Walt's Look Around: Tracing Memorial Day back to its roots - MSNewsNow.com - Jackson, MS

Walt's Look Around: Tracing Memorial Day back to its roots

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COLUMBUS, MS (Mississippi News Now) -

April 6th and 7th of 1862 this area wasn't nearly this peaceful, even though that's what the name Shiloh means, peaceful. For the course of those couple of days, as Grant for the Union and Johnston for the South squared off, it became apparent that the Civil Was wasn't going to be over quickly as everyone had thought up until then. Except for Johnson, he died in the battle. 25,000 other men in round numbers were either killed or wounded that day.

The wounded, North and South, were hauled out on rail cars and left in towns all along the way southward. There they were treated as best they could be and either got well, or were buried.

These are the graves of some of those who had been wounded at Shiloh, evacuated southward, and then buried in Friendship Cemetery in Columbus.

Some lingered a few days after the early April battle, others a few weeks.

The tie to Memorial Day happened in this cemetery in 1866, a year to the day after Robert E. Lee's surrender ending the Civil War. The ladies of Columbus brought flowers to the cemetery and put them on the graves of the Confederate fallen. Then someone suggested they also decorate the graves of the Union soldiers, who were still buried there at the time. And they did so.

The gesture was reported in Horace Greeley's newspaper and pretty soon everybody was having a Decoration Day, honoring the dead of both sides and starting a healing between the north and south.

After more wars, the date of Decoration Day was moved from April until the end of May when flowers would be in bloom everywhere and the name changed to Memorial Day.

Now, in all fairness, there's probably a dozen towns across the country, north and south, that claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day. Some official status was awarded Columbus, Mississippi by Congress years ago. President Johnson declared Waterloo, New York to be the birthplace. But WHAT happened here isn't in dispute. The dead of a single nation were honored that April morning in1866, and not the dead of two nations. And there is a big difference. That line began to be erased in this cemetery in Columbus, Mississippi.

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