Origins of Memorial Day reveal strong ties to Columbus

COLUMBUS, Miss. (WCBI) – Did you know that Columbus is owed some credit for the creation of Memorial Day?

The origin of the national holiday has been argued for years, but Columbus is one of the cities with a viable claim.

Columbus is a city full of history. Some of it is visible, but some often go unnoticed, and many may not realize that it has ties to the beginning of Memorial Day.

Over the years, several cities have claimed to be the birthplace of the holiday.

Local historian Rufus Ward has researched the topic extensively and says the Friendly City has a strong case.

He said things got started with ladies in Columbus, Georgia declaring the South should have a Decoration Day to remember Confederate soldiers killed in the Civil War, but Columbus, Mississippi took it a step further.

“Ladies here decided to do that. They had a decoration day but they realized that in addition to 2100 Confederate soldiers buried here, there were about 40 Union soldiers buried who died in a hospital here and nobody had taken care of their graves. So in addition to decorating the Confederate graves, they decorated the graves of the Union soldiers,” Ward said.

Typically, flowers were not put on the graves of those from the opposing side of the war until that day in 1866.

Ward said news of the act spread quickly.

“I’ve seen it in newspapers from Maine to California. One of the papers that carried it was Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune and a judge by the name of Finch in New York picked up on that and he wrote a poem called “The Blue and The Gray” that again went nationwide,” Ward said.

Although Waterloo, New York is officially credited as the birthplace, Ward says it’s shared.

“What is the birthplace? The birthplace is all over. It was a lot of places doing different things but it was as much Columbus in that poem that really got the nation moving,” Ward said.

In his eyes, Columbus serves as the inspiration.

“I look at it that what really happened an idea came from Columbus, Georgia; ladies in Columbus, Mississippi, decided to take that a step further and make it an act of reconciliation between the north and the south; and then, Waterloo, New York, decided it should be a national day. Columbus inspired Memorial Day. It’s really a situation where actions that took place in Columbus inspired Memorial Day,” Ward said.

Memorial Day became a Federal holiday in 1971.

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