Although there had been local observances held as early as 1866 in both the North and the South, Memorial Day was established in 1868 by the head of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) as a time for our country to honor those who had died in war by decorating their graves with flowers. The first large observance was held at Arlington National Cemetery with Gen. and Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant and other officials presiding over the ceremonies. Children from the Soldiers' and Sailors' Orphan Home and GAR members placed flowers on the graves of Union and Confederate veterans.
It wasn't until 1971 that Memorial Day became a national holiday. Some southern states also observe Confederate Memorial Day, honoring the fallen dead of the Confederacy. Today we continue to honor our departed loved ones - veterans or not - by decorating their graves with flowers
U.S. Dept. of Veteran Affairs, <http://www.va.gov/opa/speceven/memday/history.asp> accessed 12 March 2015
Image courtesy VintageHolidayCrafts.com
Published 25 May 2015, Western Kentucky Genealogy Blog, http://wkygenealogy.blogspot.com/