Confederate Memorial Day

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Confederate Memorial Day (Confederate Decoration Day, Confederate Heroes Day)

Type of Holiday: Historic
Date of Observation: Varies
Where Celebrated: Southern United States
Symbols and Customs: Confederate Constitution, Confederate Flag, Decoration of Graves, Reenactments
Related Holidays: Memorial Day


During the U.S. Civil War (1861-1865), Union forces of the northern states battled the Confederate Army of the seceded southern states. The conflict divided the country in many ways beyond north vs. south-many states, towns, and even families had men fighting on both sides. More than three million men fought in the war, and by the time it was over more than 620,000 lives had been lost. Confederate Memorial Day is observed in southern states to honor those who died fighting for the defeated Confederacy. Observance is thought to have originated with the organized grave-tending activities of women throughout the south immediately after the Civil War. In 1866, women's memorial societies formed in Atlanta and Columbus, Georgia, in part to push for the designation of a special day of honor for fallen Confederate soldiers. Their efforts were successful, and in 1874 the state of Georgia declared an official Confederate Memorial Day holiday on April 26.

In 1868 the U.S. designated a national MEMORIAL DAY holiday called Decoration Day, signifying the custom of decorating the graves of soldiers with flowers and flags. Many in the south believed Decoration Day was held specifically for Union soldiers, excluding those who had died serving the Confederacy. Consequently several southern states joined Georgia in observing Confederate Memorial Day, although on different dates and sometimes with different names for the holiday. States typically chose a date with historical significance that related to the Civil War, such as the date of that state's surrender to the Union army or the birth date of an important figure such as Confederate President Jefferson Davis (June 3), General Robert E. Lee (January 19), or General Stonewall Jackson (January 21). Confederate Memorial Day is observed in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. The day is known as Confederate Decoration Day in Tennessee and Confederate Heroes Day in Texas.

As a historic holiday, Confederate Memorial Day commemorates a significant historical event. People throughout the world remember significant events in their histories. Often, these are events that are important for an entire nation and become widely observed. The marking of such anniversaries serves not only to honor the values represented by the person or event commemorated, but also to strengthen and reinforce communal bonds of national, cultural, or ethnic identity. Victorious, joyful, and traumatic events are remembered through historic holidays. The commemorative expression reflects the original event through festive celebration or solemn ritual. Reenactments are common activities at historical holiday and festival gatherings, seeking to bring the past alive in the present.

Observances of Confederate Memorial Day vary widely, depending on local tradition and the time of year in which the day falls. Cemetery memorial services are customarily held to honor the dead, often including DECORATION OF GRAVES . In some areas parades, picnics, and living history REENACTMENTS are also held. The C ONFEDERATE FLAG is often included in these observances. Where Confederate Memorial Day is an official state holiday, public government offices may be closed in observance of the day. Confederate Memorial Day


Confederate Constitution

On March 11, 1861, the Confederate Constitution was formally adopted by representatives of the southern states that seceded from the U.S. As part of an annual Confederate Memorial Day observance, the original Confederate Constitution is placed on public display at the University of Georgia's Main Library in Athens, Georgia.

Confederate Flag

The flag of the Confederacy is an important part of Confederate Memorial Day observances. Also known as the Rebel Flag and sometimes as the Southern Cross, the flag's design features two rows of white stars on blue bands arranged diagonally to form an X on a red background. The Confederate flag is generally regarded by southerners as a symbol of pride in southern history, culture, and heritage. Some southern states fly the flag over public government buildings or have incorporated the design into their state flags. However, the Confederate flag has become controversial. Many Americans, as well as such organizations as the AntiDefamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center, consider the Confederate flag a symbol of racial oppression

Decoration of Graves

Memorial ceremonies are held at cemeteries throughout the south where Confederate soldiers are buried, and graves are often decorated with flowers, wreaths, and Confederate flags. These services sometimes include living history reenactors who represent Civil War era soldiers and civilians.


Many observances include living history exhibits of military encampments as well as demonstrations illustrating the everyday domestic life of civilians during the Civil War era. Reenactments typically include activities such as troop inspection and dress parade, military company and cavalry drills, storytelling, and theatrical portrayals of significant Civil War figures and events. A memorial and remembrance service may also be conducted to recreate the mourning customs of the Civil War era.


Henderson, Helene, ed. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, 3rd ed. Detroit, MI: Omnigraphics, Inc., 2005.



University of Georgia's Carl Vinson Institute of Government

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Confederate Memorial Day

Varies from state to state
Observed in memory of the Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War, Confederate Memorial Day is widely observed in the southern United States. It grew out of a number of smaller, more localized responses to the bloodshed of the War between the States. In Vicksburg, Mississippi, for example, a group of women got together in 1865 to decorate the graves of more than 18,000 men who had been killed during the siege of Vicksburg. A similar event took place the following year in Columbus, Mississippi, where the women laid magnolia blossoms on the graves of the enemy soldiers as well. Today, the last Monday in April is a legal holiday in Mississippi.
The dates on which Confederate Memorial Day is observed vary from state to state and are often linked to some local historical event. In Texas it is called Confederate Heroes Day, and is observed on January 19, Robert E. Lee's birthday. Alabama (April 23), Florida (April 23), Georgia (Monday nearest April 26), and South Carolina (May 10) also observe Confederate Memorial Day as a legal holiday. In Tennessee (June 3), the day is a special observance.
AmerBkDays-2000, pp. 316, 425
AnnivHol-2000, pp. 72, 91
DictDays-1988, p. 23
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It was also the site of the first Confederate Decoration Day.

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