The American Civil War claimed more than 600,000 American lives. When it ended, men returned to their homes and the country was whole again, but the pain remained. The graves of the fallen were decorated, typically at the end of May or early June, when the flowers began to bloom. Decoration Day was an unofficial tradition, later referred to as Memorial Day in 1882 and was observed only for the fallen soldiers of the Civil War.
The Veterans Administration’s history page describes a poignant story of forgiveness and compassion surrounding Decoration Day.
“Local springtime tributes to the Civil War dead already had been held in various places. One of the first occurred in Columbus, Miss., April 25, 1866, when a group of women visited a cemetery to decorate the graves of Confederate soldiers who had fallen in battle at Shiloh. Nearby were the graves of Union soldiers, neglected because they were the enemy. Disturbed at the sight of the bare graves, the women placed some of their flowers on those graves, as well.”
They must have been moms.
After World War II, Memorial Day was extended to honor all American soldiers who died while serving. The vintage cards below are a great depiction of how Decoration Day was celebrated.