IN 1868, AMERICANS COMMEMORATED THE FIRST MEMORIAL DAY
Boston, MA: After the Civil War, local veterans organizations in both the North and South began decorating the graves of fallen soldiers. In 1868, General John Logan, of the Grand Army of the Republic, the veterans organization of the Union Army, called for a national “Decoration Day,” dedicated to honoring and commemorating deceased soldiers. May 30 was chosen because flowers were in bloom, making it easy to decorate soldiers’ graves.
Veterans organizations were an important part of American cultural and political life following the Civil War. More than three million men enlisted and fought in the Civil War. Veterans organizations provided emotional support and camaraderie for veterans, and advocated for legislation and policies, such as soldiers’ pensions. In Massachusetts, veterans of the Union Army joined the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), which had posts in almost every Massachusetts town. You can see sample pages from the 1892 directory of the GAR below.
n Boston, the GAR took the lead in organizing Memorial Day activities. At the City Archives, our files about Memorial Day document the GAR’s heavy involvement in organizing Memorial Day commemorations. The 1891 Memorial Day Program below shows that many of Boston’s Memorial Day events were led by GAR posts.