There is no question that Memorial Day spurred from the Civil War, but there is question to where the founding of the national holiday should be credited.
“It happened during and right at the end of the Civil War with a great national outpouring of emotion about the number of people who had been killed in the Civil War,” veteran and military author Dr. Sidney Bondurant said. “It was on both the North and South, so there’s a lot of controversy who gets credit for establishing Memorial Day.”
From Georgia to Mississippi to Pennsylvania to New York, a multitude of states were trying to claim credit for Memorial Day, but in May of 1966, the United States Congress decided to award Waterloo, New York as the place of origin for Memorial Day.
“Of course, Congress gets into the act and they decided to award it to Waterloo, New York,” Bondurant said. “Later, historians had said that the claims for Waterloo are almost certainly bogus.”
So, where did it start? Bondurant thinks right here in Mississippi.
“I personally feel it ought to belong to Columbus, Mississippi,” Bondurant said. “Columbus, Mississippi’s claim to the first Memorial Day began when several ladies were decorating the graves of soldiers in cemeteries in Columbus. This was in 1866, so the Civil War had just ended a year before. They decorated both Union and Confederate graves.”
It would be sensical for Memorial Day to start in Columbus. During the Civil War, Columbus had about 6,000 people and was right next to a rail line. The easy access soon made Columbus one of the major hospital towns in the South. By the end of the war, over 2,500 Confederate soldiers, as well as 32 Union soldiers, were buried in the Friendship Cemetery in Columbus.
You can hear Bondurant tell the story to Paul Gallo of The Gallo Show by using the video below.
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