Confederate Memorial Day (called Confederate Heroes Day in Texas and Florida, and Confederate Decoration Day in Tennessee) is a cultural holiday observed in several Southern US states on various dates since the end of the Civil War to remember the estimated 258,000 Confederate soldiers who died fighting against the Union.
It is an official state holiday in Alabama, Mississippi, and South Carolina; while it is commemorated in Kentucky, Florida, North Carolina, Texas, and Tennessee. It was also formerly recognised in Georgia, Louisiana, and Virginia. Several states celebrate it on or near 26 April, when the last major Confederate field army surrendered at Bennett Place, North Carolina in 1865.
In the spring of 1866 the Ladies Memorial Association of Columbus, Georgia, passed a resolution to set aside one day annually to memorialise the Confederate war dead. Mary Ann Williams, the association secretary, was directed to pen a letter inviting ladies associations in every former Confederate state to join them in the observance. Their invitation was written in March 1866 and sent to all of the principal cities in the former Confederacy, including Atlanta; Macon; Montgomery; Memphis; Richmond; St. Louis; Alexandria; Columbia; and New Orleans, as well as smaller towns like Staunton, Virginia; Anderson, South Carolina; and Wilmington, North Carolina. The actual date for the holiday was selected by Elizabeth Rutherford Ellis. She chose 26 April, the first anniversary of Confederate General Johnston’s surrender to Union Major General Sherman at Bennett Place. For many in the Confederacy, that date in 1865 marked the end of the Civil War.
In their book, The Genesis of the Memorial Day Holiday in America, Bellware and Gardiner assert that the national Memorial Day holiday is a direct offshoot of the observance begun by the Ladies Memorial Association of Columbus, Georgia in 1866. In a few places, most notably Columbus, Mississippi and Macon, Georgia, Union graves were decorated during the first observance. The day was even referred to as Memorial Day by The Baltimore Sun on May 8, 1866, after the ladies organization that started it. The name Confederate Memorial Day was not used until the Northern observance was initiated in 1868.
While initially cool to the idea of a Northern version of the holiday, General John A. Logan was eventually won over. His General Order No. 11, issued 05 May 1868, commanded the posts of Grand Army of the Republic to strew flowers on the graves of Union soldiers. The Grand Army of the Republic eventually adopted the name Memorial Day at their national encampment in 1882.
Many theories have been offered as to how Logan became aware of the former Confederate tradition he imitated in 1868. In her autobiography, his wife claims she told him about it after a trip to Virginia in the spring of that year. His secretary and his adjutant also claim they told him about it. John Murray of Waterloo, New York, claims it was he who inspired Logan in 1868. Bellware and Gardiner, however, offer proof that Logan was aware of the Southern tributes long before any of them had a chance to mention it to him. In a speech to veterans in Salem, Illinois, on 04 July 1866, Logan referred to the various dates of observance adopted in the South for the practice saying “…traitors in the South have their gatherings day after day, to strew garlands of flowers upon the graves of Rebel soldiers…”
The first official celebration as a public holiday occurred in 1874, following a proclamation by the Georgia legislature. By 1916, ten states celebrated it, on 03 June, the birthday of CSA President Jefferson Davis. Other states chose late April dates, or 10 May, commemorating Davis’ capture.
Confederate Memorial Day is a statutory holiday in Alabama on the fourth Monday in April, in Mississippi on the final Monday in April, and in South Carolina on 10 May. In all of these states, state offices are closed on this day.
In Georgia, the fourth Monday in April was formerly celebrated as Confederate Memorial Day, but beginning in 2016, in response to the Charleston church shooting, the names of Confederate Memorial Day and Robert E. Lee’s Birthday were struck from the state calendar and the statutory holidays were designated simply as “state holidays.” Florida also continues to officially designate Confederate Memorial Day on the fourth Monday in April, although state offices remain open.
North Carolina also designates the holiday on 10 May, although state offices remain open and localities may choose whether to observe it.
In Tennessee, an unofficial Confederate Decoration Day is observed on 03 June.
In Texas, Robert E. Lee’s birthday (19 January) was made a state holiday in 1931. In 1973, “Lee Day” was renamed “Confederate Heroes Day”. The official state description of the holiday states it is held “in honor of Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and other Confederate heroes;”. State offices remain open but employees may have an optional day off.
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