
Carbondale was the wartime home of Gen. Logan. Approximately 25 places have been named in connection with the origin of Memorial Day, many of them in the South where most of the war dead were buried.