It was during the Gettysburg Address on November 13, 1863 that Abraham Lincoln coined these famous words “It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.”
Over 51,000 soldiers (Union and Confederate) lost their lives at Gettysburg. According to history.net, Gettysburg was the largest and bloodiest battle ever fought in North America, but those casualties were only a small percentage of the approximately 620,000 men who lost their lives in combat during the Civil War.
It was in the aftermath of the Civil War that what would later become Memorial Day began. On the first Decoration Day celebration in 1868, Union Major General James Garfield (who went on to become the 20th president of the United States) gave a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, and over 5,000 onlookers decorated the graves of 20,000 fallen soldiers.
The holiday was called Decoration Day because it was a day to decorate the graves of fallen soldiers. The last weekend of May was selected because there were no significant battles fought during the Civil War during that period, since Decoration Day was meant to honor all soldiers killed during the Civil War.
After World War I, the day was expanded to recognize all those who died in service of their country. Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by an act of Congress in 1971.
From Isaac Davis (who was killed April 19, 1775 at the Battle of Concord) to Spc. Miguel Holmes (who died May 6, 2019 in Afghanistan), it is estimated by the U.S. Army History Institute that over 1.1 million Americans have “given the last full measure of devotion” in service to their county.
It is highly fitting, as Abraham Lincoln states at the end of the Gettysburg Address, “We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
File photo: Local Girl Scout Troop 2950 placed American flags on the graves of our Veterans at Bethesda Cemetery in Aberdeen in 2018 ~ Sandhills Sentinel.
~Written by Sandhills Sentinel Local News/Government Reporter Chris Prentice.
Contact him at [email protected] or (910) 639-9303.