After the Civil War Southerners wished to honor their war dead and the ladies of the South began a campaign to create a decoration day. In fact the Confederate Decoration Day preceded the General John Logan’s Union Proclamation.
In March of 1866 Mrs. Charles J. (Mary Ann) Williams sent out a letter inviting the ladies in every Southern state to join them in the observance. The letter was sent to all of the principal cities in the South, including Atlanta, Macon, Montgomery, Memphis, Richmond, St. Louis, Alexandria, Columbia, New Orleans, et al.
The letter itself is similar to the proclamation that General John Logan issued when he proclaimed the first Decoration Day:
Columbus, Ga., March 12, 1866.– Messrs. Editors. The ladies are now, and have been for several days, engaged in the sad but pleasant duty of ornamenting and improving that portion of the city cemetery sacred to the memory of our gallant confederate dead, but we feel it is an unfinished work unless a day be set apart annually for its especial attention. We cannot raise monumental shafts and inscribe thereon their many deeds of heroism, but we can keep alive the memory of the debt we owe them by dedicating at least one day in each year to embellishing their humble graves with flowers. Therefore we beg the assistance of the press and the ladies throughout the South to aid us in the effort to set apart a certain day to be observed, from the Potomac to the Rio Grande, and be handed down through time as a religious custom of the South, to wreath the graves of our martyred dead with flowers, and we propose the 26th day of April as the day. Let every city, town and village join in the pleasant duty. Let all alike be remembered, from the heroes of Manassas to those who expired amid the death throes of our hallowed cause. We’ll crown alike the honored resting places of the immortal Stonewall Jackson in Virginia, Johnson at Shiloh, Cleburne in Tennessee, and the host of privates who adorned our ranks. All did their duty, and to all we owe our gratitude. Let the soldiers graves, for that day at least, be the Southern Mecca, to whose shrine her sorrowing women, like pilgrims, may annually bring their grateful hearts and floral offerings. And when we remember the thousands who were buried ‘with their martial cloaks around them,’ without Christian ceremony of interment, we would invoke the aid of the most thrilling eloquence throughout the land to inaugurate this custom, by delivering on the appointed day this year, a eulogy on the unburied dead of our glorious Southern army. They died for their country. Whether their country had or had not the right to demand the sacrifice is no longer a question for discussion. We leave that for nations to decide in the future. That it was demanded-that they fought nobly and fell holy sacrifices upon their country’s alter, and are entitled to their country’s gratitude, none will deny.
The proud banner under which they rallied in defense of the holiest and noblest cause for which heroes fought, or trusting women prayed, has been buried forever. The country for which they suffered and died has now no name or place among the nations of the earth. Legislative enactments may not be made to do honor their memories, but the veriest radical that ever traced his genealogy back to the dock of the May Flower could not refuse us the simple privilege of paying honor to those who died defending the life, honor and happiness of the Southern women.
The original date for the Confederate Decoration Day was April 26, the first anniversary of Confederate General Johnston’s final surrender to Union General Sherman at Bennett Place, NC. For many in the South, that marked the official end of the Civil War.
Over the years the dates have changed with several states, like Virginia and Arkansas, no longer celebrating the day. Virginia has Lee-Jackson Day.
Florida celebrates on April 26th. If the 26th falls on a Sunday, then its celebrated on the following Monday.
Georgia and Mississippi celebrate on the last Monday in April.
Kentucky, Louisiana and Tennessee celebrate on Jefferson Davis’ birthday, June 3rd.
North and South Carolina celebrate on May 10th to commemorate the death of Confederate General Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson in 1863 and the capture of Confederate President Jefferson Davis in 1865.
Texas celebrates Confederate Heroes Day on January 19th. In 1973, the Texas legislature combined the previously official state holidays of Robert E. Lee’s and Jefferson Davis’ birthdays into a single “Confederate Heroes Day” to honor all who had served the Southern Cause. In some years, this date may coincide with Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. State offices are partially staffed in recognition of this day.
Lee–Jackson Day is a holiday celebrated in the Commonwealth of Virginia in the U.S., for the birthdays of Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson. Lee–Jackson Day is currently observed on the Friday before Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, which is the third Monday in January. Typical events include a wreath-laying ceremony with military honors, a Civil War themed parade, symposia, and a gala ball. State offices are closed for both holidays.
The state of Arkansas has a state holiday honoring Robert E. Lee.
It should be noted that all of the states and territories of the United States celebrate Memorial Day on the last Monday in May.