"For though Conquered; they adore it!
Love the cold, dead hands that bore it!
Weep for those that fell before it!
Pardon those who trailed and tore it."
Lizzie Rutherford (1833-1873) is credited as the originator of Confederate Memorial Day, which honors the memory of Confederate soldiers each year in states across the South. While the origins of Confederate Memorial Day are somewhat obscure, many historians believe that a group of women in Columbus,Mississippi, under the leadership of Rutherford, created the annual observance.
Elizabeth Rutherford was born on June 1, 1833, to Susan Thweatt and Adolphus Skrine Rutherford. Very little is known about her personal life. During the Civil War (1861-1865) Rutherford lived in Columbus, Mississippi, where she was active in the Soldiers' Aid Society, and in 1868 she married Captain Roswell Ellis, who had served in the "Columbus Guards."
In April 1865, a week after Confederate general Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox, Virginia, one of the final battles of the Civil War was waged near Columbus. A group of militia units, county reserves, and factory workers engaged Union forces on the Alabama heights overlooking Columbus, the Confederacy's third largest manufacturing center (following Atlanta and Richmond, Virginia). The Confederate line was breached by General James Wilson's Union forces, and the remaining defenders fled. At the war's end the women of the Soldiers' Aid Society of Columbus began to care for the graves of the fallen Confederate soldiers in Linwood Cemetery.
Early in 1866 Rutherford told a friend about a novel she had been reading (The Initials by Baroness von Tautphoeus), which mentioned the custom of caring for the graves of dead heroes. Rutherford suggested that a special day should be set aside in order to decorate Confederate soldiers' graves and thereby honor them in perpetuity. Her suggestion was warmly received by the other women of the Columbus Soldiers' Aid Society, and they transformed their group into the Ladies' Memorial Association.
In March 1866 the new group wrote to Soldiers' Aid Societies throughout the South to encourage them to unite in decorating soldiers' graves on April 26, the date of General Joseph E. Johnston's surrender. After Lee's surrender at Appomattox, Johnston, who had been charged with Georgia's defense, surrendered the remaining major Confederate field army to Union general William T. Sherman in North Carolina. The women wrote, "We can keep alive the memory of debt we owe [the fallen soldiers] by dedicating at least one day in each year, by embellishing their humble graves with flowers. Therefore we beg the assistance of the press and the ladies throughout the South to help us in the effort to set apart a certain day to be observed." This call was answered again and again across the South, as reflected in a hymn by Nella L. Sweet published in 1867, "Kneel Where Our Loves Are Sleeping," which was dedicated "To the Ladies of the South Who Are Decorating the Graves of the Confederate Dead."
Rutherford died on March 31, 1873, and was buried, appropriately enough, in Linwood Cemetery, with the soldiers she had sought to memorialize. Her marker, erected by the Lizzie Rutherford Chapter of the Daughters of the Confederacy (established in 1898), calls her "Soldiers' Friend" and observes that she was the person who suggested Confederate Memorial Day.
Read more......Memorial Day Records, Lowndes County Mississippi
Written by Kenton Kilmer with the Library of Congress May 21, 1958. You can find this along with other information regarding Memorial Day (originally known as Decoration Day) in the manuscript collection MS 337 in the Billups-Garth Archives.
TO THE OFFICERS AND EMPLOYEES OF THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI:
WHEREAS, the Legislature has designated the last Monday of April as the day for the observance of CONFEDERATE MEMORIAL DAY, and under the provisions of Section 3-3-7, Mississippi Code of 1972, is a legal holiday in the State of Mississippi;
THEREFORE, all officers and employees of the State of Mississippi are authorized and empowered, at the discretion of the executive head of the department or agency, to close their respective offices in observance of the holiday on
MONDAY, APRIL 28, 2003
GIVEN under my hand and seal of office at Jackson, Mississippi, this the 31st day of March, 2003.
Eric Clark. Secretary of State
State of Mississippi Proclamations
There is still a grey Memorial Day
Many Southern states also have their own days for honoring the Confederate dead. Mississippi celebrates Confederate Memorial Day on the last Monday of April, Alabama on the fourth Monday of April, and Georgia on April 26. North and South Carolina observe it on May 10, Louisiana on June 3 and Tennessee calls that date Confederate Decoration Day. Texas celebrates Confederate Heroes Day January 19 and Virginia calls the last Monday in May Confederate Memorial Day.
POEM FOR CONFEDERATE MEMORIAL DAY
by Oliver Reeves
How many springs have gone since they
Who wore the uniform of gray
Last looked upon summer snow of dogwood, blooming below
Their southern skies and friendly sun,
Or watched the winding rivers run
Or knew when spring wind's gentle hand
Stretched forth to heal their wounded land.
They sleep where the azaleas spread
Their glorious colors, where the red old hills
And mountain peaks
Stand listening while nature speaks.
And from the woodlands sound the strains
Of memories; where coastal plains
Run down to join the ceaseless tide
Ebbing and flowing as they died.
Let us remember them as time
And tide move on in endless rhyme.
When spring is wearing her bouquet
For the lost legions of the gray.
While bud and blossom, hill and tree
Remember them, so shall we.
Oliver Reeves is the former poet laureate of the State of Georgia.
It started with the Civil War:
Memorial Day was a response to the unprecedented carnage of the Civil War, in which some 620,000 soldiers on both sides died. The loss of life and its effect on communities throughout the North and South led to spontaneous commemorations of the dead.
In 1864, women from Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, put flowers on the graves of their dead from the just-fought Battle of Gettysburg. The next year, a group of women decorated the graves of soldiers buried in a Vicksburg, Mississippi, cemetery.
In April 1866, women from Columbus, Mississippi, laid flowers on the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers. It was recognized at the time as an act of healing regional wounds. In the same month, up in Carbondale, Illinois, 219 Civil War veterans marched through town in memory of the fallen to Woodlawn Cemetery, where Union hero Maj. Gen. John A. Logan delivered the principal address. The ceremony gave Carbondale its claim to the first organized, community-wide Memorial Day observance.
General Logan made it official
Gen. Logan, the speaker at the Carbondale gathering, also was commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union veterans. On May 5, 1868, he issued General Orders No. 11, which set aside May 30, 1868, "for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion...."
The orders expressed hope that the observance would be "kept up from year to year while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades."
Waterloo, New York., began holding an annual community service on May 5, 1866. Although many towns claimed the title, it was Waterloo that won congressional recognition as the "birthplace of Memorial Day."
It was first known as Decoration Day
From the practice of decorating graves with flowers, wreaths and flags, the holiday was long known as Decoration Day. The name Memorial Day goes back to 1882, but the older name didn't disappear until after World War II. Federal law declared "Memorial Day" the official name in 1967.
For the rest of us, our holidays were enacted state by state. New York was the first state to designate Memorial Day a legal holiday, in 1873. Most Northern states had followed suit by the 1890s. The states of the former Confederacy were unenthusiastic about a holiday memorializing those who, in Gen. Logan's words, "united to suppress the late rebellion." The South didn't adopt the May 30 Memorial Day until after World War I, by which time its purpose had been broadened to include those who died in all the country's wars. By David Holzel
Calling Memorial Day a "national holiday" is a bit of a misnomer. While there are 11 "federal holidays" created by Congress -- including Memorial Day -- they apply only to Federal employees and the District of Columbia. Federal Memorial Day, established in 1888, allowed Civil War veterans, many of whom were drawing a government paycheck, to honor their fallen comrades without being docked a day's pay.
In 1971, the Monday Holiday Law shifted Memorial Day from May 30, to the last Monday of the month.
On May 30, 1868, President Ulysses S. Grant presided over the first Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery -- which, until 1864, was Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's plantation.
Some 5,000 people attended on a spring day which, The New York Times reported, was "somewhat too warm for comfort." The principal speaker was James A. Garfield, a Civil War general, Republican congressman from Ohio and future president.
"I am oppressed with a sense of the impropriety of uttering words on this occasion," Garfield began, and then continued to utter them. "If silence is ever golden, it must be beside the graves of fifteen-thousand men, whose lives were more significant than speech, and whose death was a poem the music of which can never be sung." It went on like that for pages and pages.
As the songs, speeches and sermons ended, the participants helped to decorate the graves of the Union and Confederate soldiers buried in the cemetery.
Holiday: Memorial Day [cnn.com]